St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg, is among the oldest centres of Christian Pilgrimage in Western Europe, supposedly dating back to the sixth century. Lough Derg lies about four miles north of the village of Pettigo in County Donegal, in the Diocese of Clogher. Station Island, the location of the Pilgrimage is often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg.
This is a special place of peace and personal challenge. This small lake-island, renowned in Irish Christian tradition since the time of St. Patrick, has been receiving pilgrims continuously for well over 1000 years.
Its importance in medieval times in indicated by the fact that it was among the principal landmarks on maps of Ireland. It was, for example, the only Irish site named on a world map of 1492.
The pilgrimage was very popular among Europeans at that time and there are records of pilgrims having travelled from Hungary (1363 and 1411), France (1325, 1397 and 1516), Italy (1358 and 1411) and Holland (1411 and 1494).
The association of the name of St Patrick with Lough Derg dates back as far as records go and the legends that link him with the place point to a tradition already firmly established by the twelfth century. While in a cave on the island, Patrick is said to have had a vision of the punishments of Hell. Hence the place came to be known as St Patrick’s Purgatory.
Each year the traditional three-day pilgrimage begins at the end of May and ends mid-August. Pilgrims must be at least fifteen years of age, in good health and able to walk and kneel unaided. The pilgrimage is a three-day fast incorporating a 24-hour vigil. Pilgrims arrive on the island between 11.00am and 3.00pm, having fasted from the previous midnight. They have one simple eal of dry toast, oatcakes and black tea or coffee on each of the three days. The central prayer of the pilgrimage is called a ‘station’. Each station involves the repeated praying of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles’ Creed, as pigrims walk or kneel or stand, barefooted. The greater part of a station is made on the Penitential Beds (these are thought to be the remnants of beehive cells used by the early monks). Three such stations are made on the first day. Four more stations are made in common in the Basilica during the night vigil and one is made on each of the second and third days.
In former times the emphasis was more on the physical penance and hardship of the pilgrimage exercises. Nowadays those who make the pilgrimage see it as a grace-filled opportunity to get away from the stress of modern-day living. They talk about the cleansing value of fasting and see the intensive and concentrated nature of the routine as giving opportunities for prioritising values and being physically and spiritually renewed. They find that the particular prayer-form, which they often refer to as ‘body-prayer’, is very satisfying and expresses in a non-verbal way what they often cannot put into words.
Walking barefoot serves to emphasise what all have in common and creates a greater awareness of community. This is particularly effective in the celebration of liturgies on the island. The Sacrament of Reconciliation has always been and still is, very central to this penitential pilgrimage. Its celebration each morning in the Basilica is a moment of joy and hope for penitents and priests alike. However it is the Eucharist that most pilgrims experience as the high point of their pilgrimage. The liturgy of the Roman Missal is given full expression, with excellent response from pilgrims. Young people have key roles in the welcoming and music ministries.
Throughout the season pilgrims are offered opportunities for spiritual direction and a counselling service is provided for any who wish to avail of it.
One-Day Retreats were introduced at Lough Derg in 1992. The retreats are particularly suited to those who for various reasons cannot make the Three-Day Pilgrimage. These are structured days of prayer and contemplation and do not entail fasting or walking barefooted, and pilgrims are invited to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The day finishes with a celebration of the Eucharist.
Diocesan One Day Pilgrimage to Lough Derg
Monday 19th May 2014
Bishop MacDaid, with the support of the parishes, will lead a Diocesan One Day Retreat to Lough Derg on Monday 19th May 2014.
This special day presents people and priests from across the diocese with an opportunity to come together for a day of prayer, reflection and celebration of Eucharist. Monday 19th May has been specially set aside for this Clogher One Day Retreat.
Programme for the Day
Boats from 9.15am (Tea/Coffee & scones).
10.20am Opening Prayers & Way of the Cross
11.20am Prayer of Intercession & Healing of Memories
1.45pm Sacrament of Reconciliation
Island admission: €40/£35
Fasting or walking bare-footed is not required.
Warm and waterproof clothing advised.
Booking essential before 16th May.
Phone Lough Derg 071 9861518
2014 Season on Lough Derg
Lough Derg invites you to take time out for yourself.
The Island, which has been a place of prayer for over 1,000 years, probably even more, offers something very special. The prayers of millions of pilgrims have made their mark. As a pilgrim once put it; “the very rocks ooze prayers to heaven all through the winter, prayers that have been tramped into the stones during the summer pilgrimage season.”
Come walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, savour the atmosphere, feel the divine energy of this unique Island made sacred from centuries of prayer.
The Lough Derg season opens with One Day Retreats on Saturday 3rd of May and on certain days throughout May; 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 24, 25 & 26th . 4 Season Summary
Other special days in May include;
14th May Quiet Day
22nd May Living With Cancer
Three Day Pilgrimage Season commences on Friday 30th May;
30th May until 15th August Traditional Three Day Pilgrimage
Specific days in August One Day Retreats
17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 30 & 31st August.
22nd August Family Day Retreat
Specific days in September One Day Retreats
2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21st September.
1st September Quiet Day
7th September Faith & Light Regional Pilgrimage
17th September A Day Of Healing
24th September Living With Suicide
Further information on these events and about Lough Derg is available on www.loughderg.org
For further information on Lough Derg please contact:
Very Rev Owen J. McEneaney (Prior)
St Patrick’s Purgatory
Tel/Fax: +353 7198 61518
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Clogher encompasses all of County Monaghan, most of County Fermanagh and portions of Counties Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan. The Diocese of Clogher is part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Armagh.