Pilgrim numbers visiting island rise for third year
PILGRIM numbers to the gruelling Lough Derg mission are set to rise for the third year in a row.
One-fifth of this year's visitors are newcomers to the three-day pilgrimage, which takes place on a remote island in Co Donegal.
This weekend marks the final opportunity for pilgrims to embark on the challenge, which requires three days of fasting, prayer and an overnight vigil.
"Entering the last week of the traditional three-day pilgrimage season, signs are encouraging that for the third consecutive year there will be a slight increase in the number of pilgrims to Lough Derg," manager Deborah Maxwell said.
Organisers note a significant increase in pilgrims that are returning to the holy island after a 30-year absence.
To date this year, the three-day pilgrimage has attracted 8,000 pilgrims, a 1.5pc increase on last year's figures.
It is hoped the annual rush for the final weekend will push that increase higher.
In 2010, more than 500 visitors went barefoot and endured a 72-hour fast on the final weekend of the season -- the highest in five years.
Overall attendance figures increased by 2pc last year following a jump of 8pc in 2009.
Visitors on the pilgrimage must keep a 24-hour vigil and complete nine 'stations' -- which involves walking and kneeling at a series of rocky penitentiary beds while reciting a continuous mantra of prayers.