Earlier in the day I had been hill walking on Crockkinagoe (https://aidymcglynn.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/crockkinnagoe/) (https://aidymcglynn.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/crockkinnagoe-part-2/), and the hill had provided magnificent views over Lough Derg, so on my way home I decided to call at this historic site.
Lough Derg is in Co. Donegal, close to its borders with Co. Tyrone and Co. Fermanagh. The River Derg has its source in the Lough, and soon crosses over into Co. Tyrone, giving its name to my home town of Castlederg, before flowing on to the Foyle. Station Island is found in Lough Derg, and it is for this that it is most famous, as it is the site of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. St. Patrick’s Purgatory was said to be founded by St. Patrick himself, as a way of showing pilgrims the reality of the torments of hell! The legend is that God revealed a cave to St. Patrick which was an entrance to Hell, and the site soon became a major centre of pilgrimage, famous all over Europe. It is mentioned in texts from medieval Europe dating back to the 1100’s, and was commonly shown on maps throughout Europe from the 1400’s. The cave itself, or pit, was closed in 1632, but the island continues to be a location for pilgrimage today. The regime now, may not be pleasant, but is not as harsh as earlier times, when it was considered a dangerous undertaking. An account of a modern day visit can be found in the excellent book by Pete McCarthy, McCarthy’s Bar.
One of the more ancient accounts was that of Ramon, Viscount of Perellos, chamberlain to King John I of Aragon. When King John died in 1396, Ramon undertook the pilgrimage from Catalonia, to save the King’s soul. This was despite dire warnings from the Pope that many never returned from the dangerous island. I single out Ramon’s account in particular, because I am a Tyrone man, from only a few miles away from Lough Derg, and when Ramon stayed with the ruler of the area, King Niall Mor O’Neill, he said the following of the local people, “They are among the most beautiful men and women that I have seen anywhere in the world”. Who could doubt such an emminent and well travelled man? And it surely must follow that the same would apply to the descendants of the people he encountered! I found the above quotation in, “A History Of Ireland In 250 Episodes” by Jonathan Bardon.
I have no religion or belief in me at all, but I find the site fascinating for its legendary and historical associations, and it is a beautiful area, worthy of a visit for that reason alone. So although I had no intention of udergoing the pilgrims’ experience, I did have a look at the landing point for the boat over to Station Island, and had a wander around part of the Lough’s shore.
On arrival, there is a small pier which serves as the departure point for the boat taking pilgrims across the lough to Station Island. The island is not far out across the lough from here, and there is a statue of St Patrick on the shore.
Just beyond the statue, there is a stile, with an information board indicating that it is the start of a walk along the shore of the lough, following the traditional route taken by pilgrims on their way to St Patrick’s Purgatory.
I followed the walk for a short distance around the shore of the lough, through forest on the part I saw, with occasional breaks in the trees offerring views of the shore and out across the lough.
It is hard to tell in the small version of this photo, but annoyingly, there was a cloud of midges at this spot, and they show as hundreds of black specks if the photo is viewed larger. I may consider cloning them out someday, but it will be quite an undertaking.
I didn’t go too far around the route, having already walked quite a bit on Crockkinnagoe earlier in the day, and soon returned to the statue and pier. Leaving again through the gateway, I saw another little path leading to the lough shore, and followed it down to find a boathouse, with another boat drawn up on the shore alongside.
I’m not sure what the pilgrims went through in times gone past, but my visit felt like anything but purgatory. It was far too pleasant a spot to imagine the area harbouring an entrance to hell! Certainly worth the drive round if you are in the neighbourhood.