Category Archives: Ireland

Crawling Up Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is a mountain in the west of Ireland, not far from Westport. It’s a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage as Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century. Well that’s the guidebook stuff covered – thank you Wikipedia.

Having travelled over to Ireland to visit family for years now, it had been suggested that we all climb the mountain together, on Reek Sunday, which is the one day of the year that thousands of people do it. We kept talking about this, but never actually got organised – until now.

Lady Hughes and myself flew over to Dublin and stayed with family in Slane before driving across Ireland to meet up with everyone else in Clifden. We had one brief stop half-way in Athlone where we met up with my brother Peter and his family for lunch and a quick look at the castle and the Shannon River.

In Clifden we all stayed in the same guesthouse, fourteen of us in total including four small children. It sounds hectic but it was actually very chilled.

On Sunday we drove through beautiful Connemara to the mountain, not really sure what was waiting for us. Most of our group travelled light, in running gear and trainers, but with my years of hiking experience I went prepared, with rucksack, boots, food, first aid and camera kit. This, along with the fact I’m really unfit, meant they all left me for dust within minutes. The only consolation was that they all got mild hyperthermia, waiting for me at the top.

Croagh Patrick is 764 metres high and the climb is classed as moderate. I found it fairly tough, mainly because the upper sections are steep and full of loose boulders as well as the numbers of people on the day going up and coming down – also, did I mention that I’m not very fit at the moment?

In some parts I was struggling to find a solid foothold and all the time people are stumbling and sliding around you. Having said that, the atmosphere was great, we were really lucky with the weather and the views were stunning.

One impressive sight was all the devout Catholics climbing the mountain in bare feet, some of them had painted their toenails specially for the occasion. A more depressing one was when I was overtaken by an 82 year old lady who was being held up by two men – but hey, she didn’t have a rucksack and camera to carry.

On the top there is a chapel and a priest delivering mass from, what looked like a bay window. On one side of the chapel there was a doorway for confessions and on the other a doorway for holy communion. By the time I got up there (approx. 2 hours – not bad going) the summit was shrouded in cloud and the rest of my family were shivering and keen to get moving again. Clare and myself put on our anoraks and settled down for a bite to eat as they all abandoned us for the warmer lower reaches.

As we recharged our batteries, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with gorgeous views over Clew Bay with its 365 islands (one for every day of the year). I strolled around a bit and took a few pictures before we eventually packed up and started the careful descent.

Back in Clifden we had another great night out, celebrating our ascent and swapping stories about the various sights we’d seen, including the English mother, and her son who sat down and refused to move another step. She was trying to get him to stay with the mountain rescue, who had a team every hundred yards, but he was having none of it and they started having a bit of a domestic on the steepest section.

Driving back to Dublin, we stopped off in Athlone again for a bite to eat and a better look round the castle. We said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.

It was wonderful to catch up with all the family, especially my sister Rachel, who had come over from Perth, Australia. Connemara is stunningly beautiful and we had a great time, especially climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday – that’s an experience I’ll always remember. I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new adventure for us all now – but I’ll just let my knees recover from this one first I think.

Chris

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Dublin with Ed and Helen

After much organisation and planning, we finally made it over to Ireland again. This time we were with my Uncle Ed and his wonderful wife Helen, both of whom had visited Dublin before, but not for a long time.

As there were four of us, we couldn’t crash at anyone’s house so my sister Claire managed to get us a deal on the Doubletree Morrison Hotel, right in the centre, on the banks of the River Liffey. It’s a beautiful hotel and the service was excellent (warm cookies while you check in!) so big thank you to Claire – you’re a star!

Taxi from the airport was a bit of an adventure as I asked to go to the Doubletree Hotel and it turns out there are two and our driver thought we meant the other one. It was only when he said that we had a thirty minute walk to get into the centre that it all came out, but he’d passed our hotel at that point – he said it was his fault, and I agreed. But no-one else did unfortunately.

I’ve never had a bad time in Dublin and this trip was no exception. We explored a few places in Temple Bar and met up with my brother Peter and my sister Claire on the Friday night. Starting in the Palace Bar where we somehow managed to adopt two drunken cockney golfers.

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The weather was grey and wet for the whole three days but we didn’t let it get us down. On Saturday we held Helen back from beating up a miserable bus driver who wouldn’t accept notes, even though it was the exact fare, and we jumped a cab to Kilmainham Gaol. This was the where the leaders of the Easter Rising were held before they were shot by firing squad. The subsequent outcry lead to Ireland gaining independence from the British, so it’s a fascinating place and very topical at the moment.

Once there we discovered it was fully booked – something about a centenary or something.

Never mind. Onto the National Museum with a special exhibition all about the uprising. It was here that Clare stood looking at an exhibit next to an Irish lady and a teenager with an American accent. The lady was explain the exhibit to the teenage girl, who then exclaimed “the British are such bastards!” Clare turned round and replied, “we’re very sorry”, to which a nearby Irishman answered, “apology accepted.”

I’m not sure what the teenager made of it all but we felt we’d done our bit for Anglo-Irish diplomacy – that’s that sorted, well done us!

Saturday night, we all met up at the Fallon & Byrne restaurant for a meal, again organised by my sister Claire- she really played a blinder on this trip, thanks again.

Food was great and the company even better. Once fed, we staggered to the Stag’s Head pub and managed to bag a table. More friends turned up and the Guinness flowed, it’s been a long time since I’ve had as good a night as that, over far too quickly.

Sunday, we checked out of the hotel but still had the day before our evening flight, so we visited Dublin Castle and did the tour there. I love a bit of history, so this was great. The castle is where all the Irish Presidents are sworn in and was suitably impressive.

Our last real taste of Dublin was the Brazen Head pub for lunch with my Irish Dad John and his wife Anne. This is apparently the oldest pub in Dublin and we just had one thing left on Helen’s list to tick off, so it was Irish Stew all round.

A quick hop back over the Irish Sea, courtesy of Ryanair, and we were back in tropical Manchester. Overall, a great trip, great company – especially Ed and Helen and all my family in Ireland, can’t wait for the next time. Thanks to Peter and Helen for letting me nick a few of their photos – if only I had a selfie stick of my own Helen.

Chris