Thursday 17 August 2023

Croagh Patrick - Alice Curtayne - An Account of the Great National Pilgrimage

Croagh Patrick
An Account of the Great National Pilgrimage to Ireland’s Holy Mount
Alice Curtayne
Anthonian Press

Croagh Patrick  Alice Curtayne

I first encountered the works of Alice Curtayne in 2018, since then I have read works by her a titles of 27 times. I have been slowing tracking down all her volumes. If my research is accurate she wrote 22 books, 10 booklets or tracks, she was an editor and translator of 2 volumes. She also contributed numerous articles to various newspapers, magazines and religious publications. Some of her volumes I have read a number of times. I read this one with great anticipation. Most of Curtayne’s works never had North American editions. I have had a hard time finding them. Recently I discovered that the National Library of Ireland will scan out of print books for a price. 

There appears to not have been a description on the back of this booklet, nor advertisement which one sometimes finds for other volumes, but instead a Picture of St. Patrick’s Bell. The subtitle of this volume of the title page is “An Account of the Great National Pilgrimage to Ireland’s Holy Mount”. And that is exactly what it is a first hand account of this pilgrimage, during a first visit. There are 6 pen and ink illustrations in the volume. I highlighted several passages my first time through the volume. Some of them are:

“Ireland has two shrines, venerate from remotes antiquity, to which the nation makes annual pilgrimages; They are, Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, on Station Island, Lough Derg; and the sacred mountain called Croagh Patrick, in Mayo.”

“Both forms of pilgrimage are undertakings arduous in the extreme. Through both of them, the pilgrim acquires experimental knowledge of that austerity which was the driving power of Celtic saints. The more difficult of the two is certainly Croagh Patrick. The first thing, then, that the prospective pilgrim should realize is that this pilgrimage is hard. It is necessary to brace oneself.”

“Westport, the town nearest to the mountain base, keeps vigil all the Saturday nigh preceding the big Sunday. The town would seem to be warning the unsuspecting pilgrim of what lies before him by means of her numerous notices about hot coffee for thermos flasks, and a particularly clamorous sale of walking sticks. Vendors of these are everywhere; they wait for the trains, crowding the station and its exits, gather at the church door, swarm round every ‘bus stop; their wares ranging from stout shillelaghs and blackthorns to alpenstocks and silver-mounted canes. It you attempt Croagh Patrick without a stick to aid you, it is not Westport’s fault. And the characteristic sound in the little town that night is the clack, clack, clack of sticks on pavements, as the pilgrims file endlessly through. Families sit in groups at their doorsteps watching this march-past of the modern wayfarers. They salute the strangers with kindness mingled of compassion and approval.”

“I should tell you that neither my two companions not myself have ever made this pilgrimage before.”

“Every time we sat to rest on a rock, the crowd of ascending pilgrims streamed past us: slipping, stumbling, often sprawling, they persisted in their dogged onslaught on this climb made holy by Patrick fifteen hundred years ago. It would be unnecessary to recommend silence on this journey, so thoroughly do conditions enforce it. The physical distress is too acute, the breathing too laboured for conversation.”

“But was not Patrick's story romantic beyond all compare? This runaway slave who went back of his own accord to the people from whom he had escaped at such personal peril in order to revenge himself, not in their punishment, but in their salvation!”

“The sky was now paling, and we could see out watchfaces. We had been climbing for nearly three hours, and we calculated that we were less than an hour’s distance from the summit. (Dear reader, do not take this as an index of your own progress. No doubt you can do better).”

“What was the secret of their method? They would bring the soul face to face with God by a resolute elimination of distractions. They would learn the majesty of that God from constant contemplation of the grandeur of nature. They would learn the sweetness of that God from persistent communing with Him on lonely heights. They would teach their disciples stumbling after them that of bodily weakness the spirt should be contemptuous. All that.”

“These heroic ones were chiefly elderly countrymen. I vividly recall one such, his silver hair lifting in the cold wind, trousers and clean white woollen drawers rolled up carefully to above the knee. He dragged himself along with the aid of a stick held in both his gnarled hands. His face was enkindled, and there are no words to describe his fervour. He knew how to pray. In this way one's mental protests were very speedily silenced. And in saying these prayers, one realizes how literally the Celtic saints obeyed the Scriptural injunction to pray without ceasing and to pray often the selfsame prayer.”

“The End
“The flame of a splendid sun, the Apostle of Virginal Erin, may Patrick . . . be the shelter of our wretchedness.””

Some quick research shows that the shrine is still open today. And the most common starting point appears to be the same. I could not find if there are crowds during Saturdays as depicted in this volume. But I doubt it. Some modern pictures show a clearer path though I doubt much easier an ascent. And the shrine itself seems to have been restored and even enhanced in the nearly hundred years since Curtayne partook of the pilgrimage.  This booklet received the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimi Potest in 1934. 

Curtain mentions 19 years old girl who passed them with ease during the descent. And also mentions two elderly ladies, one who was 76 and that this was her fiftieth ascent, her jubilee climb. And she heard afterwards of a lady of 86 who was the eldest of the women to make the climb that day.

This was a fascinating little read. And if I ever make it to my families homeland I would like to give this pilgrimage a go. I doubt at this point I would do better than Curtayne and her companions. And the thronging crowd would be absent. But there is something in Curtayne’s descriptions and photos of the site that call to me.
I hope those few samples above give you a feel for this work. I love Curtayne’s writing style, I am just drawn in and taken back in time to the events when reading her works. This is another excellent little volume from Curtayne’s pen, and to be honest reveals more about herself than anything else I have read. As such it was more than worth the time and effort to track it down. If you can lay your hands on it I highly recommend it. An excellent read.   

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books and Booklets by Alice Curtayne:
A Recall to Dante
Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet
Lough Derg: St. Patrick's Purgatory
Patrick Sarsfield
Saint Anthony of Padua
St. Bernard Doctor of The Church 1933

Books Edited by Alice Curtayne:
The Complete works of Francis Ledwidge

Books Translated by Alice Curtayne:
Labours in the Vineyard by Giovanni Papin

Books Contributed to by Alice Curtayne:

Croagh Patrick  Alice Curtayne

Saint Patrick Apostle of Ireland Alice Curtayne

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