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Scaling new heights
Grace Fitzgerald describes a school pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick

Grace Fitzgerald 

Last month 60 fourth year students from Laurel Hill Secondary School in Limerick, ventured over to Mayo to undertake one of Ireland’s highest mountain, Croagh Patrick. Tensions were high when we first spotted our initial glimpse of our hike to come, especially when the peak of the mountain was out of view. 

I had no clue what to expect as neither I, nor any of the other girls, had any previous experience of walking uphill on a steep slope. Croagh Patrick is said to be one of the most inspiring places of prayer in Ireland, and we had the chance to experience this for ourselves.

Every year up to 22,000 pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday in July. It is an ancient place and a place that gives you the opportunity to meet other people, from near and far, along the way. It is a sacred mountain of great significance to Christians, with a connection to St Patrick, but it was also a place of tremendous importance in the pre-Christian era, as indicated by the discovery of a Celtic hill fort encircling the summit of the mountain. 

I made sure that I bought a walking stick for support before I began the forbidding trek. Although I had never done Croagh Patrick before, from what I had heard it was pretty rocky towards the top. 

Although the walk may look long and sinister from the bottom, I can assure you that it is not anything of the sort. It was a great bonding experience that required each girl in my year to encourage one another to continue, and to never give up. It was a great way to help one realise that if you are in the correct mindset anything is possible. A lot of support from friends is needed as you venture off towards the latter part of the mountain. Saying all that, however, it is very possible to accomplish the climb on your own too. It really depends on whatever you’re more comfortable doing yourself. 

I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the hike, because to me it felt very personal. At the end of the day it was a big achievement for all of the girls who reached the top. I was in absolute awe of the 365 degree view of the scenery that surrounded us on the peak. 

Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are spectacular from all stages of the ascent of the mountain. It was breathtaking, something that no words can describe. You really have to see the views for yourself in person to be able to comprehend the spectacular landscape. Pictures really do not do it justice. 

We all were encouraged to make it to the top, no matter how much time we needed to do so. We walked at a pace that was comfortable for us, which resulted in many groups being formed along the way. After about an hour and twenty minutes the first group finally reached the summit. 

Located on the peak of the mountain is a small, white chapel that opens on special occasions throughout the Catholic calendar. It was gorgeous, and apparently people even get married there. We were grateful for our quick pitstop on the summit. We embraced the Irish heritage that surrounded us. 

Everything we had in view at that moment reminded us of what a phenomenal world God has created. We all sang together, prayed together and laughed together. It was very memorable.

Distractions

The journey back down was long, but really worthwhile because of the beautiful views. The walk back down had me, and many others, thinking about how we have many distractions  in our lives, but this gave us peace and quiet to step back from our hectic lives, and gain an insight into what really matters. It was such a scenic route and it made for perfect picturesque photos, and some very good memories too. 

I’m so glad I chose to climb Croagh Patrick as it was realistically something that I, and many other girls, may not get the chance to do again in the future. It is definitely something that I can now check off my bucket list. It was a fantastic achievement for all the girls who got involved, and it was so much fun too. 

For me it will be forever an incredible experience that I will not forget.