Woman walking from Cork to Vatican to demand respect for women

Anja Bakkers travelling with harp along 2,000km pilgrim in hope of meeting Pope Francis

Hannibal did it over 2,000 years ago with an army and elephants but now an adopted Irish woman is about to cross the Alps and march to Rome with a harp on her back as part of an epic pilgrimage to the Vatican to demand respect for women worldwide.

Anja Bakkers (48), born in Canada, reared in the Netherlands but resident now in west Cork, began her marathon walk on March 24th and is currently making her way to Rosslare for the ferry to Wales and England before taking another ferry to France and tackling the Alps to get to Rome.

Speaking on the Cork Today Show with Patricia Messinger on C103 FM, Bakkers revealed that she first began walking with her harp, which she named Seán, eight years ago when she went on a pilgrimage from her home in Clonakilty in west Cork to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

“At the time I was a very angry woman. I was after reading the Murphy report (into child sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin) and it really confused me and upset me because it told me things about the country I had come to love so much that I really didn’t want to know at all.”


En route to Santiago de Compostela, Bakkers heard about pilgrims walking to Rome which reminded her of something her father and his twin brother used to say when they were young - that when they retired, they would go to Rome to tell the pope how to run the world.

And when she learned that bardic Irish harpers also went on pilgrimage to Rome, playing their harps as they went, that made up her mind that she too would set off for the Holy See where she hopes to get to meet Pope Francis and set out her views on how women are treated around the world.

Bakkers's only travelling companion on the near 2,000 km trek from Clonakilty to Rome, is Seán whom she describes as "a Ravenna 26 string harp, built in the very successful workshop of Dusty Strings in Seattle who arrived about ten years ago via England".

The Flauting Harper

Dubbing herself “The Flauting Harper” in recognition of her first musical involvement playing the recorder, Bakkers has given herself five to six months to get to Rome and hopes to support herself by playing the harp in towns and villages along the way.

“Seán is helping, he is strapped to my back on a Swedish army frame so he sits on the hips, as snug as possible (but) every time I take him out there is an opportunity. I can play for my supper and I do . There’s no point in bringing him if I don’t play and I plan to play every day.”

Her route, which has already brought her to the ruins of Cistercian abbeys in Timoleague and Tracton in Co Cork, will see her visit Tintern Abbey in Co Wexford and its namesake near Bristol as she crosses England before making her way down through France, over the Alps and on to Rome.

Fortifying her on her journey is her faith in the goodness and generosity of people, something she plans to highlight on her website, theflautingharper.com .

“I think being a pilgrim is very much about trying to trust the world that we live in and the societies that we live in, and my experience is that 95 per cent of all people are very willing to do something nice for a complete stranger.

"I've got so much to be grateful for because Ireland has been good to me. I get to play my harp every day, I work a lot in hospitals with the elderly and I have a wonderful life and that somebody like me, just one individual can do something like this, the more I can share it, the happier I am."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times