Members of St. Brigit Episcopal Church, Colorado, USA recently led a pilgrimage to Ireland. They were joined by members of All Saints, Loveland, and Christ Church, Castle Rock. This piece about this small group tour was written by one of the group leaders C.J. Joplin.
The pilgrimage grew out of a desire to see the place St. Brigit lived and to walk in her footsteps. Plans for this journey to Ireland began when two members of St. Brigit met Padraigin Clancy, an Irish scholar and internationally recognized expert on St. Brigit, when Padraigin was leading a workshop on Celtic spirituality in Colorado. There was an immediate connection among the three women, and they began planning the trip. Celtic Footstep worked with the organisers to plan a group tour itinerary which included all of the sites on their wish list. The result was a unique vacation in Ireland with many unforgettable experiences.
The following is a brief summary written by C.J. of the very full pilgrimage itinerary enjoyed by the group.
After landing in Dublin, the group toured Trinity College, viewed the Book of Kells and attended Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then, it was on to Kildare, where St. Brigit built her combined Abbey and Monastery. In Kildare, the highlight was a visit to Solas Bhride (Brigit’s Light), a Christian Centre focused on St. Brigit and Celtic spirituality. The pilgrims had an opportunity to visit and learn from the Brigidine sisters, whose faith enabled them to build Solas Bhride entirely with donations.
The next stop was Newgrange, a pre-Christian, megalithic burial ground designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. What is amazing about this site is its testament to the engineering skills of its builders in aligning it perfectly with the sun at the Winter Solstice, as well as constructing it from huge boulders only found at long distances from the site. Nearby is the Hill of Slane where, according to tradition, St. Patrick lit the first paschal fire in Ireland.
The pilgrims then continued on to Faughart, the birthplace of St. Brigit and the site of a lovely shrine devoted to her memory. Here, they received some very thoughtful and touching gifts, including a large framed Brigit’s cross, small personal Brigit’s crosses and symbolic pieces of Brigit’s cloak (the subject of legends about the saint).
Yet another highlight of the trip came next with a visit to Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, located in Northern Ireland. Here, the group enjoyed a warm welcome and fascinating presentation by the Rev. Grace Cluine at the Centre for Celtic Spirituality followed by an entertaining visit to the Centre’s recreation of an ancient Celtic Village.
Next stop was Glendalough with an inspirational tour led by Father Michael Rodgers, founder and Director of Tearmann Centre. The tour was enhanced by an itinerant bagpiper in traditional dress, playing for tips from visitors to the site.
Then, it was across the country to Galway and a visit to the beautiful Brigit’s Garden, a botanical tribute to the saint.
For many of the pilgrims the outstanding highlight of this transformational journey came next with a visit to the rugged Aran Islands, led by Padraigin Clancy. Padraigin is a native of Ireland and now lives on one of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor. The Islands are strikingly different from mainland Ireland in both landscape and lifestyle. They are a deeply spiritual place of stark beauty with sacred sites dating back 3,000 years, such as the Bronze Age stone fortress of Dun Aonghasa. The modern-day residents of the Islands live simply. Food and supplies must be ferried in, the use of cars is discouraged, and the preferred language is Gaelic.
One of the most memorable experiences of the pilgrimage occurred on Inis Mor when the group shared Eucharist in the ruins of an ancient church, open to the sky, in the midst of a gentle rain. “God’s presence truly was palpable,” said C.J. Joplin-Jack.
The pilgrimage concluded with a visit to The Burren, an other-worldly, rocky wilderness in western Ireland, and the spectacular Cliffs of Moher.
Celtic Footstep are experts in creating custom group tours in Ireland. Celtic Footstep is the only Irish based company who specialize in planning special interest, Irish culture & heritage, study, alumni & religious group vacations to Ireland. If you are planning a group trip to Ireland, please contact Celtic Footstep to discuss your requirements.
Photo Credit: Judy Nieusma, Group Member.