Croagh Patrick - Ireland

Croagh Patrick, known popularly as 'the Reek' is a pyramid-shaped, freestanding mountain located in the West of Ireland. It is a proposed Natural Heritage Area of national importance as well as a place of deep spiritual importance for Irish Roman Catholics, honouring Ireland’s national saint since the 5th c.

It is where the oldest pilgrimage in Ireland takes place, with increasing numbers of pilgrims after a revival that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. As many as forty thousand pilgrims climb this mountain every “Reek Sunday” at the end of July, performing a series of ancient stations in which certain archaeological sites are involved. Many of the pilgrims climb barefooted or even on their knees, as an act of penance.

All archaeological evidence indicates that Croagh Patrick has been part of a huge ritual landscape for long before that, according the tradition, St Patrick fasted there for forty days and nights, as well as banished all the snakes and the pre-Christian gods out of Ireland. Archaeological remains since Neolithic times including astronomical alignments, as well as churches and abbeys all show a continued religious activity that changed religion but not sacredness. Rich folklore and myths inhabit this living sacred landscape that illustrates the phenomenon of substitution of indigenous polytheist beliefs by the Christian religion.

On its heather and bog-covered slopes landuse is mainly associated with agriculture and sheep grazing and burning of heath. On the eastern slope, Logh Greney Bog is an area of considerable conservation significance supporting a variety of upland habitats including intact blanket bog habitat. This is a globally scarce resource, due to combined impacts of afforestation and overgrazing, mainly found in Ireland and Britain.

From its quartzite summit there is a spectacular view of Clew Bay and its many scattered islands stretching out to the Atlantic, with a wide variety of habitats and the combination of important flora and fauna, including some threatened species of plants in Ireland. Subject to gold mining threats in the 1980s, foiled due to locals and pilgrims’ strong opposition, as well as to possible future projects involving spiritual tourism exploitation, this site faces challenges that put pressure on the rich cultural and natural values of one of the icons of Irish spirituality.

Responsible: Pilar Martín Bayo