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The Southern Wilderness

As a pilgrim approaches the shoulder of Croagh Patrick on a clear day, waves of mountain ranges stretch towards the southern horizon.

Looking southeast from the Reek, towards the Partry Mountains, with Lough na Corra in the foreground
Looking southeast from the Reek, towards the Partry Mountains, with Lough na Corra in the foreground

There is only one village of any size in the thirty spectacular kilometres between the Reek and Leenane, the gateway to Connemara. This is Drummin (An Dromainn, meaning “The Ridge”). At the time of writing, Drummin had a small church and a public house. It was also on this plain between Croagh Patrick and the next mountain ranges of Partry and Sheeffry that a young nun, Sister Irene Gibson, lived in a forest home as a hermit for several years up to 2003, in an unsuccessful attempt to set up a hermitage near the village.

It is said that after Saint Patrick fasted on the Reek for forty days, that he threw a silver bell down the south side of the mountain knocking the she-demon Corra from the sky into a lake, sited at the base of the mountain and known locally as Lough na Corra.

Looking southwest from the Reek, the first mountain range that comes into view is that of the Sheeffry Hills (Cnoic Shíofra, meaning “Hills of the Wraith”). This desolate and remote ridge affords spectacular views of both the Reek and the magnificent ranges to the south and west, including the Mweelrea group, the Maumturks, Ben Gorm, Devilsmother, and the Twelve Bens of Connemara. The highest peak, Barrclashcame, is actually eight metres higher than the summit of the Reek.

Connemara's Twelve Bens and Killary Harbour from Barrclashcame in the Sheaffry Hills
Connemara’s Twelve Bens and Killary Harbour from Barrclashcame in the Sheaffry Hills

Looking southwest from the top of the Reek, one can see the deep gorge that forms the break between Connaught Province’s highest mountain, Mweelrea (813 metres), and the Sheaffry Hills. This is the valley of Doolough (Dubh Lough – The Black Lake). This beautiful valley was once the scene of tragedy during the great famine, when starving residents were forced to walk for many miles in brutal winter conditions to request certification as paupers from the decision-makers who were staying in Delphi Lodge, at the southern end of the lake. The commonly accepted story is that they were instructed to appear at 7:00 a.m., then sent back towards the town of Louisburgh, some twelve miles distant. Several were too weak to continue and fell by the side of the road, where their bodies were later collected. Today, the monument in Doolough valley has an inscription from Mahatma Gandhi: “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?”

Winter Sun at Doolough
Winter Sun at Doolough

Beyond Doolough is Ireland’s only fjord – Killary Harbour. On a fine day, the Killary is visible from the Reek, as are the magnificent Twelve Bens and the tooth-like mountains of Maumturk.

Derryclare Horseshoe - Lough Inagh 

There are no direct roads from the Reek to the mountains of Mayo and Connemara. By car, it is necessary to either go via Westport or Louisburgh. The Western Way hiking trail does cross the valley, however, and intrepid walkers can follow this path without fear of motorized traffic.

Western Way Map
The Western Way near Croagh Patrick

The area south of Croagh Patrick seems placid today, but as evidenced by tales from the Tochar Padraig, or Patrick’s Causeway, which joins the main pilgrimage trail up the mountain from the southern side, this region has many stories of great hardship and persecution from not so long ago.

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