In 1845, an airborne fungus swept through Ireland and infected the leaves of the potato plants, turning them black and causing them to rot. Due to the moist climate the spores multiplied and spread quickly, and soon all of the crops across the country had failed. Crops continued to fail for the next several years, thrusting Ireland into the worst disastor in its history and cutting its population in half. Many starved to death at home, others emigrated to Great Britian and thousands of truly unfortunate souls were shipped off by greedy landlords on “coffin ships” to North America. At least one in five died of fever or malnutrition en route, according to some accounts.
This bronze coffin ship, located in County Mayo, stands in memorial of those who died on the horrific journey over the Atlantic Ocean in the 1840’s. The History Place gives a complete account of the Famine, and I recommend it as a resource for those who are interested in learning more about that tragic period of Irish history.
The day I visited Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s most sacred mountain, clouds obscured its peak and tiny water droplets collected on my eyelashes. I hiked as far as the statue of St. Patrick, who overlooks the stunning waters of Clew Bay with a staff in one hand and three-leaf clover in the other. Had I continued past St. Patrick, up the mountain and into the clouds, I would have been following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims who came before me. I would have found a chapel at the peak, where many have sought redemption and offered prayers.
I would have also been soaked from head to toe.
October isn’t the most practical time for spiritual journeys up mountains. Most make the 2-hour trek on the last Sunday in July, known as “Reek Sunday”. This is a day in which Ireland’s patron saint is honored.
Legend has it that the “snakes” were driven from Ireland on Croagh Patrick. Perhaps that is why, when walking down the mountain and then driving back through Westport, just 5 short miles a way, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace – almost as though something dark inside of me had just been driven out as well.