Ireland's old pathways connect to Camino trail
Ireland's ancient pilgrim paths are to get a new lease of life as the Celtic Camino.
Spain's famous Camino de Santiago walking route, enjoyed by 600,000 people a year, now has an officially recognised Irish dimension.
The cathedral in Santiago is reputed to hold the tomb of the Apostle James.
Official certificates are only granted by Spanish church authorities to walkers who complete 100km of the Camino route.
They have now decreed that walking 25km on designated Irish routes can be counted as part of the 100km.
Walkers get their walking 'passports' stamped along the Camino route and these stamps will now be available on Irish pilgrim paths such as Tochar Phadraig in Mayo, Saint Finbarr's pilgrim path in Cork, and Saint Declan's Way through Tipperary and Waterford.
"It's marvellous in these cynical times of falling church attendance that there has been an explosion in numbers of people walking the Camino," said Turlough O'Donnell, chairman of Camino Society Ireland.
"The Camino is open to people of all religions and none. Walking is great for bringing people together.
"Large numbers of people in Ireland in medieval times walked the Camino.
"The pilgrims passed through Saint James's Gate in Dublin's city walls on their way to ships bound for Spain," he said.
Around 12,000 Irish people a year now travel to Spain to walk the Camino.
A new approved route leads from Bray to the Church of Saint James in Saint James's Street in Dublin. Walking passports will be stamped in Bray, at the Martello Tower in Sandycove, and in Saint James's Church.
Some of the old pilgrim paths have been given additional names such as the Kerry Camino, the Mullingar Camino, and the Cooley Camino through counties Armagh and Louth.
"Walking is an enormously healthy lifestyle. As you walk, the mind also moves and many great philosophers went walking," said Mr O'Donnell (62). "As you walk through the countryside, ideas that you haven't been able to articulate can suddenly come to mind. You have space for thinking and space for others.
"On the Camino you leave behind material things and you can see the important things are companionship, the kindness of strangers, and the beauty of nature."
Bray solicitor Joe Maguire has walked almost 800km through France and Spain over the course of several summer holidays.
"I would get bored sitting beside a hotel swimming pool all day.
"Walking the Camino is wonderful as a total switch off from everyday stresses. It's great to walk 20 or 30km a day and maybe have a chat with some kindred spirits.
"I come back refreshed and invigorated," he said. "Anyone can prepare by walking an hour a day for a month before heading off."
International walkers will be encouraged to consider including walking in Ireland before joining the Camino route in Spain, Mr Maguire added.
Ireland's first Celtic Camino Festival will take place in Westport, Co Mayo, from April 13-15.
It will include workshops, exhibitions, a film, history lectures by Irish and Spanish academics, Spanish and Irish music, and a pilgrim walk on the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail.
Actor Mike Timms (71) said he first walked the Camino aged 64 and completed a 325km walk along the French route last year.
Dubliner Bernard Lynch (43), whose wife Yen accepted his marriage proposal on the Camino, said walking the route was "a life-changing experience".
For more details, visit www.caminosociety.ie.