By Ann Marie Foley - 22 September, 2020
Lough Derg is back, but with a difference, as it offers a new pilgrimage along the lakeshore on the Lough Derg Pilgrim Path. This pilgrimage will follow in the footsteps of people from Penal Times who were not allowed to visit Station Island.
“People arrived on the lakeshore in time of persecution and were prevented from crossing to Station Island. They found a way to complete their pilgrimage by saying their prayers on the lakeshore. Their resourcefulness has inspired us to put together a form of pilgrimage that will use our refurbished pilgrim path and offer a prayerful walking experience in the tradition and spirit of the best of Lough Derg,” said Fr Laurence (La) Flynn, prior of Lough Derg.
“It is in this spirit that we invite you to ‘Walk and Pray’ along the Lough Derg Pilgrim Path,” said Fr La Flynn. “I hope that those who long to be back at Lough Derg on Station Island may at least get to come this far.”
He explained that the latest Government announcement allowing for more people to gather outdoors made this possible.
“Relaxing the numbers that can be together in an outdoor setting makes it possible once more for us to offer the ‘Pilgrimage on the Lakeshore’ on the Lough Derg Pilgrim Path,” stated a very happy Fr La Flynn, who made a special video while he was getting his pilgrim staff and walking boots ready, inviting people to join him on the pilgrimage. The first date for the new pilgrimage was Sunday 20 September, and the next is this Wednesday 23 September.
“Part of the experience will include Mass at the old Mass rock near the quarry if the weather is any way on our side. I know the notice is short but I hope that some of you will be able to join me, please God. I will be there anyway. I’ll be praying for you,” he said.
The Pilgrimage Walk will take approximately five hours, and options include a 12km or an 8km walk. Pilgrims will receive a pilgrimage pack, and each pilgrimage group will be accompanied by a member of the Lough Derg team as they ‘walk and pray’.
Lough Derg, like so many other places of prayer and pilgrimage, has had a most unusual 2020. As Fr Flynn put it, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and the team has had to be very creative because of COVID-19 restrictions.
This creative thinking started in May when the one-day retreats, normally held on Station Island, had to go online. At the end of June, the team offered people the opportunity to “do Lough Derg” wherever they were and to join in with the usual prayers online.
In the middle of July, the team relaunched the Lough Derg Pilgrim Paths with two walks over a Saturday and Sunday of one weekend and new signage in place to help people find their way. Now in September, the pilgrimage along the lakeshore is available.
The Pilgrim Path at Lough Derg allows people to walk in the footsteps of pilgrim ancestors. In the 1400s, pilgrims from as far away as Spain, Italy and Hungry used part of this trail as they made their way to what medieval Europe knew as St Patrick’s Purgatory.
There are many reminders of the Christian past along the path, which runs beside the lake and is within a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) for birdlife and National Heritage Area (NHA). The walk offers views of Station Island from a number of vantage points. One of particular note is St Davog’s Seat which faces southward with a view that extends as far as Lough Erne. Turning and looking northward, there is a great view of Lough Derg.
“I hope it will be a time of grace [and that] it will be a healthy experience for body and for soul,” said Fr Flynn of the new pilgrimage.
It is essential to book, which you can do by visiting the Lough Derg website here.