Since ancient times, monks, scholars, saints and pilgrims have been attracted to the North West of Ireland for the same reason that today’s tourists make the journey; the wild and elemental beauty of the ocean, bays, bogs and mountains, and the sense of greater closeness to nature and inner peace.
St Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg, Pettigo
Lough Derg is one of the oldest places of pilgrimage in the Christian world, dating back to the 6th century, and one of the few remaining penitential pilgrimages. Tradition has it that St. Patrick retreated for a spell of prayer and penance in a cave on this lonely lake island. Pilgrims have been travelling to this ancient sacred site from throughout Ireland and Europe for over a millennium. In earlier times the area around the lake was a place of protection for anyone in trouble, while a nearby monastery offered hospitality to all. Lough Derg continues to attract seekers of peace and inner reflection and nowadays welcomes people of all creeds and religious practices to visit. The Lough Derg Pilgrimage season extends between April and September each year with a varied programme of day retreats, workshops, faith-based seminars, family events and the traditional three-day pilgrimage.
Inishmurray Island – North County Sligo
Inishmurray is a remote and mystical island located four miles off the coast of Sligo and is justifiably renowned for its ancient and remarkably preserved Christian heritage, its wild scenery and as a wildlife sanctuary. St. Molaise founded a Christian monastery here in the 6th century, the remains of which are remarkably intact to this day. The island is associated with Ireland’s golden era, when it helped reintroduce Christianity to much of Europe during the Dark Ages. There is also a treasury of folklore and ancient customs associated with Inishmurray Island and its people. Joe Mc Gowan, author of ‘Inishmurray, Island Voices’, offers guided boat tours to the island aboard the MV Fiona, from Mullaghmore Harbour.
Call Joe on +353 87 6674522
Just south of Rossnowlagh beach stands a Franciscan Friary. The Franciscans have had links with south Donegal since the founding of the Monastery outside Donegal in 1474. Rossnowlagh Friary was finished in 1952 and has beautiful public gardens, a visitor centre and a small but enchanting museum of local historical artefacts.
T: +353 74 9851342
Open: All Year Round
The Old Abbey – Donegal Town
Just a short walk along Donegal Quay, you will find the ruined remains of a once substantial friary, which was built in 1474 under the patronage of Red Hugh O’Donnell and his wife Nuala O’Brien. It was here that Brother Michael O’Cleirigh and his fellow Franciscans began work on the Annals of the Four Masters in 1632, which would become one of the most important records of Irish history until modern times. This ancient site is a must-see while visiting Donegal Town with very fine views looking out to the wooded islands of Donegal Bay and back to the cosy market town of Donegal with its sheltered harbour next to the mouth of the river Eske.
In the shadow of Carnaween Mountain, on the slopes of the Bluestack Mountains, lies the ancient site of Diseart. This sacred monastc site dates back to the 6th century but local tradition has it that it was also used as a pre-Christian place of burial for a druid-chieftain. There are remains of a megalithic tomb to help support this claim. Diseart also served as an early Christian hermitage, local pilgrimage route, place of refuge and worship during the Cromwellian Wars and Penal Law times. Diseart is a scenic 25 minutes’ drive from Harvey’s Point via Donegal Town.
Celtic Garden & IOSAS Centre – Muff, Inishowen
This peaceful and fascinating Celtic Spirituality themed garden has been created on a 6 acre site in Inishowen. Features include wild upland vegetation, ponds and a remarkable straw-bale thatched oratory with stained glass, inscribed stones and sculptures by Maurice Harron.
T: +353 74 9384866
Open: All Year Round