Distance: 32 KM (35KM optional)
Start/Finish: Ballintubber Abbey-Croagh Patrick
Difficulty level: medium
It’s a wonderful experience to walk a trail, enjoying the scenery and soaking in the landscape. As your feet tread the worn paths you may even get a sense of kinship with those that have walked before you. Now, imagine you are walking a trail that is possibly thousands of years old. Well, that’s exactly what you get with Tóchar Phadraig.
Starting at Ballintubber Abbey, Tóchar Phadraig meanders its way through County Mayo’s idyllic countryside. You never really go far before you come upon history, whether it’s monastic ruins, ancient Neolithic rock art or the shells of old famine houses, this trail never lets you forget its historical importance. You’ll pass through 32km of fields, woods, rivers, hills, walking country lanes before going up and over Croagh Patrick, finishing on the Murrisk side. This trail is also one of the twelve pilgrim paths in Ireland with a chance to fill your pilgrim’s passport, one at the Abbey and the other at Campbell’s pub. Depending on fitness levels this hiking trail can be completed in one day or a nice leisurely two days.
Signage, do not follow Elvis!!
If you have walked any trail in Ireland, then you will know of the small little yellow hiking man (Elvis). On this trail, you do not follow Elvis, Tóchar Phadraig has its own unique signage as shown in the picture. On a very important note, TP intersects with a national waymarked trail called the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail, so keep in mind not to veer off. Overall, signage is okay but poor in parts where it has not been maintained. Maintenance is another issue as some of the styles have fallen apart but I must say you get a whole array which is nice to see for any trail nerds out there. I had to use the Hiiker app twice as my way wasn’t very clear. The first, I had taken the wrong turn and the second was when the trail had become overgrown and a sign was missing.
The first half of this trail is great as it pulls you through woods, fields, and bogs. The soft ground is a blessing for the feet and you are taken through some lovely countryside. If you don’t have waterproof boots expect wet feet as some areas are very boggy. As you go along the first half please be aware that you will be passing many cattle farms and if you struggle with cows you may well find this difficult. The village of Aughagower is the halfway point and sadly after this, you’ll mainly be walking on country lanes for long stretches. Thankfully the scenery is really nice and does make up for it but a few more sections off-road would have been so much better. Finishing up your last road stretch you will reach Mayo Mountain Rescues base, from here it’s all-mountain terrain until you finish.
Let’s talk about Aughagower, a mouthful I know but I highly recommend making it your halfway stop. Other than being a lovely picturesque little village, it is built around the ruins of an old monastery with its most striking feature being the round tower. Here, I would advise you to pop into John Pat, the owner of Scott’s shop/pub. Whether you want to restock on some sugary snacks, a hot cup of tea, or you fancy a pint to quince your thirst you’ll get friendly service and possibly even a chat with the colourful locals. If a pint isn’t your thing then no worries there is a lovely area with picnic benches and a small stream trickling beside it for you to enjoy as you tuck into that sandwich
The Mountain Looms ever nearer
If there is no cloud cover you can see Croagh Patrick from the very beginning way off in the distance. Once you pass Aughagower this is when it starts becoming more and more imposing. Those legs that are probably starting to feel some fatigue are wondering how they are going to get to the top. Croagh Patrick is a special mountain in so many regards. It’s a stand-alone mountain at the edge of the world and has been worshipped for millennia. If you stand on the other side of Clew Bay and look over, Croagh Patrick looks like a pregnant woman lying down so it’s no surprise that it was considered sacred in terms of fertility. Another interesting fact is that it is full of gold and thankfully efforts in the late 80s were thwarted to mine it by the locals. One can only imagine what a pilgrim 3000 years ago was thinking as the mountain loomed bigger and bigger the closer they got. Thankfully, you have two options once you’ve surmounted the shoulder:
- You can continue down to Murisk.
- You can summit then head down to the finishing line.
If the legs are tired, conditions are poor, or it’s getting dark I would suggest the first option. This is a dangerous mountain as 80% of all MMR call outs are on Croagh Patrick. If, however, conditions are good and there’s plenty in the tank, grab that peak. The views from the top are just incredible and as you look back towards Ballintubber you’ll no doubt get a growing sense of achievement. Then get yourself down to Campbell pub for soup, sandwiches and a well-earnt pint.
Saint? Patrick and the fascinating history
Okay, bombshell time, Saint Patrick was never canonized therefore he is not technically a saint. Sorry for wrecking your next Paddy’s Day 😜. As you jaunt along this trail there numerous plaques that give you snippets of history to accompany the trail. You’ll learn about the myths and legends of Patrick but you’ll also come across the ancient marvel of the Boheh stone. Believed to be carved as early as 3800 BC it is a massively important place to pre-christen Ireland. On April 18 and August 24 standing at the stone you will witness the rolling sun phenomenon where it appears as if the sun is rolling down the cone of Croagh Patrick. Along the route, there are other ancient places of interest and also some more modern history. It’s one of the aspects that really does make the trail… Well for history nerds like me anyways.
This little trail is wonderfully packed full of fascinating history. Poor maintenance and signage at certain points take the shine from it somewhat and long road stretches can be taxing. If you fancy sauntering through a beautiful landscape and following in the footsteps of ancient Irish peoples then this is the trail for you. If you are looking for a trail of Catholic pilgrimage and faith deepening walking then this is the trail for you. Even if history or religion isn’t your thing and you’re doing it for the challenge I reckon you still will enjoy this trail particularly summiting after 33km of stomping. If the cons were fixed then I would be giving this trail a 4.5 but as it stands 3.5 is my final mark. Walking this trail I’ve decided to do a video for my YouTube next year. If it is next year then why not check out the video on said YouTube channel Mountain Mikes Adventures.