Ireland’s holiest mountain Croagh Patrick is in danger of disappearing – due to damage inflicted by the tourists who flock there in their hundreds of thousands every year.
A report in the Sunday Independent quotes local priest Fr Michael McGreil as claiming that the holy mountain won’t be there in the future if something isn’t done and soon about the non pilgrim traffic.
The paper reports that the Mayo landmark is being destroyed by hikers, boots and gangs of walkers who don’t climb the mountain barefoot as per tradition.
Speaking at the recent AGM of the Western Tourism Organization in Mayo, Fr MacGreil made the chilling warning.
“If we don’t do something about Croagh Patrick it won’t be there in the future,” said Fr MacGreil.
“The growing number of climbers on the mountain is now cutting into the mountain and their heels are digging into the shale on the path.
“It is not like when pilgrims went up in their bare feet, they didn’t damage the path.”
Legend has it that St Patrick himself spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit of the Mayo mountain in 441 AD and pilgrims have replicated his journey for hundreds of years.
Now Fr MacGreil and concerned locals claim that the sheer number of visitors to Croagh Patrick and their modern footwear are causing the erosion which has ravaged the surface of the famous mountain and left it in treacherous condition in places.
Part of the pathway to the top is almost inaccessible while the Mayo Mountain Rescue service deals with monthly incidents on the mountain ranging from suspected heart attacks to broken limbs.
Renowned hillwalking tour operator Hoofbeats International has issued a warning to visitors which reads: “Do not ascend to the summit of Croagh Patrick Mountain owing to the steepness and erosion of the track near the top which is considered unsuitable.”
Adventure sports enthusiasts keen to tackle the mountain’s terrain are also adding to the problem according to Gwen Mitchell of the Westport Mountaineering organization.
“What has caused the problem are these challenge races where you have a large number of people tearing up and down the mountain,” claimed Mitchell.
Mayo County Council are aware of the problems on Croagh Patrick but claim there is little they can do to address the issues.
“People have been climbing Croagh Patrick for thousands of years and it was always dangerous. It is meant to be a pilgrimage after all,” said County Secretary John Condon from the Council.
“We don’t own the mountain and we don’t look after it. The path upwards is very ancient and steep and I don’t see what you could do with it.
“It is not like the edge of a cliff where you can put up a fence to keep people back.”