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Passport to Ireland’s Medieval Pilgrim Trails

To be considered an official pilgrim, one must walk a minimum of one hundred kilometers: this is the requirement for receiving the compostelana on the Way of Saint James. The same applies to the Passport of the Pilgrim Paths of Ireland. The Pilgrim Paths of Ireland is a foundation dedicated to restoring and preserving the country’s ancient medieval routes that have fallen into disuse over the last four centuries due to its troubled religious history.

There are five pilgrim routes associated with early medieval Irish saints. Combined, they cover almost 120 kilometers. The completion of the five routes allows you to obtain the Teastas Oilithreachta –that is, the Pilgrim’s Certificate. These itineraries are an extraordinary opportunity to discover the historical roots of a country that shaped some of the most important cultural, religious, and artistic episodes of the High Middle Ages, even in continental Europe, never abandoning its Celtic legacy.

Tóchar Phádraig

The most famous Irish saint of all time, St Patrick, has his own pilgrimage route. It follows the ancient path of the Kings of Connaught. In fact, the holy mountain of Ireland’s patron saint has been visited since time immemorial, as evidenced by the recently discovered remains of a 5th century chapel.

The ancient route runs for some 35 kilometers through the beautiful County Mayo in north-west Ireland, starting at Ballintubber Abbey. As it crosses some private land, the pilgrimage must be booked in advance with the abbey itself. Before setting off, pilgrims often stop for a moment at St Patrick’s Well, where tradition claims the saint celebrated baptisms.

Halfway along the route are the ruins of the monastery of Aughagower, probably built around the tenth century, and another well associated with St Patrick, Dawach Patrick. It is now dry, but it was once famous for its miraculous cures.

Pilgrims on this route can also admire pre-Christian relics such as the Boheh Stone, which marks the importance of this Sacred Mountain way before the arrival of Christianity.

The route ends at Croagh Patrick, the mountain where, according to tradition, St. Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441. This would also be the place where he drove the snakes from the island. The mountain was already a place of pilgrimage in pagan times –it was then called Cruachán Aigle. Pilgrims traditionally climb it on the last Sunday of July (Reek Sunday) and, once at the top, they walk around the summit several times while praying.

Cosán Na Naomh

Cosán Na Naomh is Irish for Saints’ Road. This is one of the oldest documented pilgrim routes in the southwest of Ireland. Pilgrims would come by sea to Ventry Bay, disembark on the beach and walk 18 kilometers to Mount Brandon, one of Ireland’s holy mountains.

This route is associated with St Brendan the Navigator, a famous 6th century monk immortalized in of the most incredible epic stories of the Middle Ages. The route passes through Gallarus Oratory, a famous early Christian building, and Kilmalkedar Abbey.

Cnoc na dTobar

This rather short pilgrimage, only 9 kilometers long, takes pilgrims to the slopes of another holy mountain. The itinerary follows the steps of another holy monk, Saint Fursey, who lived between the 6th and 7th centuries. Tradition claims he was  the son of Fintan and grandson of Finlog –the pagan king of the area. His mother, Gelges, was the Christian daughter of Aed-Finn, the king of Connacht. Tradition also claims he was baptized by St Brendan the Traveller himself. He grew up to be the founder of several monasteries, and was known for being a mystic, dying in exile in France.

At the end of the 19th century, a canon by the name of Brosnan restored this penitential path and transformed it into a majestic Stations of the Cross. Saint Fursey’s Well, at the very beginning of the way, and Knocknadobar Canon’s Cross at the top of the mountain are noteworthy.

St Finbar’s Way

Further south pilgrims find yet another road –this one being 37 kilometers long. It follows the path of the Irish preacher-saint Naomh FionnbarraSaint Finbar. It goes from the top of Drimoleague hill (now private land) from where tradition claims he preached to pagans. Seeking solitude, Finbar travelled a long way from there to an idyllic lakeside location in Gougane Barra.

The trail passes through places of great religious and historical significance, as this region was one of the most resistant to English rule –as the ruins of Carriganass Castle attest. Another attraction on the route is the House of George the Sky, a place where pilgrims find peace and quiet and get in touch with nature.

St Kevin’s Way

In eastern Ireland, south of Dublin, lies the last of the five routes: Saint Kevin’s way. Known as a great preacher, Kevin of Glendalough walked from the village of Hollywood all the way to the Wiclow Mountains in search of a place to establish a monastery.

The 30 kilometers route passes through several sites associated with the saint’s life, like Saint Kevin’s Cave, Saint Kevin’s Pool, and The Wicklow Gap, where pilgrims customarily leave a stone in remembrance of their journey. The trail ends at Glendalough Abbey, one of the finest and best preserved early Christian abbeys in the country.

PPI organises National Pilgrimage Paths Week each Easter, and issues a pilgrim passport and completion certificate to finishers of the 5 main trails: Cnoc na dTobar, Cosán na Naomh, St. Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path, St. Kevin’s Way, and Tóchar Phádraig.  The organisation also facilitates the Irish Pilgrim Journey in June of each year.  A fully-guided walk along Ireland’s passported pilgrim paths with all logistics taken care of, it enables participants to obtain the required stamps for the Irish Pilgrim Passport in 6 days of walking. Further information on the pilgrim paths of Ireland at:


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