Thursday, August 25, 2011

Croagh Patrick

Patrick was all Irish.  Well, historically he wasn't, he was Welsh, but he was Celtic to the core and the Patrick of story and legend is all Irish.  He is dramatic and powerful, imaginative and full of flair.
The place in Ireland connected with Patrick is a mountain.  It stands in stark contrast with green, hospitable, hearth-oriented Brigid.  It is high (as high as any of the surrounding mountains,) windy and blowy, and the day we were there we saw the sun actually shine on the summit only for moments at a time.  When we first began our ascent it looked as if we may not see the ground below us from the top--it proved true much of the time.

The ascent, or "the Reek" as it is called, starts out challenging enough, but the climb of 2500 feet from sea-level gets real serious for the last third.  The path takes you straight up a scree slope along one edge of the mountain.  It feels like it's nigh-on vertical when you're going up, and your knees will tell you it IS vertical coming down.  People climb it for many reasons:  the exercise, the view, to worship in the small chapel on the summit, or barefoot as an act of penance.  Some climb to see the traces of pre-Christian circle-huts that populated the summit before Patrick.  Those who know say that the mountain was a druidic place of worship.  Few know, unless they have visited the museum at the foot of the mountain, that underfoot, protected by a layer of rocks and dirt, lies the square foundation of a Christian oratory or prayer-chapel that dates from the 5th century.  In other words, Patrick himself could actually have prayed there.  The peak has its draw.  On the last Sunday of July, known as "Reek Sunday" 20,000 people climb the mountain and a Catholic priest says Mass in the chapel.

From here Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland.  From here Patrick threw the mother of the Devil, a pernicious demoness named Corra down from the heights, where she plummetted to her death in the valley below.  The crater her body created filled with water and is known as Lough Nacorra.  If Brigid is the welcoming, mothering, nurturing side of the Irish heart, Patrick is the challenging, buffetting and proving side.  The Irish in this broad sweep of legend capture the two great movements of the human soul toward God, not in tight theological definitions, but in the infinitely more articulate language of symbol, poetry and song.

No comments: