On this day last week I began my pilgrimage to Lough Derg. In all honesty, I was apprehensive on arrival. It was twelve years since my previous visit to this sacred place. I remembered sleep deprivation and hunger, not to mention sore feet! But I blocked all that from my mind as our Presentation Family made the short journey from the mainland north of the town of Pettigo across to Station Island.
It was privileged to be part of a lovely group of people; we became companions to one another, looking out for each other, ready to offer a word of encouragement and show a smile when needed. A great camaraderie developed between everyone in our group. I suppose we all were in the same boat. While I found it challenging at times, other pilgrims pulled me through. Everyone was so friendly and it was nice to hear their stories, where they came from and why they came. Una was a pilgrim for the 29th time. “I say every year this will be my last, she said, but something keeps me coming back”.
While I was a member of the Presentation Family, I was also one of 135 other pilgrims that came on to the island for the week end. There was a great variety of ages too from those in their teens to those in their eighties. As a participant on the pilgrimage, I found there is an equality about it–there are no three-star or five-star pilgrims; just barefoot people on a journey together.
I made a brief visit to the island’s small museum. There was a medieval map of Europe and it displayed Lough Derg as the only Irish site identified. It was a place of retreat for those from across the known world through the centuries. Writers such as Heaney, Kavanagh and Alice Taylor among others tried to capture the magic of the island.
On our return back to the mainland, tired and hungry, I forgot the hardships and enjoyed a sense of fulfilment and achievement on completing a challenging pilgrimage. There was one last rendition of Hail Glorious Saint Patrick led by Owen Mc Eneaney, Prior, before we left the island. We were reluctant to break up such was the friendship that brought us together during the three days. There was an opportunity for some last minute photos and say our ‘good-byes’. A question asked, would this be an annual event? The response was a unanimous ‘yes’ and...invite a friend.
I hope you get an opportunity to experience a pilgrimage this summer. They really are a great opportunity to reflect more deeply on life and on God.