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Columbanus Way set for big increase in pilgrim numbers

By Cian Molloy - 31 December, 2018

Next year is set to be a major year in the development of Turas Columbanus, or the Columbanus Way, a pilgrimage route that crosses Ireland from south to north before stretching across mainland Europe from Brittany in western France to Koblenz in Germany, then through Switzerland and Austria to Bobbio in northern Italy.

In Ireland the turas starts in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, where Columbanus was born circa AD 540. It then travels over Mount Leinster to Myshall in Co. Carlow and through the midlands to Cleenish Island in Co. Fermanagh, where Columbanus was a seminarian. It then travels, via Armagh, to Bangor, Co. Down, where Columbanus was a monk for 20 years before departing, aged 51, with 12 companions to re-evangelise much of northern Europe.

Fr Derry Healy of the Columban Order says that in 2019 large parts of this route will be mapped, particularly the sections from Kildare to Clonard and from Cleenish to Armagh. This work will be done thanks to financial support from the Knights of St Columbanus and the involvement of the Association of Friends of St Columbanus, which includes representatives of those local authorities through which the route passes.

Cllr Deborah Girvan, president of the European Columbanus Association, says the pilgrimage route has enormous tourism potential. She became involved in promoting the pilgrimage route when she was Mayor of Ards and North Down Council and learned that there were many Europeans interested in visiting Bangor, Co. Down, because of their devotion to St Columbanus and/or his travelling companion St Gall. “There is a tremendous tourism potential in this,” she said. “In today’s hectic world, people are interested in walking pilgrimages like the camino as a way of getting away from the hustle and bustle and finding themselves.”

Thanks to a donation from French benefactors, a “Google Maps-style” smartphone app will be launched in mid 2019 that will allow pilgrims to negotiate the pilgrim trail in Ireland and across mainland Europe, with details of overnight accommodation and eating facilities along the route.

“The route travels from Cleenish in Fermanagh to Armagh because that allows it to link up with the Way of St Patrick to Bangor,” says Cllr Girvan. “Once those final bits are complete we will have a major pilgrimage route in place that may be officially recognised as a European cultural route.”

On the continent, the pilgrimage route begins in the small town of Saint-Coloumb, which earns its name from the fact that it was here that the Irish saint and his followers landed before setting off to found some 60 monasteries, not least at Annegray, Luxeuil and Fontaines in Burgundy in France, then in Bregenz in Austria and finally in Bobbio in northern Italy.

“We have a lot of work to do, but there is so much interest, and goodwill and effort being made, by people across Europe to develop this project,” said Cllr Girvan. “It is all voluntary and it could do with more central coordination, but it is extraordinary what we are achieving together.”

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