Lough Derg has today confirmed that the traditional Three-Day Pilgrimage will not take place this Summer. This is the first time since 1828 that the pilgrimage has been suspended. Striking the right balance between Covid-safety and welcoming pilgrims back to Lough Derg with confidence was the deciding factor. By its very nature the pilgrimage is a tactile one. Pilgrim hands and feet in touch with the stones on the penitential beds – this is at the heart of what it means ‘to do the pilgrimage’ on Lough Derg.
The Lough Derg Pilgrimage Season occurs annually from May through until October and the traditional Three Day Pilgrimage season happens between 1st June and 15th August when over 5000 pilgrims arrive to do the traditional Pilgrimage on Lough Derg. Pilgrims travel to this remote island from across the island of Ireland and beyond. One Day Retreats and Special Retreat Days run in the months of May, late August and September following by Youth Retreats in September and October.
For more than fifteen hundred years the story of Lough Derg has been told and as far back as records go, has been associated with St Patrick. Ancient writings have it that the first monks settled at Lough Derg in the fifth century, not long after St Patrick came to Ireland. It would seem to have been well established as a place of pilgrimage by the ninth century, and there is a famous world map of 1492 on which the only place marked for Ireland is the penitential island of Lough Derg.
Commenting on the decision, Father La Flynn, Prior of Lough Derg said, “It is important to be clear about how we reached this decision, since we know that there are many pilgrims who will be disappointed with this news. Now when so many other aspects of life are moving, rather carefully, back towards what used to be normal, there will naturally be an expectation that the Three-Day Pilgrimage could be possible.
“We approached the question of re-opening for the Three Day Pilgrimage with our Lough Derg mission and values at the forefront of our consciousness. We considered these alongside the Covid-safe practices that we would be required to implement to ensure pilgrim and staff safety.”
Fr La continued, “One of our core values is the Lough Derg welcome, true to the spirit of a place of sanctuary – the ancient termann. The Covid-related measures essential to ensure pilgrim and staff safety would compromise this welcome and all aspects of the traditional pilgrimage. Our confined space on the Island both inside and outside was the ultimate determining factor.
“In reaching this decision I have not forgotten the scores of local seasonal staff as well as the many young people who rely on summer work here. Indeed it has not been an easy call to make.
“I would like to thank the hundreds of pilgrims who have been in contact with us. Their support is carrying us through this difficult time. With them in mind I am offering the opportunity to ‘do Lough Derg from wherever you are’ on 27 – 29 June. Further information on this can be found here.
Fr La concluded, “Lough Derg is facing substantial financial pressure. The resources that sustain us annually come from the generous contributions of pilgrims. We are intending to open in a limited way on the lakeshore from 6 July and we are hoping that it may be possible to return to Station Island in the later part of the summer when we normally offer Day Retreats.”
St Patrick’s Sanctuary, Lough Derg lies about four miles north of the village of Pettigo in County Donegal. Station Island, the location of the Pilgrimage, is often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg. In 1780 Lough Derg came under the custodianship of the Diocese of Clogher.