The Celtic people regarded the mountain as the dwelling place of the deity Crom Dubh or 'the dark bent one'. Although Lugh is prominently thought of at Lughnasah, the harvest festival, the god most associated with the ancient festival is Crom Dubh. The mountain was the focus of the festival, traditionally held around August 1st. The sacred mountain was especially important for women, who would sleep on the summit during Lughnasa to encourage fertility.
Along the path to the top, neolithic art can still be seen on a rock known as St. Patrick's Chair. A Celtic hill fort was recently uncovered at the base of the mountain. According to Christian tradition, St. Patrick went up the sacred mountain at festival time in 441 A.D. After fasting at the summit for 40 days and 40 nights, he banished all the snakes and demons from Ireland. Since there have never been any snakes in Ireland; this is a metaphor using snakes and demons to represent the pagans and their stone idols.
Mt. Croagh Patrick is the most important Catholic pilgrimage destination in Ireland. Nearly one million visitors, most of them pilgrims, climb to the top every year. Almost 30,000 pilgrims make the trek on the last Sunday in July, known as 'Reek Sunday'. For most Catholics who visit Mt. Croagh Patrick, especially on Reek Sunday, the pilgrimage to the top of the sacred mountain is an act of penance. Accordingly, some make the journey barefoot or even on their knees. The summit has a small chapel where mass is held each day.
The full pilgrimage route originates in the village of Murrisk, just outside Westport. The first main sight on the pilgrimage path is a statue of St. Patrick, erected in 1928 by a Westport pastor. Although it is not one of the official stations, it has become a place of prayer and makes a good goal for those not able to climb all the way to the top.
There are three pilgrimage stations on the way to the summit of Croagh Patrick, each of which has a sign with instructions for the proper rituals and prayers.
The stations are as follows:
First Station (Leacht Benáin): Base of the Mountain:1. Walk 7 times around the mound of stones while saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed
Second Station: The Summit:1. Kneel and say: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed2. Pray near the chapel for the Pope's intentions.3. Walk 15 times around the chapel while saying: 15 Our Fathers, 15 Hail Marys4. Walk 7 times around Leaba Phádraig (Patrick's Bed) saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed
Third Station: Roilig Mhuire: Virgins Cemetery:1. Walk 7 times around each mound of stones saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed2. Walk 7 times around the whole enclosure of Roilig Mhuire praying.
Each year, as many as one million pilgrims and visitors make the trek to the top to pray at the stations of the cross, participate in mass, do penance or just enjoy the spectacular view.