Wednesday, 18 March 2009

St Patrick's day that was

There was a time in my life when I thought that Pilgrims were the first people to settle in America and “pilgrimage” was something which older women in our church did on a bus!

Then when I was researching my own first pilgrimage I discovered this alternative universe of pilgrims and pilgrim routes. Today and every day in many parts of the world people will be making pilgrimage to Muslim or Hindu shrines, to the great Marian shrines of Fatima or Lourdes, or to Jerusalem and Rome.

A couple of years ago I was in India and discovered a deep and ancient tradition of pilgrimage throughout that vast country. My Chinese friend also talks about the old pilgrimages of the orient.

Yesterday was the feast of St Patrick, known as Patrick the Pilgrim. Patron Saint of Ireland.

The Emrald Isle is not short of pilgrimages. The pilgrimage to Knock to the Marian shrine attracts 1,500,000 pilgrims every year. The annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick takes place on the last Sunday in July when thousands of pilgrims walk up the mountain barefoot. There are others Clonmacnoise, Faughart, Our Lady's Island and of course there is the famous pilgimage to Lough Derg. By all accounts the Lough Derg experience is not for the faint hearted – it is a three day pilgrimage involving walking, strict fasting and staying awake for 24 hours continuously.

But if the Irish take pilgrimage seriously they also take celebrating St Patrick’s Day seriously. Yesterday 350 people turned up in Clapham, South West London, for a Mass to mark the great day. The singing was fantastic and at one point it was as if the statue might join in.

People wore shamrock and there was almost a cheer when it was announced that tradition could be followed and St Patrick’s day was exempt from Lent. For me and fellow musicians that led to an afternoon of boiled bacon, cabbage and over indulgence.

But I was thinking about it: if someone gave me the choice between spending 3 days in cold rainy Ireland walking about in my barefeet, fasting with only a cup of black tea and toast and staying awake for 24 hours or walking at my own pace in the sunshine through unspoiled rural Spain through picturesque villages with friendly locals and ice cold beer… I know which one I’d choose.

So Happy St Patrick’s Day that was but I think I’ll stick with St James!


  1. I don't like Spain and I love the UK, so I’m tempted to choose Ireland.
    But it’s the black tea that is making me choose Spain.
    I cannot drink the stuff that you English people call ‘tea’.
    Well, last time at the ordination of Dominic I drank it by accident with milk. And I must say, it was much better than.
    I suppose you sang the Irish Blessing (which is said to be written by St. Patrick) last weekend also?
    It is a beautiful pilgrims song! And one of my favourites songs to sing.


  2. Chantal - what a fabulous surprise. Nice of you to visit both London and then here!

    Black tea? Chantal your problem is that you just don't drink enough whisky. :)


  3. Be good you!
    If you're going to learn me bad habbits Simon will not allow me to come to Londen for a longer period of time! ;-)