08 Apr Lough Derg, County Donegal
For 1500 years’ pilgrims have been beating a path to this remote stretch of water set in a barren landscape. In the middle of the lake is the small Station Island, which is covered with buildings and looks – from a distance at least – like a detail from a Canaletto painting. The four storey hostels, clustered round an octagonal church, are the centre for the pilgrimage known as ‘St Patrick’s Purgatory’, which takes place between the beginning of June and the middle of August.
It was on Station Island that St Patrick is said to have spent 40 days of prayer and fasting, to expel the last evil spirits from Ireland. Today’s pilgrimage lasts three days, during which time the pilgrims walk barefoot round the ‘Penitential Beds’ (the remains of monastic cells), perform devotional exercises, and eat only one meal a day, of bread and black tea. They are not allowed to sleep on the first night, but can stay in the hostels on the second. As many as 15,000 pilgrims visit the island each year, with up to 400 people at any one time. From June to mid-August pilgrims only are allowed on the island.
Lough Derg is a hidden gem that has a rich history and is worth a visit on your Ireland tours.