The annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick takes places this weekend. The Westport Unit of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps has urged the large number of expected pilgrims to safeguard against accidents by taking necessary precautions.
Since 1943, the Westport Unit of the Order of Malta have co-ordinated the rescue and emergency services as pilgrims travel from Ireland and overseas to climb the 2,500 ft mountain. While numbers participating have fallen in recent years, the spell of good weather is expected to attract a larger number of pilgrims this weekend, with some doing the climb in bare feet.
The Westport Unit has carried out its operations alongside the Mayo Mountain Rescue Team since 1997. This co – operation goes beyond “Reek” weekend, with the two organisations working closely on the increasing number of rescue operations throughout the year. The increasing number of call outs is representative of the dangers posed by the climb, often underestimated by the public.
Speaking of Reek Sunday, Keelan Moran, spokesperson from the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps said: "We urge all climbers to be extra cautious this weekend given the dangers posed by the climb. While Croagh Patrick is a very manageable climb, it is important that all who take on the challenge do so sensibly. We are stressing the importance of climbers being suitably equipped for all weather, regardless of ground conditions. It is imperative that good footwear such as hiking boots be worn, along with warm clothes and rain gear, as well as sun protection. All climbers should also bring a plentiful supply of water and snacks, while extra care must be taken with children on the mountain. Given the recent spell of good weather, it is important to note that while conditions may be fine on the ground, often this is not the case towards the summit.”
“Our personnel will be on hand both on the mountain and on the ground in Murrisk throughout the day to assist and advise pilgrims as much as possible. We ask that all climbers take note of and heed this advice. As this is such a large scale and unpredictable event, planning has been underway for months to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone taking part. The safety of our volunteers, climbers and pilgrims is our top priority and could not be protected to such high and professional standards without the co-operation of many organisations, all of whom deserve some special mention and thanks. The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps provide over 120 volunteers from throughout the country, while Mountain Rescue Ireland have over 80 volunteers on the day, with both organisations assisted by Civil Defence teams, the Irish Air Corps, An Garda Síochana, Mayo County Council, the Murrisk Development Association, the Irish Coast Guard and Church Authorities.”
Moran also spoke about the increasing costs of the Reek Sunday operation as well as the Westport Unit’s ongoing costs incurred while serving the community. “Each year, our costs continue to rise due to insurance, utilities and higher demand on our services. It is becoming increasingly difficult as a completely voluntary organisation who depend almost solely on donations to live within our means. We will have fundraising teams in Murrisk on the day and we’d ask the public to be as generous as possible. Without such support, it would be impossible to continue to provide the wide range of services we make available. A number of fundraisers also take place throughout the year and we’d ask our community and businesses to support these events.”
The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps runs an extensive operation, including a medical treatment unit in the local National School which assesses and treats all patients on the day, 4 fully crewed ambulances, rapid response vehicles, a First Aid Post and a Medical Tent on the mountain, first aid and stretcher teams as well as communication and welfare services. Pilgrims are reminded to ask any of the authorities or volunteers for advice before or during the climb.