New 'Celtic Camino' spurs second coming for Irish pilgrim trails
Pilgrim paths in Ireland
Did you know pilgrims don't have to start their 'Camino' in Spain? That a 'Celtic Camino' allows you to kick off the route in Ireland?
For just over a year now, walkers who complete a 'Celtic Camino' - by walking at least 25km of a pilgrim trail in Ireland - can collect a special certificate issued by the Camino Society Ireland at St. James' Church in Dublin.
The certificate - gained after walking routes like Tochar Phádraig, Co. Mayo or St. Kevin’s Way in Co. Wicklow (see caminosociety.com) - can then be taken to A Coruña and combined with a further 75km walk to receive the full compostela.
Typically, official Camino certificates are given only to walkers who complete at least 100km of the famous route. But the Cathedral of Santiago and A Coruña Tourism have agreed that 25km of Irish pilgrim trails can now be included.
"It's been very popular," says Jim McNicholas, Director of the Society.
"People do Caminos for all sorts of reasons... I was in Mayo this weekend gone by, and there were about 50 people out walking the Croagh Patrick heritage trail towards Murrisk, despite the weather. And they were loving it."
They're not the only ones. In fact, Irish pilgrim paths are enjoying something of a second coming, as long-forgotten routes are cleared for use again.
Growing numbers are taking to Ireland's penitential trails "to escape the daily grind of life," says walking expert John G. O'Dwyer, chairman of Pilgrim Paths Ireland, which is running a Pilgrim Paths Week from March 31 to April 8.
The event, which features guided pilgrim walks (pilgrimpath.ie; €5-€20pp), is targeted not just at hikers, he says, but the increasing number of people wishing to "take time out to reflect and meditate a little while enjoying the outdoors."
''Pilgrim paths have some kind of introspective or contemplative aspect to them, a link with the past and your personal heritage," he explains.
"There feeling is like you are entering a different space, and there has to be some kind of personal discovery involved."
A week later, the Camino Society Ireland is gearing up to launch another new initiative - Ireland's first ever 'Celtic Camino' festival.
The festival, which takes place in Westport, Co. Mayo from April 13-15 with support from CaminoWays.com, includes speakers like Camino guidebook author John Brierley and a guided hike on part of the Croagh Patrick trail.
It will also feature a screening of The Camino Voyage, a new movie by Donal Ó Ceilleachair that McNicholas says sold out its premiere at the IFI in Dublin.
Bit by bit, more pieces are falling into place.
In 2016, for example, O'Dwyer's Pilgrim Paths group teamed up with the Heritage Council to launch a 'Pilgrim Passport' for Irish trails.
With it, walkers can apply for a Teastas Oilithreachta (Completion Certificate) from Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo after completing 125km on five flagship trails.
Another development sees the re-opening of the 104km St Declan's Way, a five-day trail between Cashel, Co. Tipperary and Ardmore, Co. Waterford.
The route has been fully way-marked and de-vegetated by local groups with the aid of €150,000 from the Rural Recreation Fund. A staged, guided walk of the route is planned between March and June (see KnockmealdownActive.com).
Linking the Rock of Cashel to Cahir Castle, Mount Melleray, Lismore, Cappoquin and Ardmore, it has already been described as an "Irish Camino".
Both O'Dwyer and McNicholas point to the growth in low-cost air routes between North America and Ireland as a further spur for spiritual tourism.
"When we were founded in 2013, I'd say there was literally no footfall on the pilgrim paths of Ireland," O'Dwyer says. "We've now reached the stage where we have groups of over 100 people... and we're also seeing first-time interest from abroad."
"The Celtic Camino is a lovely idea, because you are linking the two countries together," he adds. "It's only a short hop down to Spain."
"There are countless reasons to do Caminos," McNicholas concludes - from mental and physical challenges to carving out simple "time to think."
Increasingly, those journeys are starting in Ireland.
Read more:New 'passport' to put pilgrim paths of Ireland on a par with the Camino