In an earlier newsletter titled “Save Our Pilgrim Paths,” we highlighted the revival of ancient pilgrim walking routes across Europe.
Today we came across this tweet from Ireland:
We dug a bit and found out that St Declan’s Way marks the route that, according to legend, early Irish missionary St. Declan traveled from Ardmore in County Waterford to Cashel in County Tipperary in the 5th century AD. The earliest known Life of St. Declan comes from the 12th century, so there is considerable dispute about the circumstances of his ministry, particularly regarding whether he preceded St. Patrick as one of the earliest Christian missionaries to Ireland.
St Declan’s Way was a popular pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages, but only since 2013 has it seen a revival, when groups of pilgrims began walking its 110km (65 mile) length over four days beginning on the saint’s feast day of 24 July.
The author of above tweet, John O’Dwyer, wrote a book about Ireland’s pilgrim paths called “Pilgrim Paths in Ireland - from Slieve Mish to Skellig Michael.” He first wrote of the route’s revival in 2013 and then penned this beautiful profile of the path in 2018:
Christmas is the season for family, friends and indolent togetherness. A few days cooped up en famille, however, and cabin fever invariably triumphs over closeness. So, I was glad when a guided walk along a newly reopened section of St Declan’s Way allowed me the opportunity to escape the Yuletide clutches of domesticity.
With worryingly enthusiastic encouragement from my family, I set off through the wintry dawn of a frosty morning. Soon, a tardy rising sun lighted the eastern skies and splendidly reddened the snow-cloaked Galtee Mountains.
Traversing a somnolent countryside on gloriously traffic-free roads, I swept into Co Waterford while reflecting that winter mornings are indeed magical. At the blink-and-you-miss-it settlement of Grange, I joined my fellow walkers.
Immediately it became apparent this was a grupa dhá theanga [ed: bilingual group]: many participants were chatting in lilting Munster Irish. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, for nearby lies the vibrant Irish-speaking area of Gaeltacht na nDéise.
Outing myself as a bit of a gaeilgeoir [ed: Irish speaker], I was soon chatting with the locals, who informed me that each summer they walked the entire route in an impressively speedy three days.
In July 2021, Mr. O’Dwyer followed up on his story to announce that the entire ancient route had been restored and waymarked thanks to a government grant.
The funding for the path was provided by a grant of €150,000 received under the rural recreation scheme of the Department of Community and Rural Development, while a local steering committee oversaw it.
Kevin O’Donnell, an accommodation provider from Ardfinnan, Co Tipperary, conceived the idea for revitalising St Declan’s Pilgrim Path when he walked the Camino de Santiago and saw the economic benefits pilgrim walking had brought to the local area in northern Spain.
Now, he hopes St Declan’s Way will become an ‘Irish Camino’.
“St Declan’s Way will link Ardmore, Cappoquin, Lismore, Mount Melleray before then crossing a pass in the Knockmealdown Mountains to reach Ladysabbey, Cahir Castle, and the Rock of Cashel. There is something of interest around almost every corner, and it is the perfect length for a week-long walking holiday,” he said.
The path is now fully waymarked and can be walked at any time. The guided pilgrim walk will take place on Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25, for stages one and two. The walk of the final three stages will then go ahead on Saturday, Sunday, and bank holiday Monday, July 31 to August 2.
The path travels from south to north along the route shown in below Google map.
St Declan’s Way passes largely through gentle Irish countryside, with the only significant elevation the crossing of a pass in the Knockmealdown Mountains (yep, real name!). Since the route is so new we did not find much video evidence but here is a montage from June 2021.
In the spirit of the Irish missionaries and pilgrims it feels appropriate to say go dté tú slán [goodbye] with this well-known Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.