Retreating into myself in Lough Derg, where damnation, hell and nasty black tea are box office
Right after the nine o'clock news the other night, an advert appeared for a weekend spa break. At least that's what it looked like at first, what with mellow music, enticing scenic vistas and loving couples strolling hand in hand. It was, in fact, a glossy promotion for Knock Novena Week, starting tomorrow, and the first time I'd seen such an event advertised on prime-time TV.
And why not, indeed, as this vibrant, but less prominent aspect of our culture proudly struts its devout stuff in the last of the summer sun? While thousands of us may be getting ready for Electric Picnic, there is clearly a whole other cohort of citizenry keen to groove to a very different kind of celestial rhythm as the harvest season comes around. Novenas are big - huge actually - with places like Mount St Alphonsus, Esker monastery and St Michael's Ballinasloe attracting thousands of worshippers, complete with clogged streets, traffic tail-backs and merchandise stalls turning normally quiet corners of the country into spiritual Woodstocks for the devout.
Mass attendance may be dropping, but novenas, pattern days and pilgrimages continue to be hugely popular, with Knock attracting over a million visitors every year and the Croagh Patrick climb often topping 30,000.