Published in Artefacts, Issue 4 (July/August 2023), Volume 31

By Oliver Doyle

Croagh Patrick, a 2,510ft-high conical mountain 9.5km from Westport, has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. During the Celtic Revival in the early 1900s, the annual pilgrimage to the summit was reintroduced; Mass would be celebrated there, and sermons given in both English and Irish, as many of those attending did not speak English. In 1903 the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) provided special trains from Achill, Castlerea, Ballinrobe, Killala and other places. Railway posters of the day give an extensive list of return fares but no train times, reflecting that money was more important than time.

Above: The chalice and ciborium presented by the staff of the Midland Great Western Railway in 1911 and 1912 respectively for use on Reek Sunday in the Croagh Patrick oratory

The event quickly became significant, and the Great Southern & Western Railway (GS&WR) operated specials initially from Tuam and Sligo, and later from Galway and Limerick. In 1911 the staff of the MGWR formed a committee to raise funds to present the small oratory on Croagh Patrick’s summit with a splendid copy of an old Irish chalice in solid silver, richly gilded, with 36 real stones (two now missing) and with engraved figures and fine Celtic interlacing around the base. It was designed by John Kane, 101 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin. The hallmark at the top of the chalice is in three parts: ‘JK’, confirming the designer’s identity; the mark for the year 1911; and the mark of the Dublin Assay Office where the hallmark was applied. I located the chalice in St Mary’s parish church, The Mall, Westport, where it is in everyday use.

The chalice was consecrated on the evening of Saturday 29 July 1911 by Archbishop Healy of Tuam. The beautiful gift was for use at the Croagh Patrick annual pilgrimage for centuries to come. Around the base is the inscription: ‘Presented by the staff of the Midland Great Western Railway to Croagh Patrick Oratory 30th July 1911’. A more prominent inscription is repeated in Irish, using Irish script. The chalice was first used the following day, Reek Sunday 1911, for Masses on the summit.

Above: The hallmark at the top of the chalice is in four parts: ‘JK’, confirming the designer’s identity; ‘Britannia’, indicating that it is pure silver; the ‘harp’ of the Dublin Assay Office; and the mark for the year 1911.

In the following year, 1912, on Reek Sunday (28 July) the railwaymen of the MGWR presented a ciborium to Croagh Patrick, again designed by John Kane. The hallmark bears his initials. It is reported that twenty trains ran to Westport for the pilgrimage. Storing trains in Westport was never a problem, as after discharging their passengers they could run empty from the station to the yard at Westport Quay. On Reek Sunday (29 July) 1984 only one train from Limerick operated, serving all stations to Claremorris, with 268 passengers. There was no Dublin arrangement, and so ended 81 years of Reek Sunday pilgrimage trains.

Oliver Doyle is a retired Irish Rail manager and lifelong railway historian.


I would like to thank Fr Charles McDonald for granting access to the vessels and Brian Murphy, Rosslare, for details of the hallmarks.


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