Irish Pilgrim Trails Part II
Rich in pilgrim tradition and spiritual history, Ireland is home to a number of Pilgrim Walks.
Following the response to our article 4 Of The Best Irish Pilgrim Trails, we’re back with four more fantastic trails in Cork, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry for you to enjoy.
Type: Point to point
Distance: 19 km (max elevation 526 metres)
Duration: 6 hr 30 mins
Start location: Kealkill, Co. Cork, Ireland See on GeoHive
End location: Gougane Barra Lake, Ballingeary, Co. Cork
Parking: Kealkill Roadside
Co-ordinates: X: 51.748646 Y: -9.385866
Set in picturesque West Cork, St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path is a 37 km trail that gives pilgrims a chance to retrace the footsteps of the Rebel County’s patron saint. It’s believed that in the 6th century, St Finbarr arrived at Drimoleague and urged the local people to restore their belief in Christianity. He then went on to the Gougane Barra where he set up a monastery on the lake shore. The view of the ornate St Finbarr’s Oratory against the backdrop of the lake is worth the lengthy trek alone.
It’s ambitious to attempt the entire 37 km in one trek and with this in mind, this article will focus on what is considered the second leg of the trail: Kealkill to Gougane Barra. The first leg goes from Top of the Rock Pod Pairc to Kealkill.
Starting in the middle of Kealkill, take the lane at the left of J.C. Collins pub and continue on until you reach a junction. Go right on R584 and continue on 437 metres then take a left as the road curves right. 500 metres down this road you will cross a bridge over the Owenbeg River. Follow the road around to the right and then continue up the hill for 2.8 km.
Near the top of the hill, walk past the exit for the road on the left and look for a walking trail another 100 metres straight up on the left hand side of the road. This leads to a descending walking track. Watch out for markers and follow the trail to the right for 500 metres until you reach the road.
Now travel 500 metres up the road to the top of the hill. After 2 km, walk past the left turn and continue on for 300 metres. The trail leaves the road and heads northeast through the woodland for 500 metres before emerging in open, marshy green land.
Walk straight until you reach the road, then take a left and continue on for 1.8 km. Now take a left turn (the third turn on this stretch of road, having ignored the first two). Follow this road for 500 metres, then look for where the trail leaves the road and cuts across Lackavane /Lacabhaun Ridge.
The trail across the ridge continues north for 500 metres, then east for 600 metres before it descends in a north-easterly direction. From here you should be able to see the finish line of Gougane Barra Lake.
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Distance: 5 km
Duration: 3 hours
Start location: Church of Ireland Chapel, Glencolumcille, Co. Donegal: See on GeoHive
End location: Church of Ireland Chapel, Glencolumcille, Co. Donegal
Parking: Glencolumcille Village
Co-ordinates: X: 54.710581 Y: -8.722946
Turas Cholmcille is a looped pilgrimage in Co. Donegal that takes in megalithic tombs, natural landscape features and cross pillars. Similar to the pilgrim trail found in Cnoc na dTobar Co. Kerry, Turas Cholmcille bands together a number of stations in a loop-shaped circuit for dedicated pilgrims to follow.
Its name sake, St Colmcille was a 6th century religious figure who was born in Gartan and set up his first monastery at the age of 24 and many others before he reached the age of 25. St Colmcille’s life achievements are known in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. He even features in a legend about an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.
Although many of the features on the trail predate the era of Colmcille by thousands of years, they were adapted for Christian practices over time. There are fifteen stations on the Turas, some of which are straightforward to reach and others that require taking on some muddy marshland.
There are two similar routes to choose from on the Turas Cholmcille: The Tower Loop and The Drum Loop. Both leave some of the navigation up to the walker’s own instincts, but a path outlined by John G. O Dwyer in his book Pilgrim Paths in Ireland, attempts to make things easier.
Starting at the first station, the Church of Ireland Chapel in Glencolumcille, travel west along the road. You will shortly encounter the first station, the Straid court burial tomb and then 100 metres later, the Cross Pillar, station number 2. Walk a further 900 metres up the road and cross the bridge. Now follow the trail to the right and head north. You will pass station three, Garvecross Cairn, after 70 metres, and then a further 130 metres up the road you will encounter both station four, The Beefan Cross Pillar and station five, St Colmcille’s Chapel.
Stay north up this road for another 150 metres and you will reach St Colmcille’s Chair. Follow the trail for another 400 metres until you reach St Colmcille’s Well.
There is no clear trail from station seven to station eight. Many pilgrims prefer to skip it and retrace their steps back to the Church of Ireland Chapel in Glencolumcille and take on the remaining stations on the eastern part of the loop.
However, if you are determined to complete an actual loop, travel 300 metres southeast from St Colmcille’s Well across the muddy, marshland and keep an eye out for three upright stones. These stones mean you are at station eight, known as St Colmcille’s Garden or the Pilgrimage Field.
Navigate through the fields for a further 800 metres, still heading in the same direction. The trail will now restart on solid ground at the ninth station, the Stone of the Gathering. Follow the trail for 650 metres, take a left at the T-junction and continue 450 metres and look for station 10, the weathered cross stone ‘Faugher’.
Head east into the field for 300 metres and take in station 11, An Droim Rua and station 12 The Baile na nDeamhan. The translated names of both these stones ‘red ridge’ and ‘village of the demons’ allegedly signify the struggle St Colmcille had with evil spirits at this location.
Head back to the road and travel 600 metres south. Take a right at the T-junction and then a left down to the Garda station where outside you will find another stone — station 13, An Gaineamh.
Re-join the road again and head west towards your start point. There you will find station 14, An Caiseal, on the right hand side of the road. Station 15, the cross slab called An tSraid awaits you 15 minutes later and marks the end of your journey.
Type: Point to point
Distance: 30 km
Duration: 10 hours
Start location: Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo. See on GeoHive
End location: Murrisk car park, Co. Mayo
Parking: Ballintubber car park. Co. Mayo
Co-ordinates: X: 53.756722 Y: -9.282778
Many know the stories of St Patrick fasting for 40 days and 40 nights on the top of Croagh Patrick mountain, but few know about the Reek’s nearby sister trail, Tóchar Phádraig. This path connects Croagh Patrick to Ballintubber, a spot where St Patrick is said to have baptised people before beginning his journey to the mountain. History suggests that the abbey that stood there was built by Cathal Crovderg O’Connor in the 13th century.
Cromwellian forces burnt that structure down in the 17th century and the building was not restored until 1966. Despite all these challenges, it is the only gathering spot of its kind in Ireland where church practices have continued uninterrupted since the 13th century.
The trail starts across the road from Ballintubber Abbey and begins travelling northwest towards Croagh Patrick. The trail continues northwest for the first 5.5 km, intersecting the Aille River, farmland and occasionally the L1809.
Continue northwest until you meet the R330 road. Now follow the trail southwest for 4 km, again joining the L1809 as it leads into Aghadower.
Follow the road out of town for 300 metres then re-join the trail opposite the graveyard and head west across the field for 700 metres until you join the country road.
Look out for way markers and travel southwest for 2 km. You’ll know you’re going the right way once you pass Knappabeg Lough on your right. The trail follows this path for 4 km and then takes a right turn and moves northwest for 1 km until the road intersects with the N59.
The route then travels west for 1.8 km where it crosses the Owenwee River before continuing on for 4.5 km to Ballyhip in Louisbourgh. From here there’s a 2.5 km northern track to Murrisk that steeply climbs some of the surrounding slopes at the base of Croagh Patrick before descending towards Murrisk.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Type: Point to point
Distance: 18 km
Duration: 7 hr 30 mins
Start location: Ventry Beach, Co. Kerry. See on GeoHive
End location: The foot of Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry
Parking: Ventry Beach Car Park
Co-ordinates: X: 52.13623 Y: -10.363960
Cosán Na Naomh follows an ancient pilgrim route that is believed to date back to pagan times. It was likely in medieval times when it was adapted for Christian pilgrimages. These days the route incorporates a number of landmarks, covering hundreds of years of Irish history.
This family friendly trail in Co. Kerry takes a winding route across walkways and country roads towards the foot of Mount Brandon from the start point at Ventry beach.
Highlights include the restored Gallarus Oratory, Kilmalkedar Church and the Ogham stone sundial which is located in the grounds of Kilmalkedar Church. Let’s not forget to celebrate the shrine at the foot of Mount Brandon, as reaching this point means that you have successfully navigated this pilgrim trail.
The zig-zag route takes in a number of historic sites without presenting any unmanageable sharp inclines.
Starting from Ventry Beach car park, cross the R559 and head 250 metres up the small country road until you reach the turn off for a small gathering of houses on the right hand side. Walk down this path until it intersects with a road that’s heading up the hill.
Turn left on this road and continue west for 1.4 km. As you follow the bend in the road around to the left you will see the Cill na gColman monastic site in the field on the left hand side.
Continue down the road for another 1.5 km until you reach a crossroads. Turn right at the crossroads and walk up the hill. The next turn will be 250 metres on the right hand side, but before this, 125 metres on the left hand side is the landmark Rathanan Castle.
Follow this road for 1.3 km. When you reach a barn structure there are two options for progression:
- Take a left and follow the road for 2 km until you intersect with R559 and then continue right down the road for 1km.
- Follow the R559 on the left turn for 1 km. When you reach the junction the trail continues with a left turn. 50 metres on the right is the entrance to the Gallarus Oratory monument. There is also a connecting path to Gallarus Castle from the monument.
Back on the trail, follow the R559 for 500 metres until you reach an intersection, then take a right and continue straight for 1.6 km
At the next junction you will see the remains of Cathair Deargain stone fortress on your left. Take a left turn and continue north for 700 metres until you reach Kilmalkedar Church which is on your right hand side.
At Kilmalkedar Church the trail leaves the road and goes across Reenconnell ridge. Heading northeast across the ridge, the highest elevation of which is 274 metres, the way markers will guide you up and over the bump before the trail descends and joins the road to Foehanagh after 3 km.
After 200 metres take the right exit on the road, looking out for signs for the Mount Brandon car park. Follow this road for the next 500 metres then take a right turn and follow the road northeast for another 500 metres.
Take the next right and travel east for 500 metres until you arrive at the car park for Mount Brandon.
Whatever your level of experience, make sure that you know how to stay safe. Read our Essential Guide To Walking Safety before you head off on your next walk.
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Disclaimer: Walkers use these tips entirely at their own risk. No responsibility can be accepted by landowners or by Ordnance Survey Ireland, for any loss, damage or injury caused or sustained during walks.