The Tóchar Phádraig is a ~1500-year-old Irish pilgrimage from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain of St. Patrick. The 35km (22 mile) path – which traces an ancient chariot road – crosses over 100 stiles in County Mayo, Ireland. It winds by fairy hills, ancient ruins, and mystical sites where the legends of St. Patrick live on today.

Each year, hundreds of pilgrims from Ireland and abroad walk this royal route to experience medieval Ireland and its holy heritage.

What is the Tóchar Phádraig?

Tochar Paidrig (also known as “The Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick” or “St. Patrick’s Causeway”) is a medieval Irish pilgrimage route in beautiful County Mayo. Before its Christianization, the path was a chariot road used to connect the historical Kingdom of Connacht to Croagh Patrick. Deep local folklore and ties to St. Patrick make the pilgrimage a richly syncretic blend of Celtic mythology and Catholic legend.

The route is dotted with important sites from both pre-historic and post-Christian Irish lore. Among them, travelers will find the The Well of Stringle, where St. Patrick himself is said to have performed baptisms; Creggaun ‘a Damhsa (“The Knoll of Dancing”), where fairies are said to dance and prance; and the tiny village of Aghagower (meaning “The Plain of the Springs”), where several important artifacts are preserved (like the Neolithic Boheh Stone, later Christianized as “St. Patrick’s Chair”).

Other sites along the route are quite tragic and solemn. Pilgrims will pass village and church ruins once afflicted by the great famine, like Teampleshaunaglasha, and the dark Lough na gCeann (“Lake of the Heads” or Lough Nagowan), where the despised priest hunter named Sean na Sagart is said to have disposed of his victim’s heads.

The Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick is not a particularly long journey. At a breakneck pace, St. Patrick’s Causeway can be walked over the course of one day. At normal speeds, it takes two days of hiking. When the weather is rainy, the boggy landscapes and muddy paths can make the Tóchar Phádraig more difficult to traverse -- see “How do I prepare for St. Patrick’s Causeway?” below.

PLEASE NOTE: Although The Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick can be done at one’s own pace and any time of year, pilgrims must register with the Ballintubber Abbey Trust before walking and agree to certain rules. See “How do I register for the Tóchar Phádraig?” below for more details.

History of the Tóchar Phádraig

The Tóchar Phádraig pilgrimage was originally a chariot road that began from Rathcroghan – the old capital of the Connachta from which the kings and queens of Cétchathach ruled western Ireland. It stretched all the way to the mountain of Cruachan Aille (known today as Croagh Patrick).

Sometime between the fifth and sixth century, St. Patrick spent time in the area, performing holy acts and sparking legends. Because of its association with the saint and the holy mountain, pilgrims began walking to Croagh Patrick along the path out of penance, and the route earned its name as “St. Patrick’s Causeway.” One’s journey often ended with a hike up holy Croagh Patrick; today, the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage is often seen as a separate journey from the Tóchar Phádraig, although devout pilgrims still combine them.

In 1216, the Augustinian Ballintubber Abbey was built with a hostel for Tóchar Phádraig pilgrims. Remains of the hostel, once known Danchora (“Bath of the Righteous”), can still be seen on the abbey grounds today. Ballintubber Abbey became the de facto point of embarkation for the pilgrimage.

In the late 1500s, the historic road fell into disuse. And during the enactment of Penal Laws in Ireland, its use as a pilgrimage path dissolved altogether (as was the case with almost all pilgrimages in Ireland at the time). St. Patrick’s Causeway sat in disrepair for hundreds of years.

In 1960, Ballintubber Abbey was refurbished, and today stands as a shining example of Romanesque architecture. In 1987, work began to rediscover the pilgrimage’s history and restore the Tóchar Phádraig trail. Easements were established, route markings were posted, and informational placards – known as “Legends” – were erected along the way. The Tóchar Phádraig became part of the official “Pilgrim Paths of Ireland,” established in 2013, and today is maintained and governed by Ballintubber Abbey Trust.

How do I register for the Tóchar Phádraig?

Because the Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick relies heavily upon the goodwill of the private landowners through which it passes, all pilgrims must first coordinate their journey with the Ballintubber Abbey Trust. It can be walked at one’s own pace and time of year, but a few rules must be followed. From Ballintubber Abbey’s official website (as of July 2022):

  1. All walkers must register with Ballintubber Abbey and sign a declaration that exempts Ballintubber Abbey Trust and farmers from liability (should an accident or mishap take place)
  2. As part of this registration, all walkers must pay a fee of €15
  3. A minimum of 2 people must walk the Tóchar Phádraig at the same time. No solo pilgrims are allowed. Those under 18 years must be accompanied by an adult
  4. In the interest of the farmer’s livestock, dogs are strictly prohibited along the pilgrimage path
  5. Upon completion of the journey, walkers must leave a message on Ballintubber Abbey’s answering machine
  6. Pilgrims must comply with all other regulations for walking the Tóchar (which are laid out upon registration)

To register for the St. Patrick’s Causeway pilgrimage, one should call the Abbey at (094) 903-0934 or email them at [email protected] ahead of their planned journey.

Additionally, one can walk the Tóchar Phádraig in an organized group. Details of such expeditions can be found on Ballintubber Abbey’s website. These groups tend to be scheduled around major Irish Catholic holidays (like Easter), and return transportation is typically provided. Because Reek Sunday (also known as Garland Sunday) is an annual day of pilgrimage in Ireland which coalesces around Crough Patrick and the Crough Patrick Pilgrimage, there is a popular Tóchar Phádraig group organized around then.

How do I prepare for St. Patrick’s Causeway?

Lodgings, Food, and Rest Stops

For multi-day trips, there are a few hostels, B&Bs, hotels, and campgrounds along the Tóchar, depending on how you prefer to travel. There are also sparse food options along the way (selection improves greatly closer to Murrisk village). All locations can be found on our free pilgrimage map, which pins places along the way:

Weather and Gear

While the Tóchar Phádraig is not a particularly strenuous hike, one should be prepared to deal with inclement weather. Check the forecast beforehand. Much of the terrain is boggy or rocky, and can be difficult to traverse after rain. Inasmuch, good gear is essential:

  • Luggage: One should carry a light hiking pack which is well-ventilated and can be worn as a backpack. Choosing a bag with back straps and lumbar supports is also a good idea
  • Footwear: Walking boots or sturdy walking shoes are recommended, and should be broken-in beforehand. Anti-blister (hiking) socks will protect your feet. If you can, waterproof your shoes
  • Clothing: Wear light materials in bright, light colors (not tight-fitted). You’ll want high quality shorts, shirts, and underclothes to stay comfortable
  • Outerwear/rain gear: Be sure that you bring a light rain jacket that can fit in a hiker’s bag. Jackets are usually recommended over ponchos
  • Sun protection: Don’t forget sunscreen! Although the weather is often sporadic in western Ireland, there are moments where one can be caught in peak sunshine. Consider also a hat with a sun-blocking rim (and optionally, a midge/mosquito net)
  • Bug protection: Insect repellant or face nets which connect to your hat are never a bad idea when walking through rural Ireland
  • Food and water: It is essential to stay hydrated and energized. Food options along the pilgrimage trail are sparse, and really only exist within the tiny villages in the surrounding areas, often far off the trail. Because the Tóchar Phádraig is not too long, it is advisable to pack as if you will not be able to dine out the entire journey, just in case
  • First aid: Be sure to bring an emergency first aid kid
  • Religious regalia: If you intend to pray or practice penance along the pilgrimage route, don’t forget your rosaries, prayer book, etc.
  • Money and documents: Ensure that you’ve brought along all important documents (passport, pilgrim passport, booking receipts, correspondences, Health Insurance Card, etc.) and enough cash for both the journey and emergencies. See “How much does the Tóchar Phádraig cost?” in the FAQ below for more details

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I have to be Catholic to do the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrimage?

How much does the Tóchar Phádraig cost?

Is there a Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim passport?