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Pilgrim Paths of Donegal

By Go Visit Donegal ~ Updated on: 07 April 2021

nishkeel Island in Gweebarra Bay, County Donegal by Don McMahanImage: Inishkeel Island in Gweebarra Bay by Don McMahan

For thousands of years, Donegal has been providing a haven for travellers who come in search of solitude, healing and renewal. Today you can release your pilgrim soul by walking some of the most well-trodden Turas, or routes, at these ancient, sacred places. Here are just four. 

Turas Cholmcille
Donegal’s most westerly village of  Glencolmcille is home to the longest Turas still practised in Ireland. Named after the 6th century missionary who, according to local tradition had a monastic centre in the valley, its 15 stations along the route are mostly decorated cross slabs set into rock cairns.  But the Turas also include some pre-Christian sites including a 5,000 year old  court cairn close to St Columba’s Church. The annual Turas Cholmcille along a 5.5 kilometre meandering path up into the hills and down through the valley is performed between 9 June and 15 August and is conducted in bare feet by the staunch devotees. 

For details visit also: www.gleanncholmcille.ie

Glencolmcille, County Donegal by Fiachra ManganImage: Glencolmcille by Fiachra Mangan (@Fiachramangan)

Turas Disert 
Follow the Bluestack Way from Lough Eske and you will come to Disert, a mystical, monastic site since the 6th century when Colmcille is said to have visitied there, but with older pre-Christian roots as a place of burial for druids and chieftains. The Turas, celebrated on his 9 June, is particularly noted for its cures for backache, toothache, warts, eye complaints and even infertility. Disert clay is said to banish rats. 

Disert, Co. Donegal by Don McMahanImage: Disert by Don McMahan

Turas Inis Caoil (Inishkeel) 
At low tide, the waters on Narin Strand part to reveal a path across the powery white sands to the ancient Inishkeel Island in Gwebarra Bay. It the site of a Turas, in honour of St Conall Cael, a 6th century saint who founded a monastery there. Pilgrims would gather at the well and then circle small mounds of rocks (cairns) and recite prayers for their special intentions before throwing a rock into the cairn. The island contains the shared grave of St Conall Cael who died in 596 and the blind poet, St Dallan Forgal, who was purportedly beheaded by pirates while visiting his friend in c594. Inishkeel also contains the ruins of two medieval churches, St Conall’s and St Mary’s. 

Inishkeel Island, Gweebarra Bay, County Donegal by Don McMahanImage: Inishkeel by Don McMahan

Lough Derg Pilgrimage
The so-called ironman of pilgrimages still takes place on Station Island, Lough Derg, long famous as the site where St Patrick is said to have been given a glimpse of Purgatory by God where he witnessed the tortures of internal damnation. News of his vision spread, luring medieval penitents from throughout Europe from as early as the 5th or 6th century,  to the island, near Pettigo, on which a Basilica was later built. But even long before St Patrick, it was considered a strange and mysterious place, associated with Druids and the legends of the Fianna. Today, pilgrimages of varying lengths occur between May and September where penitents, many still barefoot, do stations, stay up all night and dine on the famous Lough Derg soup. 

For details visit: www.loughderg.org​

Lough Derg, Pettigo, County Donegal © Lough Derg
Image: Lough Derg (@loughderg)

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