Medieval pilgrim paths could be big tourist attraction

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh joined members of the Tóchar Phádraig group to launch the inaugural National Pilgrim Paths Day. Photographed, from left: Sarah Fadden, Tóchar Phádraig;  Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh; Michael Starrett, Heritage Council; John O’Dwyer, National Pilgrims Path; and Fr Frank Fahy, Tóchar Phádraig.

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh joined members of the Tóchar Phádraig group to launch the inaugural National Pilgrim Paths Day. Photographed, from left: Sarah Fadden, Tóchar Phádraig; Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh; Michael Starrett, Heritage Council; John O’Dwyer, National Pilgrims Path; and Fr Frank Fahy, Tóchar Phádraig.

The age-old practice of repenting for one’s sins, soul searching, and attempting to curry favour up above, on a grinding penitential pilgrimage is being revived.

And the revival could prove to be a very uplifting experience for rural economies.

Tócher Phádraig, the 22-mile pilgrim route travelled by St Patrick on his way to do penance atop the Reek for 40 nights, is one of 10 medieval trails to be promoted as part of the first National Pilgim Paths Day on April 19.

John O’Dwyer is chairman of the group, National Pilgrim Paths. He said the benefits of the event are two-fold.

 “National Pilgrim Paths Day was created to raise greater awareness and use of Ireland’s historic pilgrim routes,” he explained.

“The event is targeted, not only at those who enjoy exploring Ireland’s ancient tracks, but also the growing number of people seeking to escape from the daily grind of life and take some time out to reflect and enjoy the outdoors.”

According to Mr O’Dwyer Ireland has a long pilgrim tradition and strong national reputation for spirituality, but there is relatively little footfall on the county’s ancient penitential paths and Ireland is not currently regarded as an important destination for spirituality motivated travel.

“If you look, for example, at the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route, it is attracting up to 300,000 visitors a year to an area in Spain which otherwise would not be a major tourism destination,” he outlined.

“About 5,000 Irish people travel to Spain to do the Camino and we want to raise awareness that you don’t necessarily have to go to Spain to find a medieval pilgrim path with a deep historic resonance.

“Ultimately, we would like to raise the profile in the US market to consider Ireland for this type of tourism as well, because we haven’t really got into that market in the same way Italy and Spain have.”

National Pilgrim Paths Day will see a series of walking and cycling events on the 10 chosen penitential paths across the country.

Heritage guides from local communities will be on hand on the day to outline the story of the route and explain how the medieval pilgrims would have coped on their long and arduous journeys.

Tóchar Phádraig will hold its National Pilgrim Paths Day event on Easter Monday, April 21.7

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