All posts tagged Pilgrimage

  • 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.

  • Reek Sunday 2013

    Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, sees several thousand people climb Croagh Patrick on the southern shore of Clew Bay in Mayo. The sheer scale of the event and its links with the ancient and more modern past, mark it out as one of the most distinct events in Ireland. It is a combination of a variety of elements, including the Celtic feast of  Lughnasa, Patrician lore, spiritual devotion, personal and familial tradition and the sense of an event. For a historical overview of Croagh Patrick, checkout the post from Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.

    Although Croagh Patrick is climbed throughout the year, Reek Sunday is a special day. People from all over Ireland travel especially on that day. You are guaranteed to encounter all manner of humanity here. It is also on this day that some of the more religious or spiritual elements come to the fore. My fieldwork involved me engaging with the events, people and landscape of Croagh Patrick throughout Reek Sunday. I started off about 6am walking; however, I made frequent stops to photograph and record events. I spent a few hours on the summit taking everything in and talking to some people and, then, descended slowly, arriving down by 4pm.

    This video is an amalgamation of different recordings I made throughout the day. It attempts to give a sense of the movements, sounds and moments that make up the pilgrimage.

    One of the most striking aspects of the day is the significant numbers who are climbing at an early hour. While some people still practice the traditional night pilgrimage, the main crowds start arriving from about dawn. When I was walking up after 6am, there were at least several thousand people on the Reek. While most of the world rests on this Sunday morning, the approaching roads, fields being used as car parks and the paths are alive with activity. In a previous post, I have outlined the route and character of the main path leading up from Murrisk.

    Pilgrims pass the statue of St Patrick as they begin their ascent, just after dawn.

    Pilgrims pass the statue of St Patrick as they begin their ascent, just after dawn.

    A long trail of pilgrims ascending to the main ridge at about 6.20 am.

    A long trail of pilgrims ascending to the main ridge at about 6.20 am.

    The steep pathway leading up the Reek proper – Casán Phádraig – is what is associated most frequently with Croagh Patrick. Pilgrims, usually with sticks, struggle up the loose surface, while those descending are moving cautiously, ever conscious of balance. On this day, the path is a stream of activity with hundreds of feet, unsecured stones, encounters and conversations. This audio secording gives as sense of how much is actually going on and how active the path is

    Pilgrims climbing Casán Phádraig, the path leading up the Reek proper, early in the morning.

    Pilgrims climbing Casán Phádraig, the path leading up the Reek proper, early in the morning.

    The summit is the site of masses all morning with pilgrims gathering on the gable end of the Chapel from where the mass is celebrated; confessions are also available. While acting as a central point of the pilgrimage as a Catholic event, it is also related to the Plenary Indulgence associated with Croagh Patrick. Rounds of the chapel and St Patrick’s bed are practised, with each been circled by pilgrims saying the Rosary. Many others rest, eat and often take photos of the views across Clew Bay. Also, there are usually a number of stalls selling drinks, tea and bars of chocolate (at airport prices!). There is a sense of being separate from the mundane on the mountain. The views allows a wider perspective, with many of the immediate concerns being left behind. This sense is a crucial component of the pilgrimage experience; and, although the summit is so busy there is still a feeling of being removed from everything else

    St Patrick's Chapel on the summit, just after one of the masses (one every half hour between 8am & 2pm). Pilgrims on the left are queueing for Confessions and those on the right for Communion.

    St Patrick’s Chapel on the summit, just after one of the masses (one every half hour between 8am & 2pm). Pilgrims on the left are queueing for Confessions and those on the right for Communion.

    A recording of the gospel (The Beatitudes formthe Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3–12) at the 9.30am mass, read by Archbishop Charles John Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.

    A pilgrim rounding the chapel with their rosary beads. The congregation at mass are in the background.

    A pilgrim rounding the chapel with their rosary beads. The congregation at mass are in the background.

    Leaba Phádraig: A number of pilgrims follow the traditional stations of the route by rounding St Patrick's Bed reciting prayers.

    Leaba Phádraig: A number of pilgrims follow the traditional stations of the route by rounding St Patrick’s Bed reciting prayers.

    Going down, which is often seen as being more challenging, involves steady footing and heavy use of the stick almost as a third foot. The mountain is known for the camaraderie it encourages in people. Those descending continually assure those coming up that there almost there, some giving slightly unrealistic estimations, possible to bolster confidence and determination. Furthermore, these seems to have been a perennial characteristic of Croagh Patrick with one 1910 commentator, known only as E O’L. writing in The Irish Monthly saying that such assurances were “well calculated to cheer and revive the drooping spirits, such as ” Bravo ! you’re getting on grand, you have only a few hundred yards more to climb,”…” (p.592).

    Descending the Casán: going down the steep path on uncertain surfaces is often considered to be the most challening aspect. Here the feet, the means by which the pilgrim engages physically with the mountain, are adjusting to the incline.

    Descending the Casán: going down the steep path on uncertain surfaces is often considered to be the most challening aspect. Here the feet, the means by which the pilgrim engages physically with the mountain, are adjusting to the incline.

    The Reek proper in the early afternoon, the steady flow of pilgrims are evident, animating the path all the way up the peak.

    The Reek proper in the early afternoon, the steady flow of pilgrims are evident, animating the path all the way up the peak.

    Further down the path one goes the more the everyday world encroaches, as everything gradually becomes closer and more real. Adding to this sensation is the collection of stalls and people at the end of the path. Whether selling or promoting something, they speak to a real world, with concerns beyond the mountain

    Numerous groups and business set up stalls at the base of the path in Murrisk. While, some are promotion particular causes or denominations, others are selling religious items or food.

    Numerous groups and business set up stalls at the base of the path in Murrisk. While, some are promotion particular causes or denominations, others are selling religious items or food.

    This was my second Reek Sunday (both being motivated by my research), but I’ve already grown fond of the day. It has a distinct feel to it and I can understand some of what draws people back year after year. Also, the role played by groups such as volunteer first aiders, stewards, Gardaí, the Air Corps, clergy and local people should be acknowledged.

    Suggested Reading:

    Hughes, H., 2005. Croagh Patrick: Ireland’s Holy Mountain. The Croagh Patrick Archaeological Committee.

    Hughes, H., 2010. Croagh Patrick: a place of pilgrimage, a place of beauty. O’Brien Pub.

    O’L., E., 1910. A Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick: July 31, 1910. The Irish Monthly, 38(448), pp.585–596.

    Road to Emmaus staff, 2011. Croagh Patrick: The glorious climb of Ireland’s holy mountain. Road to Emmaus, 12(2), pp.1–45.

  • 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).

  • Croagh Patrick May 2012

    During May I participated in two pilgrimages on Croagh Patrick with different two groups. The first was with Pilgrimage Project, a collaborative project which was run in May 2013 and connected a group of Irish, Icelandic and Greek musicians, visual and performative artists. The second was with Tuam Diocesan Youth Council which aims to provide opportunities for young people to develop and nurture their faith.

    Both were very enjoyable days and presented different ways of considering and experiencing the Reek. The first offered more historic outlook which was attentive to the ancient origins and the role of mountains as locations of interaction with deities and the otherworldly. This pilgrimage centred on the ideals of a group of people coexisting, living and working together in exploration of cultural identity. The conversation, on the journey and in eating on the summit, touched on the landscape and links between island or peripheral places.

    The second climb of Croagh Patrick was a religious pilgrimage. It was part of an annual calendar of events run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Tuam’s Youth Council. The event was designed to help young people explore and develop their faith. A strong wind made for a tough climb, while mass in the oratory was a pleasant communal experience.

    In both cases, I was lucky enough to participate in a larger group. This enabled me to walk along with others, share stories and get a chance to consider different forms of pilgrimage, which unfolded on the one site.

    As previously discussed, I use video as a method in my research. It serves both as a research tool and as a means of presenting my work. I have complied two short videos based on the two pilgrimages. The Pilgrimage Project video gives a sense of the journey of a group by locating it temporally, as well as giving the briefest interpretation to events. The Youth Pilgrimage video was formatted to capture a sense of the purpose of the event. It layers audio recordings from the mass onto the journey, linking the performance and meaning.

    Pilgrimage Project Video

    Tuam Youth Pilgrimage

  • Máméan: Chapel and Bed

    Máméan (the pass of the birds) in Connemara is a rugged pass in the Maamturk mountains. A small complex of features mark this out as a site of pilgrimage:  ‘St Patrick’s Bed’ a rock located in a small hollow/grotto, two holy wells, a small chapel and a set of the stations of the cross, the latter two being more recent addictions. Stony paths lead up from either side of the ridge. The photo shows the chapel, the structure over St Patrick’s bed and a statue of the saint on the main pilgrimage day 2012, the first Sunday in August. The white wooden cross leaning against the chapel is used in reciting of the stations of the cross.

  • ‘Other’ Pilgrimages

    As someone who is researching pilgrimage practices, I am predisposed to paying attention to how, when and why the term is used. This ranges from everyday conversations to newspaper articles to twitter hashtags (#pilgrimage). It becomes quickly evident that the term is evoked in numerous and different ways beyond its original religious meanings, with all manner of journeys being referred to as pilgrimages.

    An earlier post discussing the characteristics of pilgrimage, highlighted the roles of movement, place, meaning, transformation and embodiment in defining the activity. That piece was particularly focused on traditional spiritual-religious pilgrimage, although references were made to different types of pilgrimage, such as cultural, nationalistic or personal ones. Here, I wish to tease out some of these ideas in more detail.

    Nakamise Street Sensoji Asakusa Taito-ku Tokyo JapanPilgrims and tourists have flocked to the Sensoji (a Buddhist temple) in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo for centuries, shopping for souvenirs at shops on this crowded street.  Source:

    Nakamise Street Sensoji Asakusa Taito-ku Tokyo. Pilgrims and tourists have flocked to the Sensoji (a Buddhist temple) for centuries, with many shopping for souvenirs at shops. Source:

    A point which is frequently made concerns the closeness and blurring between pilgrimage and tourism, particularly heritage or spiritual based tourism. It is apparent that not everyone who visits religious pilgrimage sites is a believer, and simultaneously not all pilgrims endure to traditional arduous and challenging aspects of pilgrimage. With increased personal mobility in parts of the world, the lines between tourist and pilgrim are not as clear cut as they were once conceived as being; indeed, it was probably a fallacy to think of them as ever being entirely discrete.

    The nature and structures of different places, and the practices performed there, equally illustrate the complex and fluid nature of pilgrimage. Both in terms of manifestations and practices, religious sites and secular/popular locations have shared elements, some of which are more typically only attributed to one or other. Major pilgrimage sites have all the facilities and services associated with tourist destinations, while secular places, such as Graceland or the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, feature practices with religious connotations  including processions and the leaving of small objects.

    Indigenous or ancient sites also play a role in these discussions, as they are sites that are visited by not only tourists, but also ‘New Age’ groups or others in search of spirituality. Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, and other similar locations, are seen as being spiritual, non-modern places, and therefore attract those seeking otherworldly experiences as much as tourists. These places can be seen to occupy a curious middle-ground between the established religious locations and the tourist destinations.

    Machu Picchu: houses in the Western Urban Sector, Sacred Square. Source: Issued under  the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Spain license.

    Machu Picchu: houses in the Western Urban Sector, Sacred Square. Source: Issued under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Spain license.

    The most significant factor in all of this lies in the idea of fluidity and a willingness to applying the characteristics of pilgrimages to all manner of journeys. In conceiving and treating of pilgrimage and other journeys an openness to individual and group motivations and experiences need to be a guiding idea, so we can gain a better and more accurate understanding of these human behaviours.




    Suggested Reading: 

    Campo, J.E., 1998. American Pilgrimage Landscapes. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 558, pp.40-56.

    Ivakhiv, A. 2003. Nature and Self in New Age Pilgrimage. Culture and Religion, 4 (1), pp.93-118.

    Plate, S.B., 2009. The Varieties of Contemporary Pilgrimage. Cross Currents, 59(3), pp.260–267.

    Reader, I. & Walter T. eds, 1993. Pilgrimage in Popular Culture. Hampshire: Macmillan.


  • Rag Tree St Gobnait’s Cork

    A collection of photos concerning the rag tree at St Gobnait’s monastic site in Ballyvourney, Co Cork. Clockwise from bottom left: a selection of larger objects at the base of the tree, including a motorbike helmet, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, candle holders and flowers; a profile view of the rag tree located next to St Gobnait’s Well (obscured behind the tree) and the strips of material – from which these trees gain their name – hanging off different branches; a close perspective of very personal votive offerings, such as a keyring, a pen and lengths of wool, whose true meaning is only known to those who left them here; a number of rosary beads hanging together; a significant number of memorial cards and photos are pinned to tree, reinforcing its role as a place for personal reflection and communal expressions of grief.

  • St Brigid’s Well: Water

    This is a short video clip of St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Co. Clare. The well is housed in a small grotto. A short passageway leads to the well, which is un-roofed allowing natural light in from above. The water flows out from the hillside and gathers in the well font. The video captures the steady gentle movement of the water, with its calming tones. A large range of statues, holy pictures and votive offerings, including rosaries, flowers (both fake and real) and small personal objects can be seen around the well. These objects cover spaces and shelves on the walls, and are jammed into any available gaps.

  • St Fanahan’s Well, 2012


    St Fanahan’s holy well complex, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. A collection of photographs taken on the afternoon of Sunday, 25th November 2012, which is the feast day of St Fanahan. The seventh century saint, who is referred to as a warrior monk, is the patron of the town.

    Photos, clockwise from top left: The holy well site just north of Mitchelstown, the well, with a semi-circular concrete border, is to the fore, a stone cross, some trees and a circular path are behind it; the stone cross, including a sculpture of the saint, with a sword in his belt and holding a staff, above a serpent, and a number of artificial candles surround it; a group of pilgrims do the pattern around the site, involving rounding, saying decades of the rosary, stopping at the well, blessings themselves and consuming the water; a glass, with some well water still in it, stands on a flagstone by the well, left by one pilgrim, awaiting another.

  • The Path: Croagh Patrick


    This collection of images represents the main path on Croagh Patrick. Most people who climb the mountain do so along this route, which runs from Murrisk, with a car park and amenities, up the to main ridge, along a section of that ridge and then up the Reek proper. This path is what defines the Croagh Patrick experience for most people. Its uneven surface, its weaving up the ridge and its loose screen shape the climb. The devoted pilgrim, the curious tourist and eager hillwalker all engage with the same trail, each experiencing it in their own way.

    Photos, clockwise from top left-hand corner: the statue of St Patrick at the base of the mountain; walkers moving through a narrow gap in a small ridge shortly into the climb; the path weaving up the northern slope of the main ridge; looking down on Casán Phádraig (the path of St Patrick) with its steep incline and loose scree; a group of pilgrims eating and chatting in the shelter of the chapel on the summit; Casán Phádraig climbs up the scree on the side of the Reek.