Golden sunshine, dappling through grey clouds, gives off a heavenly aspect which instantly infuses me with a sense of warm spirituality. The mountain is bathed in a clammy heat that makes me perspire as soon as I begin my ascent. I’m here today to capture the essence of Westport, Co Mayo, and I can’t think of any place better to start than with its holy mountain.
Climbing Croagh Patrick was the first thing I ever did the first time I came to Westport. I’ve done it many times, in many ways. I’ve climbed it with friends, alone, with my dog, in the middle of the night of a blue moon, and even barefoot. But today I’m climbing it with a lens so as to fully appreciate and write about it.
Fear fills me at the outset. I know what I’m here to do and am confident about doing it when I set out but now that I’m here, starting, demons of doubt invade my mind. I guess it’s fear of rejection. Fear that people won’t be open to my capturing them on camera. Feel the fear and do it anyway, I think. I resolve to strike up a conversation with the first people I meet, who happen to be an Irish couple with a fine, sturdy looking boy who they say was adopted from Ethiopia. They didn’t quite go to the top as the boy had already cycled 10KM that morning and they thought he might be tired. He seems rather spritely to me though, and I’m stunned to learn he is only 5. My own boy is head and shoulders above most of the kids his own age, in the 95th percentile in fact, but this Ethiopian kid is taller and broader. “I think this kid might represent Ireland in the Olympics some day,” I say, and I don’t think they find the notion ridiculous.
The next folks I encounter are a couple from the Midlands, UK. They are emanating a joy that, coupled with that I got from the previous couple, obliterates any of the doubt demons that were lurking in the dark recesses of my brain moments previously. The man is 70 – can you believe that? I couldn’t.
Solo hikers account for maybe 30% of the people here today. The folks below, from left to right, were German, Irish, French, and Polish. I spoke a little with these people but the greatest communication was from their smiling faces and overwhelmingly positive body language which easily transcends any form of verbal communication. I met the Polish lady on the way down, but put her here for convenience.
A couple from Dunboyne are the next folks I meet. I meet them again, by coincidence , in Westport to enjoy a pleasant conversation and meal, so more about them later here.
Romance in full bloom is my next encounter, with the couples below made up of people from Ireland, Bulgaria, and Spain. It is picturesque, idealistic, beautiful, and exudes such a sense of bliss that I am almost lifted out of myself and into a celestial and heavenly realm. That’s the wonderful thing about photography; it takes you outside of your own woes and makes you see, vividly, the beauty that’s around you rather than pay the remotest attention to any traces of darkness that are inside you.
A group from Dublin are next. I photograph them and hand out cards for them to locate the photos on Facebook. One chap refuses on account of the fact all his friends took one. “Go on,” I say, “it might come in handy for rolling a cigarette.” He laughs, and says, “A spliff, you mean!”
“Not at all,” I say, and continue on my path to the summit.
A church is nestled at the top of Croagh Patrick, which I’ve never been in. I won’t talk about it. One can find plenty about it online if it is of interest. But here’s a photo anyway.
A blindingly colourful trio are at the top and I think the picture does all the justice required to explain their aura.
Over the side of the church are a group of friends. They, from left to right, are a Mexican, a Frenchman, and an Irish woman, not to mention the cute little dog. I say, “Hola”, “Bonjour” and “Dia Dhuit” in turn and am stunned that they’re not half as impressed by my linguistic brilliance as I thought they would be.
On the way down I encounter several gorgeous couples, which are, a handsome German with a Mayo lady, 2 harmonious Irish couples, and a French couple entering into their golden years.
Having, throughout my chats with all the lovely people I’ve met, tried my hand at communicating in multiple languages, I even go so far as trying to get some sheep to pose for a photo for me. They run away as I try and explain what I’m doing with a “Baaaa, baaaaa” oration. Perhaps the sun is getting to me at this point, or maybe the sheep are just ignorant.
Last, but not least, I meet a pair of charming young ladies, one who is from the USA and the other who is from Ireland.
The day has been wonderful and I’m so happy to have met all the people I did and to have captured a little bit of their essence on camera.
Apparently there is a huge amount of gold buried in Croagh Patrick, which some would love to dig out and profit from, regardless of the fact that the mountain would be ruined. The Church are in strong opposition to this. Doubtless if that did happen the wealth wouldn’t in any way benefit the common man and would only serve to help those who already have too much.
Filled with optimism as I head back to the car park, I feel like I have captured some invaluable treasure in my camera. And I realise that the real gold is not buried in the mountain, it’s in the hearts and minds of those that choose to climb it.