Image Credit: Skitter, on the Croagh.

In the Ultra-West

Drowned drumlins swarmed in the brilliant bay, and ravens like those that plagued Saint Patrick croaked from the chasm below my feet as they rolled lazily half a mile above County Mayo.  The ravens’ harsh call was an onomatopoeic reminder of my present eminence, Croagh Patrick, the 2,510-foot cone that dominates the great inlet of Clew Bay—not Mayo’s highest mountain, but indubitably its most famous, as a focus for reverence for 5,000 years, but especially since a.d. 441.

It was then, Hibernian hagiography claims, that an expatriate Welshman ascended this quartzite landmark, then called Cruachan Aigle (Eagle Mountain), to fast for 40 days and nights—and it was while he was here, beset by demons in the guise of blackbirds, that he stood on the edge of this same abyss and rang his fabled Bell to banish all venomous beasts from Ireland and win God’s promise that, as Caxton Englished it in The Golden Legend, “none Irish man shall abide the coming of the Antichrist.”

If he really did essay this ascent, like me he probably paused a quarter of the way up, then a third of the way up, then was grateful for the relative ease of the “saddle” that succeeds the first steep phase—before turning to the arduous last slope, with the loose scree scraping and sliding beneath his feet, threatening to precipitate him face-first onto unforgiving...

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