Have you ever had the time to walk along one of the Pilgrim Paths of Ireland? These special places lie just beyond our main tourist routes and stops – but offer you a timeless world of beautiful scenery and a way to walk in the footsteps of your Irish Ancestors.
Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are welcome to the Letter from Ireland for this week. We’ve just passed through the Celtic festival of “Lughnasa” here in Ireland. Ever hear of the movie called “Dancing at Lughnasa? Do look it up. It is named after the old celtic sun-god Lugh. He is certainly looking over us at the moment as we enjoy an extended warm and sunny spell here in Cork!
I’m on my second cup of Cork Rebel Roasters coffee as we speak (a short break from the tea). Now if you’d like join me with a cup of whatever you fancy as we get into today’s letter.
At the moment I’m preparing an article that centres on the County Kerry village of “Kilgarvan”. This comes from the Irish for “Church of Saint Garvin” and travelling around the country in Ireland. I am always struck by the amount of places named for Irish saints of varying antiquity.
For many centuries, places associated with Irish saints were places of pilgrimage. A once-a-year or maybe once-in-a-lifetime journey to a place of veneration. This was an idea that was important to many of our shared ancestors. For now, we will look at the “Pilgrim” in the Irish context. Now when I think of ‘Pilgrims’ I immediately think of those words of William Butler Yeats:
“… one man loved the pilgrim soul in you”.
There has always been something romantic, special and meaningful about being a pilgrim on a pilgrimage. So, let me ask you?
Have you ever visited a place of pilgrimage? Or perhaps you have taken a journey to a place of special meaning for you and the people around you? For some of us, it’s a visit to a religious site, maybe a visit back to a place we shared with a loved one who has passed on. Or maybe a visit to an ancestral townland in Ireland?
In Ireland, we are fortunate to be surrounded by many places that have had special significance to our ancestors down through the centuries. We have the mountaintop of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo to the Holy wells that dot the country. And the annual “pattern days” of our many Irish saints to the village festivals that mark the turning of each season.
We have a tradition of veneration and pilgrimage, containing rituals and traditions that predate Christianity. These places of pilgrimage became attached to particular Irish Saints down through the years – Saints Declan, Bridgid, Kevin, Gobnait, Colm, Patrick, Brendan – and many more! Maybe you have some of their first names in your family, or family tree? Do feel free to comment below and let me know.
Most of these early Irish Saints were monks and hermits who travelled to a place – attracting many followers with their creed – and over time these sacred places became places of pilgrimage.
So ,just like the “Camino Di Santiago” in Spain, we have quite a number of “Pilgrim Paths” here in Ireland. You can walk in the footsteps of Saint Kevin from Hollywood to Glendalough in County Wicklow. Or in the footsteps of Saint Declan from Cashel in Tipperary to Ardmore in County Waterford. Maybe you have been to some of these places yourself?
A while back, myself and Carina headed down to Dingle in County Kerry – one of our favourite parts of the country. The Dingle peninsula is dominated by Mount Brandon – named after a locally venerated saint – “Saint Brendan the Navigator”.
Carina dropped me off at Ventry strand – this is the start of the pilgrim path known as “Cosán na Naomh” (pronounced “Cusawn na nave”). Then I started the ten mile trek from Ventry to the foot of Mount Brandon. This is the very spot that pilgrims have come ashore from all over Europe to complete a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mount Brandon down through the centuries.
On that day, I had the narrow grassy paths all to myself. Every few hundred yards a stone marked with a cross showed the way – as it had done for hundreds of years previously. The weather was fine with views to the sea and ahead to the cloud-topped Mount Brandon.
There is something about walking these pilgrim paths that reminds us of the journey we travel through life. They are a walking meditation – and I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the company of the many thousands that walked before me.
After about 6 miles, just above the church at Kilmakeadar – the bulk of Mount Brandon fills the sky. Finally at this point Carina joined me – great company for a fellow pilgrim!
In the olden days, pilgrims often stopped at this point to wait for the weather to clear before tackling the final slope of Brandon. As a result, we see the remains of many stone beehive huts they sheltered in spread across the hillside. However, we had no need to wait on this particular day.
The clouds parted just as we arrived – we could have rushed up the side of the mountain as the evening light faded. However that would have defeated the purpose of such a path. A path of pilgrimage is a place for gentle reminding and the restoration of a calm acceptance. A wonderful place to recharge our spiritual batteries.
Thus we stopped there, but plan to head back down to Brandon shortly and give the slope and paths of Mount Brandon the time and respect they deserve.
How about you, would you like to walk one of Ireland’s Pilgrim paths? We’ll leave you today with part of Saint Brendan’s prayer:
“Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.”
A wonderful reminder to stop and get our bearings every now and again in life. Also a reminder to maybe take a step outside the well-worn paths of our daily routines. Who knows what – or whom – you might find there!
We hope you enjoyed this journey with us along a Pilgrim path. Would you like to join us on more journeys and feel closer to Ireland than ever before? If you haven’t already, simply signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here. – and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun. We look forward to welcoming you onboard.
Finally please do feel free to leave a comment below with any stories you might have from your Irish family tree.
Slán for this week,
Mike and Carina.
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