Monday 22 January 2018

Salvador Ryan: Lough Derg - the three-day spiritual detox for your soul

A pilgrim praying the Stations of the Cross in Lough Derg
A pilgrim praying the Stations of the Cross in Lough Derg

What makes a person visit a tiny island in rural Donegal for three days, and which involves fasting on dry toast and black tea or coffee, depriving oneself of sleep continuously for 24 hours and walking around a series of stone circular 'beds' in one's bare feet reciting, mantra-like, a basic set of Christian prayers?

Something is certainly attracting people from all walks of life; young and old, church-goers and non-practising, believers and agnostics. Today marks the beginning of the annual pilgrimage season at St Patrick's Purgatory, Lough Derg, an ancient Christian site which in 2012 saw about 10,000 visitors complete the three-day pilgrimage between early June and mid-August.

Its ancient monastic origins are somewhat obscure, one tradition claiming the first abbot of Lough Derg was St Davog, supposedly a disciple of St Patrick. It is really in the 12th Century, with the arrival of the Augustinians, that the site was transformed into a pilgrimage centre of international significance.

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