Number of pilgrims at Lough Derg 'highest in five years'
LOUGH Derg attracted the highest number of penitents in five years to its tough three-day pilgrimage at the weekend.
Yesterday marked the end of the season for the three-day Lough Derg pilgrimages, which requires people to go barefoot and endure a 72-hour fast.
Newcomers to the ancient pilgrimage site of St Patrick's Purgatory in Donegal made up a significant percentage of pilgrims overall, with 17pc taking part this year for the first time.
Countries all over the world, including Croatia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Latvia, Poland, Switzerland and Russia, were represented at the weekend's closing pilgrimage.
Over the past decade, some 30 different countries have been represented at the pilgrimage site, cementing its importance as an internationally recognised attraction.
After Irish pilgrims, English, Scottish and, notably, Americans attend in the greatest numbers.
The weekend's total attendance of 506 is the second highest of the past decade. In 2004, 547 pilgrims turned out for the final three-day event of the season.
Overall attendance figures are up again this year, following last year's jump of 8pc on 2008 figures. This year marked a more sedate 2pc increase on 2009.
The male-to-female ratio is also shifting -- although women made up 70pc of pilgrims this season, there has been a marked increase in the attendance of men, especially young males of the post-university age group, according to Lough Derg manager Deborah Maxwell.
Monsignor Richard Mohan, Prior of Lough Derg, said the continuing rise in the visitor numbers meant that the tradition of Lough Derg as a pilgrimage remained strong.
"It means that Lough Derg is still important to people. They are showing that just by being here," he said.
People completed the gruelling challenge for a variety of personal reasons, according to Mgr Mohan.
"Many people come just to say thanks, they see it as a way to look at their lives, see where they are going. It helps to put perspective on things," he said.
Visitors 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.
The season for three-day pilgrimages runs from the June bank holiday weekend until August 15, after which a number of one-day events take place until the site closes in November.