From a gentle ramble along ‘Saint’s Road’ to a two-day hike on a lesser-known trail, here are the top five pilgrim walks in Ireland.
A ‘pilgrimage’ – a journey undertaken with religious intent – is an age-old Irish tradition. For thousands of years, many have participated in this sacred act with the hope of finding the answers to which they seek (whether that be of physical, psychological, or spiritual concern).
And with Ireland’s strong religious history, it is no surprise that there is an abundance of routes to choose from. Here are the top five pilgrim walks in Ireland.
5. Slieve League, County Donegal – tread the ‘Pilgrim’s Path’
Though not associated with any particular Irish saint, the ‘Pilgrim’s Path’ is a relatively lesser-known pilgrimage, and one well suited to beginners.
Offering stunning views over the Slieve League cliffs (three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher), it leads to the ruins of ‘mass rocks’ and an old chapel where Catholic masses were held during Ireland’s imposed Penal Laws in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Walkers can also attempt ‘One Man’s Pass’, a one-metre wide knife-edge path which continues along the cliffs to the Bunglas Viewpoint.
Distance: 5.5km/3.5 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Address: Sliabh Leag, Co. Donegal, Ireland
4. Crosán na Naomh, County Kerry – walk the ‘Saint’s Road’
A track littered with both Christian and pre-Christian monuments, the ‘Saint’s Road’ is one of Ireland’s oldest pilgrimage trails.
Visitors will encounter many medieval sites including various crosses, the Gallarus Oratory (built around the twelfth century to shelter passing pilgrims), and a holy well dedicated to St Brendan, and a Bullaun (a stone with man-made cavities used for blessings and healing).
An area of natural beauty consisting of diverse flora and fauna, the route culminates at Mount Brandon – named after St Brendan the Navigator who reportedly envisioned the ‘promised land’ (America) back in the year 535 AD.
Distance: 17km/10.5 miles
Time: 6 hours
Difficulty: Gentle to moderate
Address: Civil Parish, Co. Kerry, Ireland
3. St Kevin’s Way, County Wicklow – for one of the best pilgrim walks in Ireland
One of the top five pilgrim walks in Ireland, St Kevin’s Way consists of two starting points: Hollywood (most common) and Valleymount (typically quieter).
Converging at Ballinagee Bridge – the highest point on St Kevin’s Way – this highly scenic trail entails hiking through forest, valleys, and hills, and past ancient pilgrimage flagstones before coming to rest at Glendalough monastic site – an ancient centre of education dating back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, during the peak of European pilgrimages.
Distance: 30km/18 miles
Time: One full day or two leisurely days
Difficulty: Gentle to moderate
Address: Saint Kevin’s Way, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
2. St. Finbarr’s Way, County Cork – hike one of Ireland’s lesser-known trails
St Finbarr’s Way, a route popular amongst locals but not internationally well-known, consists of crossing three mountain ranges and four valleys into one of Ireland’s forgotten spaces.
With views stretching across Bantry Bay and the West Cork Coastline, the hike ends at the monastic settlement of Gougane Barra – now a regional park.
The route, which is better suited to experienced walkers, can be broken into two sections: firstly from Top of the Rock in Drimoleague to Kealkill, and secondly – what is known as the ‘Pilgrim’s Way’ – from Kealkill to Gougane Barra Forest Park and the monastery on the lake.
Distance: 37km/23 miles
Time: Two days
Address: Kealkill, Co. Cork, Ireland
1. Croagh Patrick, County Mayo – travel in the footsteps of Ireland’s patron saint
Arguably the most popular and well-known pilgrimage trail, Croagh Patrick is the site where the patron saint was said to have fasted for forty days in 441 AD and from where legend states he banished all of the snakes from Ireland.
Pilgrims have travelled this track for over 4,000 years in a bid to connect with the land and its history, with many seeking to reach the top of the mountain where the shrine constructed in his honour is located.
As one of the top five pilgrim walks in Ireland, each year on the last Sunday in July – ‘Reek Sunday’ – thousands participate in this pilgrimage, with some taking it so seriously that they complete the walk barefooted!
Distance: 7km/4 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
Address: Teevenacroaghy, Co. Mayo, Ireland
So whether you are looking to partake for religious reasons or just fancy a hike along a popular trail, we suggest checking out these top five pilgrim walks in Ireland!