Go­ing back in time

Ire­land’s Clew Bay has many nearby is­lands and while you can en­joy great views of them, they’re worth a visit too.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRAVEL - By SArAH DE CrESCENZO

HOW many is­lands dot Ire­land’s Clew Bay? As many as days of the year, goes the say­ing.

Scan­ning the green mounds pep­per­ing the white- capped sea below while vis­it­ing last sum­mer, I tried fu­tilely to dis­tin­guish from the other is­lands the grassy knoll where my grand­mother was born.

They all looked the same from my van­tage half­way up Croagh Pa­trick, the moun­tain that over­looks the bay, so af­ter a swig of wa­ter and a few lung­fuls of air, my hus­band and I con­tin­ued our trek to the peak.

The moun­tain – re­ferred to lo­cally as the Reek – rises to about 2,500ft ( 762m) above sea level and is 5miles ( 8km) out­side the sea­side vil­lage of West­port in County Mayo. It draws about 100,000 peo­ple to the area each year.

Vis­i­tors at the start of the climb are greeted by a white statue of St Pa­trick, the na­tion’s pa­tron saint and the moun­tain’s name­sake. At its sum­mit is a small chapel where Masses are cel­e­brated on Reek Sun­day, the last Sun­day each July when thou­sands turn out to walk to­gether to the top. Some among the trekkers who make the an­nual pil­grim­age take the rocky trail bare­foot.

We set off for the sum­mit on a clear morn­ing in June, with light jack­ets zipped over stom­achs filled to burst­ing by the break­fast cooked to or­der by the pro­pri­etor of Plougas­tel House, the cosy bed and break­fast where we were stay­ing in West­port.

Head­ing out, I re­mem­bered the first time I had hiked Croagh Pa­trick as a teenager, more than a decade ago: My mem­ory was of me and my fam­ily bound­ing up­ward un­der a warm­ing sun.

But on this climb, about half­way up the moun­tain the crowd be­gan to thin as the tem­per­a­ture dropped and fog damp­ened the loose shale and rocks.

Be­fore leav­ing south­ern Cal­i­for­nia for our hon­ey­moon, I told my hus­band I’d like us to climb the Reek to­gether. But I hadn’t said any­thing about the clouds that of­ten roll over the top of the moun­tain, or how the top third of the climb be­comes more of a crawl as rocks shift un­der­foot with­out warn­ing on the nar­row­ing trail.

That day, our fi­nal steps onto the plateau were wit­nessed by only one other climber, a woman calmly feed­ing blue­ber­ries to a lone sheep.

Step­ping by her onto the plateau, we felt the full force of the wind. I pulled my phone from my pocket for a photo, and my stiff­en­ing fin- gers nearly lost it to a pow­er­ful gust.

With the re­al­i­sa­tion that the wind was so strong our voices were lost to it, we ran to the fog- shrouded chapel and hun­kered down against its lee­ward side.

Min­utes later the cold be­came too much, and we de­scended, skid­ding down to­ward the sun- dap­pled stretch of the trail vis­i­ble below.

That af­ter­noon, our spir­its fully re­vived by a thim­ble­ful or two of Jame­son ( whisky), slices of home­made cake and at­taboys from the rel­a­tives for reach­ing the top, we set out to the first of two is­lands we would visit dur­ing our trip.

We cast off from the shore in a small boat with two rel­a­tives and a sea- lov­ing mutt to visit the is­land where my ma­ter­nal grand­mother had lived be­fore she em­i­grated to Chicago.

Mo­tor­ing by is­lands of deep green scat­tered through­out the bay, we saw seals loung­ing on rocks and herds of cows and sheep graz­ing con­tent­edly.

As we neared our desti­na­tion, the wind picked up no­tice­ably, whip­ping up spray and rock­ing the boat.

Dock­ing, we knew the visit would have to be a quick one.

With our four- footed friend bound­ing ahead, we walked up to an in­tri­cate and rusted gate and through it found a path lead­ing to the house.

Once we reached the doorstep, we walked around the build­ing, peer­ing through the win­dows as if

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