All posts tagged Lough Derg

  • New Book chapter on Lough Derg

    Scriven, R (2018) ‘”I renounce the World, the Flesh and the Devil”: pilgrimage, transformation, and liminality at St Patrick’s Purgatory, Ireland’ in: Bartolini, N, MacKian, S, Pile, S. (eds.) Spaces of Spirituality. Routledge, Oxon:

    My chapter in the new collection Spaces of Spirituality edited by Nadia Bartolini, Sara MacKian, andd Steve Pile. It explores the transformative potential of pilgrimages, through the example of Lough Derg. By undertaking a spiritual, cultural, or emotional journey that removes one from the everyday, participants enter the liminal state of the pilgrim. This temporary embodied identity facilitates transformative encounters in which participants can express feelings, reflect on their lives, and rejuvenate their faith. The Christian lake-island pilgrimage of St Patrick’s Purgatory – where pilgrims spend three days fasting, praying, going barefoot, and keeping a twenty-four hour vigil – offers a unique setting to explore this ideas in the contemporary world.

    St Brigid's Cross

    St Brigid’s Cross

    Pilgrims kneeling in prayer by St Brigid’s Cross

  • Prayers, Waves, Reverberations: An audio engagement with phenomenal pilgrimage

    My second paper at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2014 is part of the ‘Postgraduate Snapshots: Engagements in Social and Cultural Geography‘ session, which explores the different ways in which postgraduates are (co) producing social and cultural geographies through their research, collaborations, methods and encounters. Each participant presents a ‘snapshot’ (an image, object, media clip etc) of their research in a creative and interactive way.

    Prayers, Waves, Reverberations: An audio engagement with phenomenal pilgrimage
    Using an audio clip of pilgrims praying in St Patrick’s Basilica on Lough Derg in northwest Ireland, I consider how the aural and acoustic induces, enhances and disorientates the phenomenal and spiritual experience of being a pilgrim. My research, informed by the mobilities field and nonrepresentational approaches, explores pilgrimage practices in contemporary Ireland. An audio recording taken during the Night Vigil on Lough Derg, where pilgrims stay awake for 24hrs fasting and praying barefoot on a lake island, captures a portion of the atmospheric and sensuous as they unfold. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork, I present the sounds and audio waves, which reverberate with meaning and experience, as being simultaneously created and received, embodied and asomatous, ethereal and material. Speculation on conceptual and practical approaches to and challenges for the use of audio are also offered.

    My presentation centres on a continual playing of the audio clip, to generate suitable atmospherics, as I verbally offer context, comment and speculation. In foreground the use of audio, I shall build on the increasing role for audio, sound and the sonic in social and cultural geography.

  • An on-going prayer

    Rotating and kneeling, flow and pause, the intentions of the pilgrims immerse and emanate in this prayerful event: performing the Penitential Beds on Lough Derg.* The movements, gestures and bare feet call out in silence, a scene of activity, harmony and stillness.

    One of the aspects I find most appealing are the patterns of movements. Rotations around and within each bed continually being performed and punctuated by pauses. This beautiful, unfolding scene is an ongoing prayer. A prayer that continues every day throughout the summer.

    A certain reassurance radiates from these events, reminding me that all through the pilgrimage season (1st June-15th Aug) there are pilgrims praying on Lough Derg. Praying for personal intentions but also more universal themes of peace, well-being and hope. They are praying for me, for you, for us all. While I go about my daily life there are people praying the beds, as I eat they are fasting and every night as I go to bed, I think of those pilgrims preparing to undertake their Vigil. On a small lake island in Donegal, while we rest, they keep Vigil.


    * This short video clip of pilgrims on the beds, taken from the roof of the male dorms and enhanced through a Vimeo filter, captures some of the unique character of St Patrick’s Purgatory.

  • Places, without people

    This photo was taken while all of the pilgrims were attending evening mass on Lough Derg. At this time, the Penitential Beds are devoid of people (except in this case myself). I began thinking about the nature of place without people. The Beds are usually a hive of activity, with people walking around, kneeling and praying; but, here they are still, quiet, deserted. This place now feels completely different, like walking city streets early in the morning or being in an empty sports stadium. While the structures and constructed elements remain, the character that living, moving humans give a place is absent. This changes the place, not necessarily making it less or more, just different.

    The Beds, Lough Derg

  • Collaging the Beds

    The ‘Beds’ are one of the most prominent features associated with the Lough Derg pilgrimage. The six Penitential Beds – small low circular walled structures – are the remnants of monastic beehive huts. They form a central part of the Stations which pilgrims perform during their stay on the island. This post is a collage of images and texts which centre on the beds.

    At each of the beds, pilgrims walk barefoot three times around the outside; kneel at the entrance, walk the interior three times and kneel at the cross; during each of these they say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and one Creed.

    LD Beds Coll 1

    This image is a collection of different photos I took over three days in mid-July. By connecting a selection of separate, but related, moments, it is possible to see the beds in a fuller manner. A segment from the morning shows only one or two pilgrims, while the afternoon slices – in the centre – has the beds crowded and silently bustling, and, then, the evening photos present empty beds. They are simultaneously spots of movement and pause, physicality and ethereality, and presence and absence.

    Every performance of the beds, by each individual, is a new experience. It links the present realities with the prayers and intentions of each person. Also, they are following the paths trod by those who have gone before. Personal and social memories mix with the pilgrimage, as the recent and distant pasts are felt to be present here. The circling and pauses intermix the physical practice and the intentions of the pilgrims so that the beds are both continuity and change.

    To this visual presentation of the beds, I wish to add a textual component. Three relatively random quotes about the beds, garnished from historical and contemporary sources I am using in my research, show other perspectives on the beds.  Alice Curtayne, writing in 1933, described the activity on that beds as being “endless files of pilgrims, walking, kneeling, dipping, murmuring” which made “a scene fantastic beyond all telling” (p.13). I find parallels between her thinking and my own, as when the beds are in use, particularly with a larger crowd, they are alive. The sheer motion of so many people completing a complex set of rituals animate the place and create a unique scene.

    T.R. Gogarty’s account from twenty years earlier is similarly evocative, albeit a bit more penitential. “Paths, worn and quarried by human feet through rocks that wrench and stones that bend every ambulatory muscle with a pain” (p.809). This highlights the intensely carnal nature of the pilgrimage. A focus on the interactions of the unprotected feet and the rough, yet eroded, rock captures so much of what the beds are for pilgrims. Simon Kennedy’s poem Lough Derg, in a lovely recent collection, Pilgrims’ tales … and more, gives a simple structure to the pilgrims encounter with the beds: “Barefoot pilgrim meander | Over your hobble stones | Of penitential beds. | St Patrick – Pray for us. | St Brigid – Pray for us. | St Columba – Pray for us.” (p.90). The physical activity, the personified island and saintly invocations mingle at this place.


    Curtayne, A., 1933. St Patrick’s Purgatory: The sanctuary of Station Island, Lough Derg or An excursion into the fifth century. Anthonian Press, Dublin.

    Gogarty, T.R., 1913. Some pilgrim impressions of Lough Derg, (with several photographs). The Catholic Bulletin, 3, pp.800–813.

    McDaid, M. and McHugh, P. eds., 2000. Pilgrims’ tales … and more. Blackrock, Co. Dublin: Columba Press.

  • Nine Stations, Lough Derg

    Lough Derg is one of the main sites of pilgrimage in Ireland. Station Island or St Patrick’s Purgatory is a small island on the lake in south-eastern Donegal. It has been a place of pilgrimage and retreat for over 1,000 years. The primary practice associated with the island is the three pilgrimage which sees the pilgrims fasting, keeping Vigil, going barefoot and completing a series of exercises and a set number of ‘stations’.

    I recently completed the pilgrimage and later returned to the island as a researcher observing and discussing the pilgrimage. To give a sense of what is involved in this pilgrimage, I have put together this account of the pilgrimage station and some of the exercises. It is a synthesis of observations and recordings over a four day period.

    Station Island

    Station Island

    Pilgrims arrive on the morning/early afternoon of the first day, having fasted since midnight. The journey across to the island is the physical element of the break from the world, this is also facilitated through the non-use of mobiles. A central component of a pilgrimage is a break from the everyday which allows pilgirms to consider deeper more meaningful aspects of their lives.



    Pilgrims remove their shoes almost immediately on the island. As well as being part of the traditional penitential exercise, the removing footwear creates an equality and shared-experience among the pilgrims. It doesn’t matter what you do outside of Lough Derg, everyone is equal.

    The Bell, standing on the site of the original cave in which pilgrims spent their Vigil, punctuates daily life, announcing ceremonies in the Basilica and marking the Angelus.

    Order of the Station:

    Tabernacle, St Patrick's Basilica

    Tabernacle, St Patrick’s Basilica

    Each station begins with a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in tabernacle in St Patrick’s Basilica.

    St Patrick's Cross

    St Patrick’s Cross

    Pilgrims go to St Patrick’s Cross, adjacent to the Basilica, kneel down, and say one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Creed; and finish by kissing the Cross.

    St Brigid's Cross

    St Brigid’s Cross

    At Brigid’s Cross, on the outside wall of the Basilica, pilgrims again kneel down and this time say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and one Creed. Standing with their back to the Cross and arms outstretched, they say three times “I renounce the World, the Flesh and the Devil”.

    Rounding the Basilica

    Rounding the Basilica

    The Basilica is then rounded four times, clockwise, during which seven decades of the Rosary and one Creed, at the end, are prayed silently.

    The Penitential Beds

    The Penitential Beds

    There are six penitential beds – St Brigid’s, St Brendan’s, St Catherine’s, St Columba’s, St Patrick’s and Saints Davog and Molaise’s (the latter two are a double bed). At each bed the pilgrims: walk three times around the outside, clockwise, while saying three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and one Creed; kneel at the entrance to the bed and repeat the prayers; walk three times around the inside and say the prayers again; and, finally, kneel at the Cross in the centre and say these prayers for the fourth time. There is a slight variation at the last double bed which is circled six times, while saying six Our Fathers, six Hail Marys and one Creed.

    Beads and Booklet

    Beads and Booklet

    Pilgrims frequently carry Rosary beads on the station to assist in the saying of prayers. The pilgrim leaflet acts a guide to the stations and is carried around as well

    St Columba's Penitential Bed

    St Columba’s Penitential Bed

    Large numbers of pilgrims frequently complete the stations together. Here there are number of people circling the outside of St Columba’s Bed, two kneeling and four at the cross in the centre.

    Praying at the water's edge

    Praying at the water’s edge

    At the water’s edge, pilgrims stand saying five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and one Creed and then kneel repeating these prayers; after which they, make the Sign of the Cross with the lake water as a reminder of their Baptism.

    St Patrick's Cross by the Basilica

    St Patrick’s Cross by the Basilica

    Pilgrims return to St Patrick’s Cross; kneel down and say one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Creed. They proceed to the Basilica and conclude the station by reciting Psalm 16 (or by saying five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and One Creed), for the Pope’s intentions.


    Pilgrim Meal

    Pilgrim Meal

    The Lough Derg Meal, which is available at any stage from 1.15-8.15, consists of black tea or coffee (sugar is available) with dry bread, toast and oatcakes. This is eaten once on Day 1 and 2, pilgrims are allowed a similar meal off the island on Day 3.

    Night Vigil:

    The all-night Vigil is a central part of the Lough Derg pilgrimage, it involves pilgrims staying awake for 24 hours. It begins with the group gathering in the Basilica and the doors being locked. This refers back to a time when pilgrims spent the Vigil in a cave or when they were locked into the ‘Prison Chapel’. While it remains symbolic as the doors are opened later and pilgrims are free to move around the Basilica, it still resonates as a group of people cut themselves off from the world and pray together throughout the night.

    The Vigil Candle

    The Vigil Candle

    The Vigil Candle remains lighting for the 24-hour period, its lighting marking the beginning of the Vigil and its extinguishing, at Night Prayer, signifies that the pilgrims can go to their beds.

    The Basilica at during the Vigil

    The Basilica at during the Vigil

    The light and sounds of the the vigil pour out from the Basilica on an otherwise silent island.

    During the night, four stations are completed within the Basilica. One of the pilgrims leads the prayers, with everyone else responding. The communal prayer helps each person keep their Vigil

    Praying the Night Vigil

    Praying the Night Vigil

    The doing of the station within the Basilica involves pilgrims circulating while following the pattern of movements (rounding, kneeling, standing), as if they were outside.

    Pilgrims departing

    Pilgrims departing

    On the morning of Day 3, pilgrims, having completed all the stations, put on their shoes, gather their belongings and leave the island. However, they continue fasting until midnight that night. The fantastic and tranquil feelings this morning is hard to describe, but many are confident they will return.

    While Lough Derg is firmly one of those places that must be personally experienced to truly understand it, I hope I have in some conveyed even a sense of the place and the practices. I would urge anyone with an interest or subtle desire, to go on pilgrimage to Lough Derg; it will be worth it. The three day pilgrimage runs from 31st May – 13th August annually (see the website for further details).