The group met up at Ballintubber abbey at 11 am. Father Fahy gave a short talk to the assembled group about the spirit of pilgrimage, to try to use this walk as a period of reflection.
We were also invited to light a candle for a loved one and to pick a small rough stone from a tray, to perhaps reflect on some part of ourselves that we would like change as we walked. This would be replaced on our return with a more polished version.
For those that have done the walk before there was a repeat of Father Fahy`s favourite mantra. It`s a good one to mention as we do live a privileged lifestyle. As hard as it may be to believe, there are many who would love to have our problems, so …..
Father Fahy gave a short talk to the assembled throng in “Aughinower” before we left in staggered groups.
The town of “Aughinower” has an interesting church and a tower with a missing top cap. It apparently was struck by lightening many centuries ago. The top was found later 2 miles away.
It also apparently is freestanding with no foundations. The rounded shape is supposed to funnel air efficiently around its mass, making it very stable. It is listing to one side though, so no matter how ingenious man may be “nature conquers all” !!!
The weather though cloudy was dry, a blessing in this part of the world. The first part was quite boggy and open but there was a real sense of peace as you walked through the fields.
The terrain was quite boggy at times but slowly gave way to more greener pastures. On a small hillock, a crowd of curious cows came to greet us.
On one small section some parts of the original “Tochar pathway” can still be seen. Father Fahy told me, that about 20 years ago there was about 2 miles of this pathway perfectly preserved, but unfortunately this was bulldozed by a local farmer.
It`s not well known that the Celts were master builders. The “Annals of the 4 masters” refer to 4 main roads linking the kingdoms of that time. There would have course been smaller roads and the “Tochar Phadraig” would have in pre-christian times, been a chariot road from Rathcruachan (near Tulsk) to Cruachan Aigle (Croagh Patrick) . That`s a distance of nearly 90 km. So this has been a sacred place of pilgrimage for thousands of years !!!
These roads would be built by laying down a bed of logs if needed , followed by sand and closely fitted stone. Archeologists in Britain have recently had to re-think their view of the Celts after finding stone roadway pre-dating the roman occupation.
It seems our views of the Celts as being primitive and un-sophisticated may be down to the fact they did not have a written tradition and the fact that history is written by the victors !!!
The pathway became more scenic and I took this picture of pilgrims with daisy`s in the foreground.
It is considered unlucky to directly cross a sacred path, so whenever pilgrims crossed a wall, you will usually find a style.
If I am correct in my understanding, farmers of old would do the same with their gates. The stone walls would be built parallel whenever a gate needed to be inserted.
Father Fahy when he first came to Ballintubber abbey and tried to revive the “Tochar pathway” said there were a number of factors that helped them re-discover the original way.
Local knowledge was important, the crossing points at stone walls, raised ground as this was originally a road built on largely boggy ground with accompanying logs and sand.
The remains of stone pathway, the presence of large flat stones in the walls of the fields and blackthorn bushes either side of a path. Apparently pilgrims eating the berries would then discard them either side as they walked.
The path became more wooded and soon we came to a section that used that used to be a famine village. The pathway would have been through the centre of the small village with 26 houses but no traces can be seen now.
Just past this village is a “Cilleen”, a childrens burial ground. There are also famine victims buried here and the remains of a church dating back to 1562 .
A little while later near where the pathway ran parallel to a river, I took this picture of some “fairy washing”. None of that new fangled synthetics stuff for our good “faery” folk !!!
Shortly afterwards the ruins of an old mill appeared. I found out through Father Fahy that the mill never became operational due to a dispute the owner had with a farmer on the adjacent land.
Apparently the farmer would not allow the mill owner to use the water on his side of the mill. The mill owner was forced to divert water from another stream but it was not a success. It was very close to the “fairy washing”, so maybe the good folk were not happy !!!
After a short section on the road we were back into wonderful woodland again. There is a very ancient rock which has been attributed to “St Patrick” here. Though very hard to see with the encrusted lichens, I am told there are concentric circles carved into the surface. It is dated to somewhere between 2-3000 BC . It may have also been used as a mass rock during the penal times.
A few years ago a local farmer had sold the land and was horrified to discover, that this section of the “Tochar Phadraig” was being cleared by bulldozer. This stone was only saved, when he sat on it and refused to move, claiming it was a protected archeological monument.
The woodland continued and there were lots of beautiful bluebells on the floor. There was also the remains of a bee hive structure which turned out to be an old lime kiln. This was used for mortar, for white wash and to fertilize fields.
The woodland started to open up a bit and I took this picture of a wonderful maple tree. It was covered with lichen, which gives it an “eery” feel !!!
This photo is near the end and it gave my companions a chuckle, as we asked those behind us to close the “animal bar” which is usually found on top. I have also include another which I thought was very picturesque !!!
The last point of interest was a holy well associated with Ballintubber abbey. It was known as the “well of the Canons”. It was supposed to be good for eyesight problems and was probably used during liturgical occasions.
I took a photo at the last gate before Ballintubber of Lina and Fiorenza, who I had walked with on this pilgrimage. They returned the favour !!!
Father Fahy was there to meet us, the final stragglers and presented us with our “Tochar Phadraig” certificates. He then swopped our rough stones for smooth ones, as a memento and symbol of taking the “camino” with us.
The final shot I took was that of “Croagh Patrick” which had evaded our sight during the walk. It now appeared and I took a picture of Lina and Fiorenza as a memory.
It had been another great walk. I would thoroughly recommend coming at this time of the year. It was very beautiful with the spring flowers, new foliage on the trees and of course the calf`s and lambs in the fields.
“Slain” for now !!!