All posts tagged Movement

  • 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).

  • St Gobnait’s, Ballyvourney: 11th Feb 2013

    St Gobnait, who is venerated at different sites in the south of Ireland, has her feast day on 11th February. St Gobnait’s house and holy well in Ballyvourney, Cork, is one of the main sites of devotion associated with the saint. On the feast day or pattern day, people come to do the rounds and visit the well. The site located just outside the village is very well maintained an attracts visitors throughout the year.

    Pilgrims praying in the rain at the statue of St Gobnait

    Pilgrims praying in the rain at the statue of St Gobnait

    The grave of St Gobnait which is a focus of devotional activity. It is a station on the rounds and people frequently leave votive offerings here.

    The grave of St Gobnait which is a focus of devotional activity. It is a station on the rounds and people frequently leave votive offerings here.

    Looking down on the pilgrimage site from beside the statue. On of the wells is in the foreground, with the grave in the middle ground to the right and the old church, which is also part of the rounds, is in the background.

    Looking down on the pilgrimage site from beside the statue. One of the wells is in the foreground, with the grave in the middle ground to the right and the old church, which is also part of the rounds, is in the background.

    St Gobnait's Well which is adjacent to the graveyard; it is the final station on the rounds

    St Gobnait’s Well which is adjacent to the graveyard; it is the final station on the rounds

    Audio Recording: 

    A recording at St Gobnait’s Holy Well Ballyvourney Cork on 11th Feb 2013, the feast day of the saint. The recording captures the lifting a cup form above the well, taking up some water, drinking some, returning the water, the ambient sound in the well structure and returning the cup.

    Video showing the holy well: 

    Locating the Site: 


    Further reading: 

    Checkout Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland‘s comprehensive blogpost on St Gobnait’s.

  • Mobilities

    I have an interest in the study of mobility. The concept of mobility is a broad approach that incorporates movement, motion, flow, transition, fluidity and much more. It centres on an appreciation of movement, as a thing worthy of study in-and-of-itself, but also as a force that shapes, influences and adds meaning to the world around us.

    In academic-speak, my interest can be located in the ‘mobilities turn’ or the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ within the social sciences. The paradigm is a response to a world that is seen as being increasingly mobile. It includes a wide range of topics, from corporeal movement to mass migration, from transportation systems to tourism, and from cycling to communication technologies. Examples of mobilities research include, leisure walking, cycling to work, commuting, the increase in international students, immigration experiences and systems at European airports, the carbon-foot print and food miles of the components of our daily diet and the role of truly mobile computing and communication devices.  Furthermore, it acknowledges a greater role for approaches that centre on activity, performance and participation.

    The immobile and questions of the creation and treatment of immobility are raised in considerations of mobilities. By highlighting the importance of movement and flow, the role and consequences of barriers and frictions are equally emphasised. In many cases, these concerns raise some of the most profound and significant questions for study in the area. Questions concerning who is free to live a mobile life, and who isn’t; or, how can some materials and ideas can spread or be halted.

    However, if should also be noted that, as always, there are caveats and criticisms of the paradigm. It is relatively loosely defined (perhaps, intentionally so). On initial reading, the area can be seen to encompass all aspects of modern life and a globalised world! Also, as an emerging idea, its core concerns and approaches are still to be fully and clearly developed. The paradigm or turn needs to have an accepted body of abstract thought and a general outlook which will act as the foundation for research. In addition, mobilities literature needs to successfully incorporate differing and older perspectives if it is to gain widespread purchase.

    The key strength of the mobilities approach is its challenge to the social sciences to broaden its inquiries and the methodologies to adequately include movement, mobility and fluidity at all scales. This opens up a rich arena of study, which, when supported by the developments of work on the paradigm, will hopefully produce a rich body of scholarship that will enrich our insights into the world around us.

    Suggested reading:

    Adey, P. 2009. Mobility. London: Routledge.

    Cresswell, T., 2006. On The Move. London: Routledge.

    Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J. 2006. Mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities, 1 (1), 1–22.

    Sheller, M., 2011. Mobility. Sociopedia.isa 1–12.

    Suggested sites: 

    mCenter, Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy

    Cosmobilities Network, linking research into mobilities