Trekking Tru Time guide and archaeologist Martin Fitzpatrick gives an insight into Irelands Pilgrimage Mountains and commences the series with Mount Brandon on the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry – one of the guided hikes offered to clients.

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Photo by Frank Coyne

Located on the Dingle Peninsula Mount Brandon rises to 952m (3123 feet) and is the ninth highest peak in the country. The trek to the summit can commence from a number of locations and if achieved on a, rare, clear day can reward one with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. A reasonable level of fitness is required to tackle this climb and an ability to navigate is essential particularly when the mists descend.

Brief History

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The ‘Saints Road’ markers leading the way to Brandon.

The history of the mountain is shrouded in some mystery with the name implying a possible relationship with the fifth century Saint Brendan -famous as ‘Brendan the Navigator’. The pilgrimage to the summit however probably originated in pre-Christian times and was associated with the feast of Lughnasa –one of four quarterly feasts in the Celtic calendar. Lughnasa celebrated the beginning of the harvest and would have involved a great assembly or gathering involving feasting, dancing, courtship, sports etc. The pagan god Crom Dubh was the god of the harvest and so this mountain and others in Ireland can trace their earliest pilgrimages to commemorating the harvest god with the last Sunday in July the traditional pilgrimage day.

There are a number of pilgrimage routes over the mountain. The more difficult starts on the east side of the mountain from the village of Cloghane or from Faha. The easier approach is from Kikmalkedar and it is speculated that the original ‘saints road’ may have commenced at Kilcolman, near Ventry Harbour. This route may have been favored by pilgrims approaching by sea.

Brandon Mountain offers the walker a unique insight into a way of life that once dominated our society. While the lure of the mountain still brings us to its summit the experience is always more appreciated with a little knowledge of its history.