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Fancy finding your inner pilgrim this weekend?

Thousands of walkers, both religious and non-religious, are expected to take part in the first-ever National Pilgrim Paths Day tomorrow.

Cosán na Naomh pilgrim path, Co Kerry
Cosán na Naomh pilgrim path, Co Kerry
Image: John O'Dwyer

PEOPLE WHO ARE looking for “spirituality with a small ‘s’” this Easter weekend are being encouraged to walk one of Ireland’s ten pilgrim paths.

Tomorrow has been designated as National Pilgrim Paths Day – a new Easter festival based on ten of Ireland’s medieval walking routes.

John O’Dwyer, chair of Pilgrim Paths, said the event appeals to “people who want to get away and do something different at Easter, reconnect with the past” and “experience spirituality with a small ‘s’”.

He added that walkers are attracted by the “simplification” provided by the routes as they “park all psychological pressure” when experiencing the great outdoors.

O’Dwyer thinks that people are more open to walking pilgrim paths and visiting religious sites that they might once have been because “religion is becoming less formalised”.

“The theme is thanksgiving … people of every religious background and none can be thankful that they are able to walk and give thanks for the beauty of the outdoors. Whatever you believe, we don’t ask who you are thanking … Everybody finds their own meaning on the path,” O’Dwyer said.

He noted that it is very important for people to learn about their country’s historical sites.

“If we don’t have a heritage we don’t even know we are Irish people. Taking religion to one side, [most Irish people] come from a Judeo-Christian background. Even if you’re not a believer anymore, you can find out the motivation of our ancestors,” O’Dwyer added.

Tourism Potential

The Pilgrim Paths project was set up by the Heritage Council in 1997, but O’Dwyer feels more needs to be done to promote walking routes at home and abroad as many are still relatively unknown.

Guided pilgrim walks will be taking place in a number of locations tomorrow and on Sunday, including Wicklow, Mayo, Cork, Donegal, Tipperary and Kerry. Most of the walks are free, while others require a fee ranging from €4 to €45.

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St Kevin’s Way, Co Wicklow (Source: John O’Dwyer)

O’Dwyer walked each route as research for his book Pilgrim Paths of Ireland. His favorite is St Finbarr’s Path in Cork: ”That was the one where I thought ‘Wow, if this went on forever, I could walk it forever.”

Since Pilgrim Path Day was launched in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin at the end of March, O’Dwyer said the level of interest has been “absolutely phenomenal”, adding that the group expects thousands of walkers to take part over the weekend.

He noted that the long-term plan of the group is to “weave” all ten paths together and create an all-Ireland route that would rival the “cash cow” of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

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Aside from the physical benefits of walking, O’Dwyer said it also connects people.

“There is something wonderful about people coming together … Whether you’re rich or poor, you get tired. We all have to put one foot in front of the other,” he added.

‘Accessible and social’

Gráinne Quinn of Get Ireland Walking, a group dedicated to promoting the activity nationally, said that there has been an increase in the number communities contacting the organisation for advice on how to set up walking groups.

“There definitely is an increase in people being outdoors and getting active. We are really focused on supporting people who wouldn’t traditionally have been active,” Quinn stated, noting the importance of “providing accessible walks for groups with low levels of fitness”.

She believes that walking has increased in popularity recently as there is ”greater awareness of the importance of being physically active”.

“It’s so accessible, it’s easy to get into, you don’t need to make a big investment … It’s quite a sociable physical activity too,” Quinn said.

She advised anyone who has not been active in some time to “be aware of your limitations and abilities” and “just take on what you can do”.

Related: The Beara-Breifne Way means you can now walk with ease* from Cork to Leitrim

Read: 11 more amazing places to visit… if we could put a roof on Ireland

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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