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St Patrick’s Purgatory Is Ireland’s Only Pilgrimage Island

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St Patrick’s Purgatory Is Ireland’s Only Pilgrimage Island

Of all the nations in the world, we might be the one that loves a pilgrimage the most. There's Our Lady of Knock, the old ladies who walk up Croagh Patrick in their bare feet, the old ladies who pile on the bus to Lourdes every year, the old ladies who go to that weird tea party with Daniel O'Donnell and his Mammy. Alright, maybe we just have an above average level of mobility among our elderly women.

All of our pilgrimage sites seem to be clustered around the north and west - yes, even Daniel's tea party - and the St Patrick's Purgatory island trip is no different. If you're looking for a combination of austere living and beautiful nature, this is it: tucked up next to the border with the North in Co. Donegal, the island in the middle of Lough Derg has been a destination for pilgrims for a thousand years.

It's a tough old trip. Pilgrims must make the trip between the first of June and the middle of August, so at least they'll have the weather, but that's about as good as it gets. They fast from the night before at midnight and must stay on the island for three days, eating only one meal day, a simple combination of dry toast, oatcakes and black tea or coffee.

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Pilgrims are barefoot the entire time and spend their days in liturgy. There's no phones, no food, and they've to stay up one entire night in constant prayer. The programme includes copies of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Apostles' Creed for use by pilgrims, though let's face it, if you're the sort of person who's willing to go three days on toast and tea while getting your feet impaled on spiky rocks and your bake bitten off by midges, you'll likely already know the main ones. By the end of day three, you might never want to see them again.

It's meant to give you a sense of perspective on life, which is fair enough. "The Vigil is more than keeping awake, the Latin meaning connects it with being vigorous and lively," says the Pilgrimage programme. "So being on vigil means being open and alert, on the lookout, watchful and expectant. The pilgrimage enables us to see our daily lives as they truly are, time spent in this sacred space undertaking the pilgrimage programme can help us bring a new focus to our lives."

In fairness, if that was taking place in India and you had to pay a thousand euro for flights and accommodation to get there, you'd be hearing about it for years from the sort of mate that drinks oat milk flat whites and eats avocado toast while wearing those oversize trackies that everyone who ever went on a gap year wears. They'd probably not be wearing shoes either.

Topics: Ireland

Mike Wood
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