Go Walk: Take the pilgrim path

Next Saturday walkers will tread in the footsteps of pagans and pilgrims as part of a nationwide series of trail-based events


Do you believe today’s festivals are contrived? All sugary experiences, second-hand activities and warnings about health and safety? If so, this coming Easter offers an opportunity to escape the cotton -wool clutches of modern recreation on a determinedly uncontrived outdoor experience that reaches unbroken from time immemorial.

Celebrating Ireland’s ancient network of penitential tracks, Pilgrim Paths Day, next Saturday, April 19th, is a new festival that urges us “to take up the pilgrim baton and follow the sacred trails of our forefathers”.

Ideal for those who enjoy exploring tracks imprinted with the footsteps of generations past, this festival is primarily aimed at those who have been going abroad for symbolic trails.

Themed around the idea of thanksgiving, Pilgrim Paths Day, supported by the Heritage Council, offers a nationwide series of trail-based pilgrim events to which all belief systems are welcome.

So, whatever your beliefs, you can get both feet working next weekend at one of the 10 events listed below when Ireland’s penitential paths will resonate again to the timeless echo of pilgrim footfall.

Lough Derg, Co Donegal

Since medieval times the mystical call to Lough Derg has never subsided. Appropriately, the pilgrim route along the lakeshore is far removed from 21st century living and remains little altered from its early Christian past. It offers a sublime means of escape from the present on a hill-free route along walker-friendly forest tracks.
Departure: 11am
Distance: 12km
Duration: 3 hours
Contribution: €5
Meeting place: From Pettigoe on the Fermanagh/Donegal border, take the R233 to the assembly at Station Island pier
Information: 071-986 1518 or email sharon@loughderg.org

Turas Cholm Cille, Co Donegal

Genuinely unsanitised pilgrimage marked by pagan standing stones that were later adroitly knotted together to form the Stations of the Cross. Pilgrimage is traditionally conducted barefoot but this is not required next Saturday. In fact, walking boots are essential.
Departure: 10am
Distance: 7km
Duration: 3 hours
Meeting place: From Donegal town take the N56 to Killybegs and the R263 to Glencolumbkille. Assemble at the Oideas Gael Centre
Information: 074-9730248 or email oideasgael@eircom.net

St Kevin’s Way, Co Wicklow

An opportunity to weave your way along St Kevin’s Road to Glendalough. The undemanding terrain allows plenty of time for connecting with Wicklow’s inspirational beauty. Opportunities to linger will come with background information on St Kevin and moments for quiet reflection.
Departure: 9.30am
Distance: 11km
Duration: 3 hours
Contribution: €4
Meeting place: Take the N11 from Dublin and then follow signs for Glendalough. Assemble in Glendalough visitor centre car park. Bus then drops participants to the startpoint
Information: 086-4090289 or email bebhinnramsay@gmail.com

St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way, Co Cork

A recently revived pilgrim path that is justifiably referred to as the “Camino of Cork”, this offers a magnificent two-day journey across three mountains and four valleys. Memorable views over Bantry Bay, the Cork coastline and a rich archaeological history are surpassed only by the spectacular Easter Sunday descent into Gougane Barra.
Departure: 9am
Distance: 37km
Duration: 2 days
Contribution: €45 (concessions €40). Includes lunches, bus transfers and guide
Meeting place: From Cork take the N22 to Macroom and the R596 to Drimoleague. Assemble at Top of the Rock, 1km north of the village
Information: 086-1735134 or email davidross316@gmail.com
Accommodation: Packages from Gougane Barra Hotel: 026-47069 or Elizabeth Ross: 028-31547

Slí Mór Cycle to Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly

Cycling may seem oddly incongruous, but pilgrimage traditionally involves all non-mechanised transport and cyclists are commonly encountered on Europe’s penitential trails. Route follows much of the great Esker Riada ridge on quiet roads that afford absorbing views and contain little to challenge even casual cyclists. Two walks of 10km are also offered with both finishing at Clonmacnoise. Day concludes with an inter-denominational service.
Departure cycle: 1pm
Distance: 24.5km
Duration: 2 hours
Meeting place for cyclists: Ballycumber, Co Offaly which lies on the R436 between Clara and Ferbane.
Information: 087-7742981 or email annlanigan@laoispartnership.ie
Bikes may be pre-booked. Booking return transport is essential

Kilcommon Pilgrim Loop, Co Tipperary

An opportunity to follow pre-Christian trails on Mother Mountain, once used for journeys of homage to the goddess Eilbhe. Later they were stoically walked by generations of upland people. Ideal family event requiring only moderate fitness. Walking boots recommended. The walk will be followed by a ceremonial lighting of the Easter Pascal fire.
Departure: 2.30pm
Distance: 7km
Duration: 2½ hours.
Post-walk refreshments: €5
Meeting place: From Thurles take the R498 and the R503 (signposted Limerick). After 18km go right at a sign for Kilcommon. The village is 2km distant. Assembly is at the community centre.
Information: 087-9480791 or kilcommon.pilgrim@gmail.com

St Declan’s Way, Tipperary/Waterford

Ancient pilgrimage route linking the 5th century monastery of St Declan in Ardmore with the Rock of Cashel.

Route ascends a high pass in the Knockmealdown mountains before finishing at the renowned Cistercian monastery of Mount Melleray.

A non-denominational ceremony concludes the event. Walking boots and waterproof clothing required.
Departure: 10am
Distance: 17km
Duration: 4 hours
Contribution: €15
Meeting place: Mount Melleray Abbey. Participants will be bussed to the startpoint
Information: Email kilmaneen@eircom.net or kmdactive.com

Rath/Dysert Path, Co Clare

It is sometimes said the Irish countryside is a giant storybook awaiting readers. Nowhere is this truer than in west Clare, exemplified by the Rath/Dysert Path and its medieval churches, holy wells, abbeys, towers and high crosses on a route for all fitness levels. Walk concludes with a ritual dance.
Departure: 2pm
Distance: 8km
Duration: 2½ hours
Contribution: €5
Meeting place: Car park at St Blathmac’s Church, Rath, Corofin
Advance booking required: 087-9828173 or email piusm@eircom.net

Cosán na Naomh, Co Kerry

Isolated by mountain and ocean, the weather-sculpted lands beyond Dingle seem to have regressed in time. This is particularly true of the ancient Cosán na Naomh penitential route that winds through ancient fields and fuchsia-rich lanes from Ventry beach to Mount Brandon.
Departure: 10.30am
Distance: 17km
Duration: 4 hours
Meeting place: Follow the R559 west from Dingle, swing left to Ventry beach car park
Information: 086-8191942, 066-915000 or email tp@iol.ie

Tóchar Phádraig, Co Mayo

(Easter Monday, April 21st)
Tóchar Phádraig is the genuine article – a prehistoric, druidical pathway with abundant resonances from its pagan past. Christianised by St Patrick, it remains much as it was for medieval pilgrims. Participants walk from Aughagower to Ballintubber.
Departure: 10am
Distance: 11km.
Meeting place: Ballintubber Abbey, located off the N84, 14km from Castlebar.
Information: 094-9030934 or email info@ballintubberabbey.ie

Full details of Pilgrim Paths Day events at pilgrimpath.ie.

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