Pilgrim Passport offers chance to explore our penitential paths
The 30km pilgrim trail from Hollywood, Co Wicklow, follows the journey of St Kevin
Cnoc na dTobar mountain towers above Cahersiveen, and has been a sacred site since the pagan Lúghnasa festival was celebrated on its summit
Until recently Irish people wishing to enjoy the serene delight of pilgrim walking were obliged to first undertake the penitential exercise of negotiating an airport. All has changed, however, with the recent reawakening of Ireland’s mystical trails and the initiation of a new Pilgrim Passport. This now offers an opportunity to explore over 120km of Ireland’s most memorable penitential paths while reconnecting with medieval heritage.
The well-marked track rises gently to the sweeping viewpoint of the Wicklow Gap before descending to the ancient monastic site in Glendalough and your passport stamping point in the local hotel.
Next head for west Cork and tackle St Finbarr’s Path. This wonderfully charismatic but demanding 37km route starts from the village of Drimoleague. It offers unforgettable vistas as it leads over the Sheehy Mountains and through the lonely west Cork valleys to the passport stamping point at Gougane Barra. Requiring two days to complete, it is suitable only for experienced trekkers. If in doubt join an organised walk. Information on these at www.topoftherock.ie
Then head along the Ring of Kerry to Cnoc na dTobar Mountain, which towers above Cahersiveen and has been a sacred site since the pagan Lúghnasa festival was celebrated on its expansive summit. Start near scenic Coonanna Harbour and follow the 9km there-and-back path leading upwards. The trail is marked by the Stations of the Cross and the Skellig Islands are in view by the 11th station. This acts as your pilgrim destination, although many will complete the route to the mountaintop to enjoy the magnificent vista, regarded as one of Ireland’s finest 360-degree panoramas.
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The walk includes Gallarus Oratory and Kilmalkedar monastic site before concluding in the shadow of Mount Brandon, which has long been associated with St Brendan and remains one of Ireland’s most venerated mountains.
Finally, journey north along the wild magnificence of the Wild Atlantic Way to Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo, and the start of the Tóchar Phádraig. This 30km route follows the ancient royal road from Rathcruachán, the seat of the kings of Connaught, to Croagh Patrick. Holding many resonances from its pagan past, it was Christianised as a penitential journey by St Patrick, but remains stubbornly untamed and much as it was for medieval pilgrims. The route, which concludes appropriately with a crossing of Croagh Patrick, is way-marked with the distinctive Tochar logo.
Camino Information Centre, James Street, Dublin. (Thurs, Fri, Sat, 10.30am to 3.30pm)
Ballintubber Abbey, Claremorris, Co Mayo. Tel: 094 9030934. Email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Top of the Rock, Drimoleague, Bantry, Co Cork. Tel: 028 31547. Email: email@example.com.
At the end of the Irish pilgrim journey the Teastas Oilithreachta (Irish pilgrim paths completion certificate) is obtained by detaching the fully stamped panel page from your passport, and forwarding it along with €15 to Ballintubber Abbey.
If you would like to walk an Irish pilgrim path over Easter then Pilgrim Paths Week presents the perfect opportunity. This new Eastertime festival offers the opportunity for 10 fully guided walks on Ireland’s mystical paths during Holy Week. Details at pilgrimpath.ie.