Matt Loughrey had just finished his 218th consecutive climb of Croagh Patrick, the third-highest mountain in County Mayo, when I spoke to him on a recent Saturday evening. “It’s cold up there now,” he said. “We’ve been getting temperatures of -17˚c, -18˚c up on the top. We’re climbing in ice and snow at the moment, it’s a different animal altogether.” But Matt wasn’t complaining. Shortly after, he recounted that two peregrine falcons had nested on top of the mountain. “Every now and then you get one of them flying over your head, you’re that close to nature up there,” he explained, with palpable awe in his voice.
But the 32-year-old Loughrey isn’t just your average climbing enthusiast: he’s also a talented photographer, a father of two, and the man behind the ambitious and inspiring Croagh Patrick 365, a charitable project founded last summer. Since June 5, 2010, Loughrey has ascended the mountain each day, no matter how grueling the conditions, and has pledged to continue to do so through June 4, 2011, at which point he will have completed 365 days of climbing and hopes to have raised €100,000. All proceeds go to Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul charity, for the benefit of poverty-stricken and homeless families in the West of Ireland.
It seems that Loughrey has always had a connection with the mountain. He grew up in a small village called Murrisk, which sits at the base of Croagh Patrick. Starting in 2005, he spent some time leading tour groups up the mountain, and became increasingly familiar with its terrain. Then, last year, he decided to use his passion and expertise to help others: “It came to me around the end of May,” he recalled. “I was thinking about the way the world has changed financially, economically, and I figured there had to be something I could do about it, starting first with people in my area. I enjoy the outdoors and I love climbing mountains, so I thought ‘why not do something useful with it and make some money for charity?’”
Since then, he’s been consistently scaling the mountain and documenting each day’s climb with a photograph. Photography, it seems, is Matt’s other passion: he’s been documenting his travels since he was a teenager. “I write about it,” he acknowledged, “but a picture says 1,000 words, does it not? I try to keep a visual diary for people.”
Once the year of ascents is over, Matt hopes to produce a book in collaboration with some of his fellow climbers, friends and supporters. For now, his supporters can buy his photographs from the Croagh Patrick 365 website or see them on the project’s Facebook page.
Loughrey actually credits the social network for contributing significantly to his success: “The public response has been fantastic,” he remarked. “At the start I was trying to promote this event by myself, trying to make it grow, so for the first three months it was very difficult. But Facebook has been absolutely tremendous. It’s a free tool, it’s great for spreading the news about an event. I mean, today there were 22,500 post views on the [Croagh Patrick] 365 page. It’s just amazing; the awareness is really getting out there now.
When asked why he chose Chroagh Patrick, Loughrey points to its roots as a place of pilgrimage, as a place where people come together. “It’s such a positive place,” he reflected. “It’s a place of pilgrimage. I’m not a particularly religious person – I’m a spiritual person, but what’s wonderful about Croagh Patrick is that everyone climbs it for different reasons – for religious reasons, for spiritual reasons, for challenge, for scenery – they’re all great reasons to climb and I’m really enjoying being caught up in all that and meeting people and hearing about why they climb it. You’d be surprised who you get talking to up there. Everyone has a story.”
There’s no doubt that Loughrey’s is one of the most remarkable.
For more information visit www.croaghpatrick365.com
Happy Earth Day! Ireland sure looks gorgeous from outer space