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Lough Derg’s three-day pilgrimage suspended for first time since 1828

By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 June, 2020

Striking the right balance between Covid-safety and welcoming pilgrims back to Lough Derg with confidence was the deciding factor, Fr La Flynn said and noted that by its very nature the pilgrimage is a tactile one.

Lough Derg’s traditional three-day pilgrimage has been suspended for first time since 1828 due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

In a statement, the Prior of Lough Derg, Fr La Flynn said that the team at the popular pilgrimage site had examined every aspect of the Government’s guidelines and “following a thorough analysis, the reality was clear: the traditional pilgrimage will not be possible.”

Lough Derg’s Pilgrimage Season occurs annually from May until October and the traditional three day pilgrimage season takes place between 1st June and 15th August.

It usually sees as many as 5,000 pilgrims arrive on Station Island from across Ireland and beyond to undertake the arduous pilgrimage.

One day retreats and special retreat days also run in the months of May, late August and September and are followed by Youth Retreats in September and October.

Striking the right balance between Covid-safety and welcoming pilgrims back to Lough Derg with confidence was the deciding factor, Fr La Flynn said.

“As pilgrims know from experience, by its very nature, the pilgrimage is a tactile one. Pilgrim hands and feet are in touch with the stones on the penitential beds – this is at the heart of what it means ‘to do the pilgrimage’ on Lough Derg.”

Fr Flynn, who is also Administrator of Pettigo Parish, said in a statement on Monday night, “It is important to be clear about how we reached this decision, since we know that there are many pilgrims who will be disappointed with this news. Now when so many other aspects of life are moving rather carefully back towards what used to be normal, there will naturally be an expectation that the three day pilgrimage could be possible.”

“We approached the question of re-opening for the three day pilgrimage with our Lough Derg mission and values at the forefront of our consciousness. We considered these alongside the Covid-safe practices that we would be required to implement to ensure pilgrim and staff safety.”

Fr Flynn explained, “One of our core values is the Lough Derg welcome, true to the spirit of a place of sanctuary – the ancient termann. The Covid-related measures essential to ensure pilgrim and staff safety would compromise this welcome and all aspects of the traditional pilgrimage. Our confined space on the Island both inside and outside was the ultimate determining factor.”

He said that in reaching this decision he had not forgotten the scores of local seasonal staff as well as the many young people who rely on summer work there and that the decision to suspend was not an easy call to make.

“I would like to thank the hundreds of pilgrims who have been in contact with us. Their support is carrying us through this difficult time. With them in mind I am offering the opportunity to ‘do Lough Derg from wherever you are’ on 27 – 29 June 2020.”

Fr Flynn also highlighted that Lough Derg is facing “substantial” financial pressure. “The resources that sustain us annually come from the generous contributions of pilgrims.”

He said the team at Lough Derg were planning to open in a limited way on the lakeshore from 6th July and are hoping that it may be possible to return to Station Island in the later part of the summer when day retreats are normally offered.

On 28th May, Lough Derg launched a memorial on Station Island in memory of those who died in the Covid-19 pandemic.

St Patrick’s Sanctuary, Lough Derg lies about four miles north of the village of Pettigo in Co Donegal.

Lough Derg is traditionally associated with St Patrick. According to ancient sources, the first monks settled at Lough Derg in the fifth century, not long after St Patrick came to Ireland. It would seem to have been well established as a place of pilgrimage by the ninth century.

Station Island, the location of the pilgrimage, is often referred to as St Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg. In 1780 Lough Derg came under the custodianship of the Diocese of Clogher.

Information about Lough Derg and updates on Pilgrimage Season 2020 can be found online www.loughderg.org Details of the June Pilgrimage and retreat resources are available on www.loughderg.live  Those who wish to submit details of a loved one lost to Covid-19 can do so via the dedicated webpage at www.loughderg.org

Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv

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