124km of 'penitential pathways'
Walkers on Ireland’s first fully-guided pilgrim journey can collect stamps in a 'Pilgrim Passport', similar to Spain's Camino de Santiago.
"Now that you can do a Camino in Ireland, people are delighted," says John G. O'Dwyer of Pilgrim Paths Ireland, the association of community groups behind the walks.
The guided 124km journey will take place throughout Heritage Week (August 19-26), covering five ancient routes that vary in length and difficulty:
"All five of the paths are fully waymarked, and people walk them by themselves all the time," O'Dwyer told Independent.ie Travel.
"But this is the first time it will have been done as a guided trail."
Prices range from €5 for a single guided walk to €80 for a package of six days walking, including two lunches and all return transfers (but not accommodation).
Local guides will lead each walk, "with time allowed for personal contemplation, to outline the story of the route and explain how medieval penitents coped with their arduous journeys", the association says.
Ireland's penitential pathways
Ireland has a rich tapestry of medieval penitential pathways, with some 13 trails listed on the association's website (pilgrimpaths.ie) - ranging from the five flagship routes above to others like St Declan's Way in Co. Waterford/Tipperary, Brigid's Way in Co. Kildare and Lough Derg, Co. Donegal.
"There's a huge untapped market out there; we're not even scratching the surface of it yet," O'Dwyer says of a booming interest in such trails (among those booked onto the Heritage Week walk is a couple from Berkeley, California).
This, he credits not only to the popularity of routes like the Camino de Santiago, but to changing attitudes towards religion and spirituality in the 21st century.
Modern pilgrims walk for all kinds of reasons, O'Dwyer says, from spiritual escapes and journeys of self-discovery to those mourning deaths, dealing with medical diagnoses, or simply looking for chats and company.
"There's the eternal quest for meaning," he muses. "What is meaning of life? We deal with it in different ways in different ages."
A Pilgrim Passport
Ireland's National Pilgrim Paths Day was launched in 2014, with the Pilgrim Passport following in 2016. Walkers can now collect stamps after completing any of the five principal paths, with those finishing all five picking up a Teastas Oilithreachta (pilgrim certificate) from Ballintubber Abbey in Claremorris, Co. Mayo.
Passports cost €5 and can be obtained at locations near all of the trails, including St James' Church in Dublin - where pilgrims can also collect stamps and passports for the Camino de Santiago.
Ireland's stamps and total distance are modelled on the minimum requirements for pilgrims to collect a certificate of completion on the Spanish route.
Walkers interested in the guided, Heritage Week walks should book in advance with individual organisers listed on pilgrimpaths.ie, or inquire about full packages by emailing email@example.com.
For more on Heritage Week (August 19-26), see heritageweek.ie.