The Skelp (Irish: scealp: a rocky ridge) brings us to the end of the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail on the shoulder of Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phadraig: lit. Patrick’s stack, known locally as The Reek).
The rock here is quartzite, a metamorphic rock developed from quartz sandstone exposed to heat and/or pressure. The peat overlying the rock is very acidic and low in nutrients, and supports a specialised flora. Ling, bell heather, bog asphodel and bog cotton abound. Insect eating plants such as sundew – long-leaved, oblong-leaved and round-leaved varieties can all be found – grow in low, boggy places, and wild orchids and bog cotton provide colour in their season.
Dragonflies are common throughout the summer. Among the birds to be found are wheatear, skylark and meadow pipit. Ravens are common over the uplands and on your descent to Murrisk there is a good chance you will be greeted by the family of rare choughs that have made the abbey their home.
One feature of the ascent to the Skelp is the deeply eroded ravine that carries frequent floodwaters from the hill. Ravine walls provide a cross section of local rock structure. A few minutes spent turning stones in the stream will turn up a surprising amount of invertebrate life.
The Skelp stream feeds into the Owenwee (Abhain Bhui: Yellow River), which takes its name from the rich deposits of gold once found within. Most of the gold is in the form of tiny flakes. Do take a look though, for you never know what you might find!
The end of our trail offers fine views over Clew Bay with its many islands. Locals claim there are 365 of these, although a more accurate figure is about one third of that, depending on the state of the tide. Many of these have been occupied over the years. However, island life appears to have lost its appeal, for there are now very few occupied homes away from the mainland.
Located near the village of Murrisk is the Augustinian Abbey founded by Hugh O’ Malley in 1457 on land gifted by local chieftain Thady O’Malley, grandfather of Mayo’s pirate queen Grainnuaile (Grace O’Malley) who was married to Richard of Iron (Doonamona and Guesdian castles). One Philip Staunton appears to have been the last monk in Murrisk. He later died in Ballintubber, where Tibbot na Long (son of Richard of Iron and Grainnuaile) is buried in the sacristy. Could Philip have been associated with Staunton’s forge back at Clogher? The closer we look, the tighter the loop becomes.
Thank you for joining us and sharing a few things along the way. We certainly hope to see you again and look forward to hearing your experiences. Please send photos and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we promise to respond.