News 2015

Title: Path Repair Work Urgently Needed On Croagh Patrick
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Date: 22/07/2015
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As crowds converge on Croagh Patrick for the annual ‘Reek Sunday’ pilgrimage, Mountaineering Ireland highlights the urgent need for path repair work on one of Ireland’s most visited mountains. 

This 764 meter mountain has been in use since prehistoric times and it is believed to be a site of continual pilgrimage for more than 1,500 years. In more recent time, the footfall of pilgrims on Croagh Patrick has been added to by hillwalkers, by visitors to nearby Westport, and by participants in a growing number of charity and challenge events. It is believed that upwards of 100,000 people ascend, or attempt to ascend, Croagh Patrick annually. This makes it one of, if not the most popular of Ireland’s high mountain peaks. This coming ‘Reek Sunday’ alone, between 20,000 and 30,000 people are expected to climb the mountain. The impact of this increased footfall is clearly visible as a scar on the mountain. The main path is actively eroding and widening and is now over 30 meters wide in certain sections of the route. 

Walkers on the pilgrim route up Croagh Patrick 1967 by W. A. Poucher

For the past number of years Mountaineering Ireland has worked with local stakeholders to bring forward plans to help protect the fabric of the mountain and to minimise further path erosion. In 2012, working in conjunction with Murrisk Development Association, Mountaineering Ireland facilitated an assessment of erosion on the pilgrim route up Croagh Patrick. This work was undertaken by Elfyn Jones, a leading international expert in this field, following a request from Fáilte Ireland. The process included consultation with a large group of local stakeholders including landowners, Murrisk Development Association, representatives of the Catholic Church, Mayo Mountain Rescue, Fáilte Ireland, Mayo County Council, South Mayo Development Company, recreational users, archaeological interests and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The report which followed called for coordinated intervention to protect Croagh Patrick and to minimise further erosion. The report broke the main pilgrim path route to the summit into five sections and suggested work on four of the five sections to contain and stabilise the continuing path erosion. It was outlined in the report that this work could take place over a number of years with an initial estimated cost of €1.5 million. The report noted that more detailed survey work on the extent of repair work would be required to give full and accurate costs. 

Due to the geology of Croagh Patrick, its steepness, local climatic conditions and the high level of footfall on the mountain, any work conducted to address the current level of path erosion, and to combat the potential for future erosional impact, needs to be carried out to exacting standards. Such work needs to be sympathetic to the local character of the mountain and most importantly needs to be durable and sustainable. In addition to the path repair works, the report also made recommendations for the future management of visitor activity on Croagh Patrick, including long term maintenance of the path. No work should take place without a clear commitment to ongoing maintenance; otherwise the capital investment would be wasted.

Path erosion is emerging as an issue of concern on other Irish mountains including Carrauntoohil in Co. Kerry, Galtymore in Co. Tipperary and Errigal in Co. Donegal. Through an initiative called ‘Helping the Hills’, Mountaineering Ireland has worked with other organisations to develop a set of principles to guide the management of path erosion in Ireland’s upland areas. The principles focus on the need for a considered, quality approach to managing path erosion so as to ensure that interventions are effective and do not detract from the character of the upland environment. The principles also focus on the need for effective communication in the management of upland paths. Proposed repair and management works should be informed by consultation with all stakeholders, including landowners, recreational users, relevant statutory bodies and the local community. 

As ‘Reek Sunday’ approaches, Mountaineering Ireland calls on Mayo County Council and all other stakeholders to urgently seek a solution to the path erosion on Croagh Patrick. There is an urgent need for a management plan with a properly funded programme of path repair work to protect the mountain from further degradation. Mountaineering Ireland stands ready to provide advice and support to all stakeholders working to protect Croagh Patrick for current and future generations of users.


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