Overlooking the beautiful seaside village of Murrisk is the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick. Fondly known locally as “The Reek” this majestic mountain has been associated with ritual focus for thousands of years and still is today. Unique in an Irish and European context, there is the physical evidence of both a major later-prehistoric and early-historic ritual, ceremonial and defensive focus. Also, an unbroken pilgrimage tradition stretching back into the depths of recorded history. The main day of pilgrimage is the last Sunday in July (‘Reek Sunday’). It is believed the earliest Christians arrived in Ireland some 400 years after the birth of Christ. At this time Ireland was deeply submerged in pagan ritual and tradition. Before association with St Patrick the Reek (as it is known locally), was called Cruachan Agli, roughly translated as ‘the hill of the eagle’. Archaeology has revealed extensive pre-Christian use on and around the holy mountain. The View of Clew Bay can be seen right along the trail before arriving at the trail end at the base of Croagh Patrick. According to local tradition there are 365 islands in Clew Bay, one for each day of the year, however there are only 117.The islands are a result of glaciation and are known as drumlins, formed over 10,000 years ago when the last Ice Age ended. Some of the islands are occupied, however most are uninhabited. Dorinish Mor was bought by Beatle John Lennon in 1967 and is one of the better known islands.
Located near the village is Murrisk Abbey which was founded by Fr. Hugh O’ Malley in 1457 after receiving the land from the local chieftain (said to be a grandfather to Grainnuaile). Fr. Hugh had sought permission to establish a Friary from Pope Callistus the 3rd for the Canon Regulars of St. Augustine (Augustinians), it was later dedicated to St. Patrick.In 1578 the land was leased to James Garvey, who was a brother to the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh. From then until the 1800s little is known of the friars attached to the friary but it is known they suffered persecution. It is believed some of them relocated to the friary in Ballyhaunis when Murrisk friary ceased to function. One such friar, namely Fr. Myles Prendergast, had to spend many years on the run in the Clifden area. Although the friars were not in residence in the Friary there is evidence to suggest some were sheltered in the area by locals and administered to their flock. A chalice, now in Tuam, has the following inscription: ‘Pray for the souls of Theobald, Lord Viscount Mayo and his wife Maeve ni Cnochoure who had me made for the monastery of Murrisk in the year of our Lord 1635’. One Fr. Philip Staunton appears to have been the last monk in Murrisk and later died in Ballintubber.