The Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail is a 63km walking trail that was founded in 2009 by the Tochar Valley Rural Commuity Network (TVRCN). The emphasis of the project was to generate local income for small farm holdings and the local community, between the villages of Balla and Murrisk in County Mayo.
Back in 1997 a survey was commissioned for Teagasc which discovered that only 7% of farms in County Mayo were found to be viable and it highlighted the importance of off farm income in the future. With this in mind the TVRCN looked locally to see what could be done and in doing so saw the opportunity to showcase the rich beauty and heritage of the local communities through the formation of a heritage trail. Once a feasible route was identified the development of the trail was initiated. Sr Maureen Lally recalls “climbing ditches and falling into bog holes” while she and fellow founders tried to map out a suitable route. This involved creating a partnership with the local land owners, to allow the trail to pass through their land. With this in place local people were invited to come out and interpret the local heritage along the trail.
There are numerous heritage sites situated along the trail. The walker is treated to an historical trip through time to discover some of our rich heritage. One can expect to see a mix of archaeological sites some dating back 5,000 years and beyond as in the Boheh Stone. This heritage site features a natural out crop of rock which holds carvings dating back to Neolithic times. The carvings here are very similar to carvings found in Newgrange, County Meath. Twice a year in April and August there is a rolling sun phenomenon where the sun appears to roll down the conical peak of Croagh Patrick generating a rolling sun effect. This is best viewed from the Boheh Stone. From Balla the trail starts near the Celtic cross dedicated to Patrick Nally , one of the founders of the original GAA who lived close by. Balla was also a mecca for tourism in the 1800’s where pilgrims flocked to a holy well situated there. 15,000 people would come there from all parts of the country and it only saw a decline after the apparition at Knock. The well is still visible to this day. Nine kilometres into the trail you will come across Doonamoona Castle. Built originally by the Normans as an Irish Tower House in the early 15th century. Though pretty much a shell now it still stands proudly. Further along the trail brings you to Drum Cemetery which dates back to 440 AD when St Patrick set up the first church there of wooden construction. Here you can find an inscribed stone slab with an early Christian cross.
Further along the trail takes you to the village of Ballintubber and with its Abbey and historical well. Historical Annals reference that the Abbey was founded circa 1216 by King Cathal Crovdearg O’Conor. In the grounds of the abbey can be found St Patricks Well, where Patrick baptised his converts in the district, with a stone alongside bearing the supposed imprint of the saint’s knee. Heritage enthusiasts are also treated to visible ringforts dating to the Bronze Age era. There is a fine example at Knockraha which is located between the villages of Clogher and Ballintubber. On entering the village of Aghagower one is captivated by a striking 12th century round tower and medieval church. The tower was built between 973 and 1013 AD. St Patrick had strong links to Aghagower and baptised some of his first converts here. Leaving Aghagower it’s pretty much a straight route all the way to the foothills of Croagh Patrick. Here one will ascend by the skelp before crossing onto the open mountainside to enjoy the uninterrupted views of Clew Bay. All the time being beckoned to the end point, at the pilgrim path on The Reek.
Croagh Patrick has been a ritual focus for thousands of years, as it still is to this day. Thousands of people undertake the climb to the top of the mountain each year with the main day being reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July. It’s believed that the earliest Christians arrived in Ireland some 400 years after the birth of Christ. At this time Ireland was embedded in a deep pagan ritual and tradition.
These are just some of the heritage sites you can expect to experience along the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail. Whatever is the walkers focus, be it spiritual, holistic or fitness the trail is a great place to spend a few hours exploring. It’s a fully way-marked route and maps are available on our website.
This year our three day walking festival takes place on the 13th, 14th and 15th of March.All proceeds go to Croi, the heart and stroke charity. Further details can be found at www.cpht.ie or by phoning 094 9030687. Online registrations https://croi.ie/tc-events/heritage-trail/