The Pilgrim Paths of Ireland are a collection of ancient religious routes with well-documented claims of having been used by pilgrims since ancient times. Walking these ageless trails not only offers the opportunity for spiritual renewal, but also provides a link to our past while contributing to sustainable tourism and community development in each area.
The Medieval pilgrimage was originally a journey that combined prayer, sacrifice and devotion – with an element of physical discomfort – by which the pilgrim could become closer to God. It could also fulfil many of the functions of a modern holiday – a change of scene and a time to make room for something beyond the daily grind.
Pilgrim Paths Ireland is the national representative body for Ireland’s pilgrim paths. It was founded at a meeting in Nenagh to represent Ireland’s principal penitential paths. Its objective is to promote greater awareness and use of Ireland’s historic pilgrim routes.
The Irish pilgrim logo has been adopted as the symbol for pilgrimage in Ireland. It comes from a cross-slab near Ballyvourney, Co Cork, showing a Maltese Cross in a circle with a tonsured figure, probably a pilgrim, above it. The Maltese Cross has been identified by archaeologist, Peter Harbison, as an important early symbol of pilgrimage
Pilgrimage has been defined as “a meaningful journey to a place of spiritual significance” and the practice is almost as old as history. In Ireland the pilgrim journey has strong historic resonance with early Christians coming to Clonmacnoise; medieval penitents journeying to Lough Derg and Glendalough, while others visited Skellig Michael or climbed Croagh Patrick.
Despite this long pilgrim tradition, there was, until relatively recently, little footfall on Ireland’s penitential trails with the country not regarded as an important destination for pilgrimage. The foundation of Pilgrim Paths Ireland in 2013, greatly raised awareness of the country’s pilgrim routes and created a more general appreciation of Ireland’s Christian heritage. Since then the ancient Pilgrim Paths of Ireland have echoed to ever increasing footfall.
Here Derek Fanning shares his experience of walking some of the trails.