“The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains” – John Muir
Early on Sat May 11 2013, our pilgrims gathered quietly in preparation for our final destination – Croagh Patrick. The Reek, as it is colloquially known, overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo and is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption.
Manchán Magan wrote this piece for The Guardian in 2009: “ A staggering 20-25,000 pilgrims still climb Croagh Patrick mountain – a soaring cone-shaped 765m (2,500ft) peak that rises above Clew Bay in Co Mayo – each year on the last Sunday in July (the nearest Sunday to the original pagan festival of Lughnasa), often barefoot. This is where the Irish have always come for guidance and reassurance at the beginning of harvest time; later, it became a place for penance for sins committed. We’ve been coming here for more than 3,000 years, since our Neolithic ancestors first chose it as a sacred site. Later, we came to worship the Celtic sun god, Lugh; then, in AD441, the site was cannily co-opted by St Patrick, who fasted here for 40 days and nights before banishing the snakes from Ireland. Ever since, we have been coming in memory of him.” <read the full article>
Our Pilgrimage Project expedition weaved together an eclectic array of artists, musicians, writers and performers from Ireland, Iceland & Greece. This was the final stretch of Pilgrimage Project.We were joined by friends, family and curious strangers who soon became friends. We were also aided and abetted by a motley crew of pioneers including Pat Collins, Ruth Meehan and Manchán Magan who joined our expedition to share their work and experiences with the pilgrims.
Arriving at the summit is a rite of passage and was emotional for some who had soldiered through fire and sword to get there. The instructions for penitential rituals and prayers added a surrealist Catholic touch for our international guests.
The view from the top is spectacular – particularly when assisted by homemade sandwiches and flasks of tea. We began our mountain descent like wild goats in the knowledge that some creamy pints of Guinness where calling our thirsty pagan souls.
Pat Collins’ extraordinary film What We Leave in our Wake was a touch stone for Pilgrimage Project and we hosted a screening of it at The Model, Sligo later that evening when we came down off the mountain. Ruth Meehan hosted a conversation after the film with Pat Collins and with Aoife and myself as the project curators. It was a beautiful way to unwind and make sense of our collective fieldtrips to ancient burial sites, monastic settlements, graveyards, seaweed baths and well-worn pilgrim paths.
Watch the video below of our closing journey.