As the view of the Croagh Patrick came into sight, I could hardly believe that we were going to climb on what looked like a very steep, narrow ridge.
Before I could ponder the climb ahead any further, I saw the ghost ship with sails of human skeletons that haunted the base of the mountain. A famine memorial, the iron ship reminded pilgrims of the tragic stories that unfolded during the years that the potato crops failed and so many were left to starve.
While trekking across Ireland’s mountains, I gained an appreciation and understanding of elevations. Elevation was just a number on a map with no context. Yesterday our climb was 1,000, today, 2,700! I also noted that the weather changes drastically at different elevations, even in the summer time. We started the day with dry conditions, but I could see that mist and clouds covered the summit.
Loose stones of different sizes littered the gullied trail, and every step became a challenge to find secure footings. Some of our group turned back with the warning that the trail would become increasingly more difficult and precariously steep. We tightened our hoods and jackets against the wind, and we had to stop to become fully geared up for the rain to come. As I continued upward, I stopped often to catch my breath. The treacherous climb made me question, “Why am I doing this?” I could be sitting warm and comfortable in the coffee shop below. Yet, the spirit of the mountain kept me going–I would stay on the path that perhaps my ancestors once climbed.
The wind and rain became increasingly intense as we headed up the rocky slope. We couldn’t see anything beyond 20 yards as the summit was completely shrouded in clouds. Maneuvering on the rocks became increasingly painful as my boots would slip on the uneven terrain. I concentrated on the trail, searching for secure footing–only the brown rocks before me were important.
A feeling of relief came over me as the faint outline of the little white chapel at the summit came into view, and I stepped up the pace to secure the protection its walls might offer, only to find the building locked tight. Food and rest, however, offered comfort against the relentless rain, and we ate our sandwiches leaning against the chapel built on a foundation that dates back to St. Patrick’s time.
We packed up for our trip down the other side of the mountain. When I turned the corner away from the church, the wind hit me with such force, it almost knocked me over. The rain and wind tore at my coat as I headed down. Craggy outcroppings of rock distracted me from the storm, as again, I focused on my footing. The clouds embraced our group, and my fellow hikers disappeared from sight.
Now I’d heard that Ireland is a magical place, and on this trip a number of coincidences and unusual experiences came our way, and this was one of those times. As I walked in the fog, I heard an Irish flute playing a whistling melody. I stopped and scanned the landscape. Where was the music coming from? Did such a clear melody arise from the rocks–those crevices of torment serving as apertures for the wind–or was it a leprechaun? With music filtering from the clouds, Irish mythology became reality as the sacred mountain shared its magic with another pilgrim.