Firstly, Croagh Patrick demonstrates the importance of the natural landscape in the Irish pilgrimage tradition. The work of Mary Nolan (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-8306.1983.tb01426.x) illustrated that pilgrimages in Ireland tended to be focused on features of the landscape, in contrast to continental Europe where shrines and objects tended to dominate. The prominence of places such as Lough Derg or the spread of holy wells across the island show how mountains, islands, and springs are an important destinations in spiritual and cultural practices. Croagh Patrick, often called Ireland’s holy mountain, is a prime example. It is a distinct presence on the western coast, a near pyramidal shape rising from Clew Bay which can be seen on the horizon for miles around. The peak has been a site of Pagan and Christian worship for thousands of years, showing the interlinking of the spiritual and spatial.
Next, the place of the journey is central to Reek Sunday. One of the key clichés about pilgrimage is that it is the journey that matters more than the destination. Those who walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain will attest to this finding that the encounters and difficulties along the route are the most meaningful part of the experience. The same is true of Croagh Patrick. Pilgrims and walkers value the inherent challenges in completing the demanding path. It takes effort and determination to reach to summit, especially amongst the crowds and often poor weather conditions. These obstacles help people appreciate the climb as being an authentic pilgrimage. For believers, these challenges can be offered up as sacrifices, while for others they are part of a strenuous walk.
Finally, Reek Sunday shows how the sacred and secular can intertwine and work together. Too often interpretations treat the holy and the profane as separate spheres; however, Croagh Patrick is valued as a spiritual and cultural site accessible to all. While many participate for religious reasons getting mass on confessions on the summit, others do it for the charity or to continue the cultural or familial tradition. Moreover, the pilgrimage is made possible by secular organisations and groups. The local community and farmers put in place a temporary infrastructure to facilitate the crowds, while mountain rescue and first aid teams are vital to helping people on the peak.
Reek Sunday continues to play an important social and cultural role in Irish life. It is a chance for people to engage in a large scale pilgrimage for different motivations and causes. The event is the modern incarnation of an ancient custom. At a time when walking pilgrimages are very popular, Croagh Patrick offers an ideal venue for people located in the natural and vernacular landscape