By Ann Marie Foley - 29 April, 2015
These are held on specific dates in May. The traditional three-day pilgrimage season begins on 29 May and goes on until late August after which the one-day retreats recommence and continue into September.
“The one-day retreats have now been running for more than 20 years,” Sharon Hearty, communications manager, Lough Derg, told CatholicIreland.net.
“Pilgrims wanted them as they felt they might not be able to keep up the challenge of the three-day pilgrimage, and they asked if Lough Derg could provide something so they could still be connected to the island – maybe a less strenuous activity for a day.”
She explained that it is a day where people ‘keep their shoes on’, a reference to the traditional three day pilgrimage where pilgrims go barefoot.
There are also scones with the tea break and a light lunch.
So while it differs to some extent, it includes aspects of the longer traditional pilgrimage such as the Way of the Cross. It allows for prayer and refection, the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
“We find the sacrament of reconciliation is very popular on one-day retreats and we bring in a number of priests to support us to ensure that as many people as possible can avail of the sacrament and have time with the priest. We find people like to have time both with the priest and afterwards,” said Sharon Hearty.
As well as individuals, many groups do this retreat such as those from parishes or over 50s clubs.
Titled Hope and Encouragement for a new beginning this day retreat is on Wednesday 20 May and is aimed at adults who are struggling with any issues that are holding them back or hurting their lives.
Family, suicide and a seniors’ day are among themes and guests on other special retreat days.
Up to 15,000 pilgrims visit Lough Derg every year (mainly from May to September) and this has been steady for the last number of years.
“It is challenging as all pilgrimage centres might say,” said Sharon Hearty. “We are keeping going. We would all love to see more people but certainly it would not be as strong as pre-Celtic tiger years. We are still open and we still manage to run all our retreats.”
The three day pilgrimages also continue with very little change. People walk barefoot and fast.
“It is a very traditional Catholic way of prayer and pilgrimage which dates back to after the time of St Patrick and it has never changed. It is the heart of the island and we don’t change it,” said Sharon Hearty.
However, the facilities have improved with a new retreat house which is a monastic hostel style which allows for more shelter and indoor prayer and reflection.
Nowadays many pilgrims also state that the big challenge (and in some cases a blessing) is that there is no signal for mobile phones and electronic devices and they are left at home anyhow.
“Young people particularly comment on that because it (mobile phone) is a third hand for them. But people in their 30s and 40s for whom the mobile phone is part of life now – they welcome the break from it. That is something that is very prominent in the comments that people make,” said Sharon Hearty.
She said that young people do return and many other pilgrims are regulars visiting Lough Derg for 20 years and more.
“You wonder in this day and age is there anything else that would keep people coming back again and again – even a holiday destination – what is it that holds them? But that is the mystery of pilgrimage and Lough Derg, it is still here and people keep coming so something happens at a deeper level to call them back,” she explained.
Lough Derg is now on Facebook and Twitter and has its own website. Reflections are posted on Sunday, and this is particularly popular in winter to keep people in touch.
Prayer requests are also sent in on social media and the Prior Fr Owen McEneaney offers a weekly mass at his parish in Pettigo for pilgrim intentions.
One day retreats are offered on specific dates in May; 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24 & 25