Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way to Croagh Patrick, Doolough Pass
Ireland may be small but it boasts one of the longest signed coastal routes in the world at 2600km. The Wild Atlantic Way is a tourism trail coursing along the rugged west coast. The Atlantic Ocean has created wonderful landscapes, and Ireland’s long history has added ancient monuments, castles and numerous legends.
My wife and I wish to experience some of the trail, climb Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, and travel along the Famine Walk road through Doolough Pass.
Croagh Patrick is an impressive mountain that dominates the country near Westport and overlooks the spectacular Clew Bay and its 365 islands. It has captivated the Irish since pre-Christian times. Crowds of 20,000 take part in a pilgrimage to the peak every July, recalling Saint Patrick’s 40 days and nights there in the 5th century.
It is windy and cloudy at the peak on the day we make the climb. We are well decked out with warm clothing, good walking shoes and sticks. Every step on this arduous ascent has to be carefully placed because of loose stones and rocks on the path.
Sixty-five years earlier on the day I was born, my father and older brother left my mother’s bedside to undertake the pilgrimage as a thank you for my safe arrival. Loving memories of my parents flood back throughout this very spiritual adventure. The cloud that shrouds the little basilica at the summit also conceals misty eyes.
More emotions are felt at Doolough Pass. Set between two picturesque mountains and alongside a small lake (Doolough is Irish for Black Lake), this place is desolate. The wind is howling, making progress difficult for four hardy Canadian cyclists while we drive in our warm car.
We imagine how bleak it must have been for the hundreds of starving and emaciated men, women and children forced to walk this pass in the freezing driving rain on a March day in 1849 during Ireland’s Great Famine. They walked 18km in both directions in the false hope of being granted food coupons. Many died from starvation and exposure; a few drowned in the lake. An annual famine walk is held here to mark the tragedy and highlight the plight of the world’s poor, hungry and displaced.
The Wild Atlantic Way is a journey of extraordinary beauty, history and memories, encompassing tragedy and compassion.
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