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Insider’s Guide to the Irish Camino – Ireland’s Pilgrimage Routes

Posted on Feb 18, 2019 by Darragh Devaney

Once known as the Land of Saints and Scholars, there is a rich heritage here, interwoven along ancient Ireland’s pilgrimage routes. 

Just as the Camino de Santiago follows Santiago (St James), numerous Irish saints lend their names and stories to these paths. Meander the green fields, remote summits, vast heathland and dramatic coastline while following ancient Ireland’s pilgrimage routes.

Motivations for hiking Ireland’s pilgrimage routes may vary – some pilgrimage hikers may be spirituality motivated. Others may be fascinated with the historical aspect, or even the importance of tradition, and the romantic notion that so many others have walked this path before. Still others may choose to hike Ireland’s pilgrimage routes in search of inner peace or mindfulness. Some hikers may simply like the idea of a walking along at long distance trail.

Whatever it is that intrigues you, whether you’re looking for inward reflection or simply a beautiful place to hike, Ireland’s pilgrimage routes hold the answer.

Read on to discover the best of ancient Ireland’s pilgrimage routes traced across the land by the pilgrims of yesteryears through some of the most stunning corners of Ireland.

Tochar Phadrairg – St Patrick’s Way
– Croagh Patrick
Glencolmcille – Donegal
Pilgrim’s Path of Slieve League
Crosan na Noamh – The Saint’s Road
Mt Brandon
St Finbarr’s Way


1. Tochar Phadrairg – St Patrick’s Way, Co Mayo

Mayo - Tochar Phadraig

Mayo is remote, wild and beautiful.

Distance Time Difficulty
35 km / 22 miles 2 days Moderate

Tochar Phadraig, or St Patrick’s Way, is Ireland’s longest surviving pilgrimage way. At about 37 km Going back to ancient times, once upon a time this route followed the old royal road starting in Cruachan, a holy site that was once the seat of Ireland’s bygone kings of Connacht including the famous warrior Queen Maeve (today located in Co Roscommon in the Irish Midlands). The Tochar Phadraig walk begins at the lovely romanesque Ballintubber Abbey, continuing westwards towards the Wild Atlantic coast of Mayo. Along the way, we may spot holy wells and other early Christian remnants.

The second half of the Tochar Phadraig hike follows country roads and farm tracks as we head westwards through Co Mayo, one of Ireland’s most rugged and remote counties. Though once one of Ireland’s most popular pilgrimage walk, Tochar Phadraig fell into decline in the 1500s, ceasing to be of use during Ireland’s Penal laws (a series of laws to impose the Anglican Church on the Catholics and dissenters). The route terminates at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain and the crown jewel of the pilgrimage walk! 

St Patrick’s Way isn’t on any of our group trips but is available as part of a tailor made itinerary

Get more info about this hike here. 


2. Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain – Co Mayo 

Croagh Patrick hiking - Ireland's Pilgrimage routes

Sheep are your constant companion along the slopes of Croagh Patrick

 

Distance Time Difficulty
7km / 4 miles 3-4 hours Moderately Strenuous

Legend has it that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland from the summit of Croagh Patrick. For over 4,000 years, pilgrims have climbed to the top of the mountain of Croagh Patrick, not far from the cheerful coastal town of Westport, in search of splendid vistas as well as connection to land, myth and history.

It was here that St Patrick, one of Ireland’s patron saints, is said to have fasted for 40 days in 441AD. At the top of the mountain there is still a shrine in his honour. 

Today, Croagh Patrick is popular with hikers from all walks of life, as it not only affords spectacular views, but also has strong historical connections to Ireland’s patron saint. From the summit, the 365 islands of the glittering Clew Bay – once strongholds of adventurers and pirates – are clearly visible. And yet, thousands flock to this mountain on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday of July, for a collective pilgrimage en masse. Many take the pilgrimage so seriously that they do it barefoot! 

Do Croagh Patrick on its own, or combine with the much longer Tochar Phadraig Walk (see above) for a multi-day pilgrimage walk. As a compromise for those who prefer to do a pilgrimage walk while still keeping your hike within one day, you can start the hike 5km east of Croagh Patrick at the Boheh Stone, also called St Patrick’s Chair, which is a unique piece of neolithic art.

Take care when climbing Croagh Patrick, particularly if you choose to hike the pilgrim’s path, as the path has become eroded due to the high traffic. If you prefer, there are a few other ways to hike the mountain that, while not pilgrimage routes, are far quieter and will still bring you to the summit and the shine, such as from the western side.

Hike Ireland’s holy mountain on our exciting adventure, Hiking the Mountains of Connemara & Mayo.

Get more info about this hike here. 


3. St Kevin’s Way, Co Wicklow

Hiking in Glendalough - Ireland's Pilgrimage routes

Hiking on St Kevin’s Path, founder of the ancient monastery in Glendalough

 

 Distance Time Difficulty
30 km / 18 miles 1 long full day or 2 leisurely days  Gentle to moderate

St Kevin chose one of the most inspiringly beautiful locations in Ireland to construct his hermitage in solitude. The twin lakes of Glendalough caught between the soaring Wicklow Mountains are internationally renowned for their stunning scenery. It was here, after 7 years of solitary contemplation, that St Kevin established a monastic settlement, the ruins of which are the final destination for this dramatic pilgrimage route.

An ancient pilgrimage route, this path is also one of the best ways to discover the magic of the Wicklow Mountains. Once an ancient centre of education, St Kevin’s monastic centre at Glendalough is now in ruins but is a spectacular foray into Irish medieval history nonetheless.

There are two starting points for this pilgrimage walk: Hollywood (a place that has supposedly lent its name to California’s Hollywood), and Valleymount. Hollywood is a more common starting point, but Valleymount is quieter. Either way, if you start from either place, the first part of the walk will include some road-walking, but the Valleymount roads are generally quieter.

The routes converge at Ballinagee Bridge, which is where the predominantly off-road part of the route begins before heading to the spectacular Wicklow Gap, the highest point on St Kevin’s Way. Exceedingly scenic, it is also one of the highest Irish mountain passes served by a paved road. Dive in and out of forest, valley and hills past ancient pilgrimage flagstones before arriving at the stunning Glendalough monastic site. Though most of the original settlement is gone, many of the ancient structures date to 11th and 12th century – the peak of European pilgrimages. The valley and monastery seem to fuse together as if created by a heavenly architect.

Hike through Wicklow and visit the ancient monastic and pilgrimage site of Glendalough on our new 2019 hiking trip, Hiking the Wicklow Way.

Get more info about this hike here. 


More About Hiking in Ireland


4. Glencolmcille – Slí Cholmcille, Co Donegal 

Donegal Glengesh Valley Glencolmcille

Glengesh Valley is one of Donegal’s most panoramic spots!

Distance Time Difficultly
65 km / 3.5 miles return Roughly 4 days Moderate

Saint Columba (or in Irish Colm Cille, meaning ‘church dove’) was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland. Although he founded the important abbey on the Scottish Isle of Iona, he was born in Ireland’s County Donegal. The area around Glencolmcille is interlaced with paths and Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) communities, forming a sort of pilgrimage route paying homage to both Ireland’s native language as well as an important piece of history – not to mention one of Ireland’s most eminent saints!

The Slí Cholmcille is a 65 km route connecting the rural communities of this remote corner of Donegal. The Slí Cholmcille route meanders around the Glencolmcille Peninsula, wandering around southern Donegal’s unspoilt coastal and mountainous landscapes, including the dramatic Glengesh Valley, voted one of the most scenic routes in the Europe.

Do keep in mind that some of this route is on rural roads while other stretches are in pathless mountainous terrain – therefore, perhaps better explored with a local walking guide.

Get more info about this hike here. 



5. Slieve League – the Pilgrim’s Path, Co Donegal

Pilgrim's Path Slieve league

Donegal’s Pilgrim’s Path winds up the back of Slieve League cliffs.

 

Distance Time Difficultly
5.5 km / 3.5 miles return 2-3 hours Gentle

Also in Donegal, nearby is the ancient Pilgrim’s Path that winds up the back of the Slieve League cliffs. While not associated with a specific saint or as old as many others on this list, the Pilgrim’s Path is a beautiful and little-known pilgrimage way perfect for beginners.

The Pilgrim’s Path leads to the ruins of a mass rock and ruined chapel where illicit Catholic masses were held during Ireland’s Penal Laws of the 17th and 18th century when Catholic worship was outlawed by the ruling English.

The trail also offers impressive views over the massive Slieve League cliffs (three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher), dead-ending at the top of the cliffs. And the best part is that you’ll get the clifftop windy panorama all to yourself!

For those who want to continue onwards, there is an option to walk along One Man’s Pass (a knife-like ridge that drops off on either side) that continues down along the Slieve League cliffs to the Bunglas Viewpoint.

Hike pilgrimage routes in Donegal on our hiking trip, Hiking the Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal.

Get more info about this hike here. 


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6. Crosan na Noamh 0r The Saint’s Way, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry

Distance Time Difficultly
17 km / 3.5 miles 6 hours Gentle

The Dingle Peninsula is a region dotted with Christian and pre-Christian monuments. One way to discover it is by hiking the Crosan Na Noamh, otherwise known as the Saints Road. A medieval Irish pilgrimage path, it is one of Ireland’s oldest. Along the way, marvel at ancient sights such as an early medieval oratory, old stone crosses – not to mention beautiful panoramas of Dingle’s hills and coastline.

The Saint’s Way route finishes up in the shadow of the imposing Mt Brandon. Named for St Brendon the Navigator, it is said that St Brendan had a vision of the promised at the summit of Mt Brandon. Legend has it that he and his monks disembarked in the promised land (America) in 535 AD (over 900 years before Columbus)! Keep reading for more about Mt Brandon as a separate pilgrimage route.

Hike the beautiful Dingle Peninsula and along the Saint’s Road to the saddle of Mt Brandon on Hiking the Dingle Way.

Get more info about this hike here. 


7. Mount Brandon, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry

Sweep views from the slopes of Mt Brandon.

 

Distance Time Difficultly
13 km / 8 miles  5-6 hours Strenuous

At the heart of Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula and at the end of the Saint’s Road (Crosan na Naomh) is the majestic Mt Brandon. Named after St. Brendan (Breanainn) the Navigator, there is a spectacular pilgrimage trail that takes you to the summit of the mountain rising out of the Dingle Peninsula. According to myth, St Brendan had a vision of a promised land while seated at Mt Brandon’s summit.

Inspired by this heaven-like vision, St Brendan set sail in search of his mystical land, disembarking on American soil in 535 AD (over 900 years before Columbus). Though we may never be able to prove it for sure, there are many who believe that the Irish discovered America!

Hike Mt Brandon and other impressive mountains on our deluxe trip, Hiking The Mountains of the Ring of Kerry

Get more info about this hike here. 


8. St Finbarr’s Way, Co Cork 

Gougane Barra, St Finbarr's Route, Ireland's Pilgrimage routes

Gougane Barra Forest Park, Cork

 

Distance Time Difficultly
37 km / 23 miles  2 days Strenuous

The rambling landscapes of West Cork are pocketed with overlooked jewels. Crossing three mountain ranges and four valleys, St Finbarr’s Way is a journey into one of southwest Ireland’s forgotten corners. Taking in views over Bantry Bay and the West Cork coastline, the hike culminates at the ancient monastic settlement (now a quaint regional park) of Gougane Barra. It was here in the 6th century, on an island in the middle of the lake, that St Finbarr built his monastery.

The best way to hike St Finbarr’s Way is to break it into two sections, the first from the village to Drimoleague to Kealkil, and the second from there all the way to Gougane Barra Forest Park and the wee monastery on the lake. The walk begins at the Top of the Rock where local tradition states that St Finbarr in the 6th century “admonished the people to return to Christ, then went on his way to Gougane Barra.” Ever since, St Finbarr’s Way has remained a popular local pilgrimage, though it’s not well-known internationally.

Get more info about this hike here. 


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If none of these trips along Ireland’s pilgrimage routes are right for you, request a tailor made trip that suits your personal Camino interests.

About the author

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Darragh Devaney

Meet Darragh who suffered an unfortunate watery incident but still loves the outdoors!

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