Running downhill is always a pleasure – fueled by gravity, sustained by belief, with an edge of fear – exhilarating stuff. Running down Croagh Patrick – now there’s one of my favourite forms of exercise – over 700m from summit to base, 4.29km.
Knockranny House Hotel in Westport was the chosen venue for the reception of my nephew’s wedding and a finer venue would be hard to locate. “Take our money” – was the reported immediate response when the wedding couple first visited the hotel – a response easy to appreciate.
Family weddings are always exciting events but when you live somewhat removed and only get to see your family a couple of times a year then they become all the more significant and wonderful. Ten years previously, in the time of the big snow, we had gathered in Westport for the groom’s eldest sister’s wedding, my eldest niece – so the town itself had a happy nuptial history for us all.
Visible from the hotel was that mystical mountain – Croagh Patrick – domineering the skyline, symbolizing our spiritual history and teasing me with its presence.
I had packed my trail running gear – just in case.
The wedding ceremony was held in St James Church in the village of Carracastle through which the main road to Dublin used to run, once busy but now bypassed – an epithet equally suitable perhaps for the catholic church in Ireland.
Family and friends gathered, the bride and her father arrived, the groom’s young nephew and nieces lead the bridal party up the aisle with natural aplomb and the priest negotiated elder views with younger vows while the musicians heralded the beginning of a new marriage and we all smiled, kissed, clapped, shed a tear or two and exchanged tales of sorrow and joy – all of life was in attendance.
And on to Westport – great food, classy wedding speeches, good company and dancing – dancing, did i mention the dancing? We danced the night away – then shortly after midnight we took our cue from Cinderella – us older guests – and departed to our beds.
Now the only way to improve on a great wedding is to follow it with an adventure. So i set my alarm for eight in the morning, had a quick breakfast, filled my water bottles and headed for the Reek – as Croagh Patrick is commonly known. I started climbing at the same time as the sun and we met halfway up as its rays breasted the mountains to the east.
A solitary figure climbed ahead of me while a couple of small clusters of people followed. I was not alone in enjoying that glorious morning. My religious doubts are of long-standing but a climb along a pilgrim’s path is still a spiritual undertaking and so, as my mind quietened and as my breathing adapted to the demands upon it, I remembered companions on past ascents and seeking to connect with the universe hoped well for all of them for 2020 and beyond. I thought of the Four Immeasurables as taught by Buddhism and repeated;
Starting with the newly wed couple and rippling out in ever expanding circles to include their families, my family, all our friends, our friends’ families and friends, out and out, ever further. All who contributed to the wonderful wedding, their family and friends, those ahead of me and those behind on this spiritual climb and so on ever rippling out and out to the furthest reaches of this planet, I wished them all well, I wished them all happiness. I offered them my efforts, my straining muscles and my objecting lungs until eventually I reached the summit.
And as i breached it, the sun disappeared behind a swirling cloud and a mist descended on St Patrick’s Church and the summit. How appropriate, there was not to be any dramatic revelation. The truth exists in the swirling clouds, partly obscured, partly visible. I circled the summit, greeted those following me and refreshed and refueled got ready for the adventure – running back down. Loose stones and rocks make up the pathway. Running down requires a huge amount of faith and trust, both in your own ability and in the mountain.
It has to be a partnership, a joint effort, you cannot succeed alone – a bit like a happy marriage – it takes two to make one. Two to create happiness and success. The climb was the courtship. Now we knew each other, trusted each other, loved one another. It was time to move to a new level. My initial hesitant steps grew faster as i grew more confident and the mountain held me gently, showed me the way, lead me on.
Greeting those still climbing as i met them, several seeking advice, “Is it much farther?”, “What is the hardest part?, “How long will it take?” I reassured them all that the part they were climbing was the hardest part, that the future might be steeper but because of the progress made to get there, it would not be more difficult.
And we continued to dance, the mountain and i. A step to the left, a small jump to the right, a quickstep and a waltz entwined, listen to the music of the babbling stream, the rocks underneath, the guiding wind.
The wonder of life.
I reached the car park, visited the grotto and said goodbye to the mountain – until again, until the next time.
Time to return to my family.
Namaste my friends – may all your mountains be as holy as Croagh Patrick