The Columban Way – this new Irish Camino could become a 6,000km European walk
You know the Camino, but have you heard of Ireland’s Columban Way?
It’s a new, pilgrim-inspired trail some 1,500 years in the making. Last week, soccer legend Paul McGrath launched an early phase — a 45km cultural and heritage trail following the footsteps of St Columbanus through Carlow.
St Columbanus was a 6th century monk born at the foot of Mount Leinster, and the newly signposted trail winds from the Nine Stones there to Myshall village, Bagnelstown, Leighlinbridge, Carlow and the Kildare border.
Two feeder routes from Bunclody and St Mullins are signposted, too. In the future, the hope is to carry on through eight counties, tracing a 530km route to Bangor, Co Down (a 32km stretch here is already waymarked from Comber).
“It’s not about where you are going, but the journey itself,” McGrath, a keen walker and mental health advocate, said at the launch.
That resonated with me. As we emerge from the pandemic, people are walking for many reasons - for wellness, to get their steps in, for Covid-safe breaks, or slower, more sustainable travel.
Walking is a soft adventure that can appeal to all ages and abilities, be it a trek up Carrauntoohil or a short forest stroll.
Walks also appeal to individuals and groups, and there is growing interest in trekking holidays as travel recovers. When Intrepid Travel sought to expand in North America recently, I thought it interesting that it bought Wildland Trekking, a US company specialising in small group hiking tours.
Theming a trail also makes sense. It provides a hook, catches the imagination, and is easier to market.
In our ultra-connected age, you might think holy men and pilgrim traditions would be dying out, but it feels like the opposite is true — think of the evergreen Camino de Santiago, the Via Francigena or Ireland’s refreshed St Declan’s Way, a 115km trail from Cashel to Ardmore.
There’s even a Pilgrim Paths Week (April 20-24; pilgrimpath.ie), with walks ranging from Tóchar Phádraig to Inis Cealtra.
But really, any theme will do. New arrivals include New York’s Empire State Trail, Egypt’s 168km Red Sea Mountain Trail, the 36km Coast-to-Coast Trail in Singapore, or plans for a Transcaucasian trail linking the Black and Caspian Seas.
They all feel like exciting, compelling reasons to travel. Even short, well-managed walks like the coastal trails in Cahore, Kilkee or Ardmore can tempt visitors to stretch a stay, however.
Lots of hotels are offering walking packages these days and, as we’ve seen with Ireland’s greenways, inspiring trails can also encourage local businesses to blossom along the way.
The Columban Way won’t stop in Bangor. This saint travelled widely in his lifetime, and was apparently the first to coin the phrase ‘Totius Europa’ (the whole of Europe). In the future, a 6,000km network could stretch from Carlow across multiple countries to Bobbio in northern Italy — it’s already being dubbed the ‘European Columban Way’.