News 2013

Path repairs recommended for Croagh Patrick
Title: Path repairs recommended for Croagh Patrick
Date: 24/07/2013
System Date: 24/07/2013
Croagh Patrick is arguably Ireland’s best known and busiest mountain. Its religious and cultural significance, and its dominant position in the landscape, have given Croagh Patrick iconic status that in turn has made the mountain a valuable resource for tourism. The huge number of walkers on Croagh Patrick is increasing path erosion on the mountain and causing concern for local people. 

In June 2012 Mountaineering Ireland facilitated an assessment of erosion on the pilgrim route up Croagh Patrick by Elfyn Jones, who previously worked as a land manager with the National Trust and was involved in upland footpath management in Snowdonia for many years. Elfyn is currently Access & Conservation for Wales with the British Mountaineering Council. The site visit was arranged in conjunction with Murrisk Development Association, following a request from Fáilte Ireland. To gain an understanding of Croagh Patrick’s cultural significance and current concerns about usage of the mountain, Elfyn first met with a large group of local stakeholders including landowners on the mountain, representatives of Murrisk Development Association, the Church, Mayo Mountain Rescue, Failte Ireland, Mayo County Council, South Mayo Development Company, recreational users, archaeological interests and the National Parks & Wildlife Service. 

While there is a lack of definite information, it is estimated that at least 100,000 people climb Croagh Patrick each year, with up to 30,000 participating in the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage at the end of July. Every person climbing Croagh Patrick leaves an impact; the cumulative impact of footfall on Croagh Patrick has resulted in an erosion scar that is clearly visible over an increasingly wide area.

Therefore intervention needs to be considered; to protect the fabric of the mountain and to minimise further path erosion. These recommendations are not about making Croagh Patrick safer or easier to climb. There is risk inherent in climbing any mountain and the challenge is part of the attraction for many people.  The risk on Croagh Patrick is greater for people who are not prepared for the rough terrain underfoot and the changeable weather conditions on the Reek. Work is required to ensure that people climbing Croagh Patrick understand the nature of the mountain and that they take responsibility for their own safety.

The recommendations for Croagh Patrick consider the main path from Murrisk to the summit, but also wider management issues. The report breaks the path into five sections and suggests work on four of the five sections to contain and stabilise the continuing path erosion on the Reek. This work would take place over a number of years. While the report includes an estimated total cost of €1.5 million, a more detailed survey is required to give accurate costs. Due to the geology of Croagh Patrick, its steepness, local climatic conditions and the high level of footfall on the mountain, any erosion control work needs to be done to a very high standard. This is highly skilled work and as yet there is very limited experience of this type of work on the island of Ireland. The report recommends that the crew doing the work would undertake a period of intensive training in Britain. It’s important that lessons are learnt from those who have been involved in this work for decades, so as to avoid repeating mistakes. 
In addition to capital works, a plan is required for the future management of visitor activity on Croagh Patrick, including maintenance of the path. No work should take place without a clear commitment to ongoing maintenance; otherwise the capital investment would be wasted.

Croagh Patrick and Ireland’s mountains in general are huge natural assets, which we have a duty to protect for future generations. Mountaineering Ireland advocates a considered and quality approach to the management of upland path erosion, based on Mountaineering Ireland’s upland path principles agreed earlier this year. Mountaineering Ireland supports efforts to address the continued erosion on Croagh Patrick that are in line with these principles and will continue to provide advice and support to Murrisk Development Association and the other stakeholders working to care for Croagh Patrick.