The registration for the pilgrim walk was 9 am in “Ardfinnan” on Easter Saturday. I decided to come the day before to have the opportunity to sample the delights of the local hostelries and to find a suitable B&B close by.
It took me about 2 ½ hours to motor down from Dublin only to find there are no B&B`S in the village. I decided to stay in “Cahir”, a 10 minute drive away.
“Cahir” is a very nice town with a stunning castle, a small hotel and surprisingly enough only 2 B&B`S. I managed to book into “Ard Na Greine B&B (087-6646298 /0527443059) , which was about 8 minutes walk into town.
I decided to have a pint in town but completely forgot it was “Good Friday”, one of the two days of alcoholic abstinence in Ireland. I don’t really count Christmas though, as that tends to involve family !!!
It was tough but I figured even I could survive one night !!!
The next day I arrived in “Ardfinnan” and checked in at 9 am in the local parish hall. There was a friendly atmosphere with tea and scones being served to the walkers.
Whilst I waited for the numbers I looked around the small village, clearly “hurling” is big in this county. I took these murals from the wall of the local school, I thought they were cool !!!
The village has an interesting history. There is a castle associated with the infamous King John of England near the village bridge. It was originally built in 1185 AD and also has Knight Templar associations.
The organisation was excellent and soon we were off by coach to “Mount Mellery”, a Cistercian monastery . This monastery was set up in 1832 after the original monks were forced to flee due to the French revolution of 1830. It bears the name of “Mount Mellery” in remembrance
There were about 160 pilgrims in total and after an initial settling in period and toilet breaks, a group talk and a “blessing” was given, by a Cistercian priest from the abbey.
Unfortunately the megaphone was not working and I was unable to hear his words. It`s a shame the blessing could not be done inside the abbey as there were 160 pilgrims present. A missed opportunity, I feel !!!
The walk was very well marshelled and soon we were off !!! .
The route started from behind the abbey and local guides went ahead of us, as the route is not officially marked as yet.
The group started to spread out once we were under way and there were regular breaks for water and biscuits from a support vehicle.
The route started to climb over open peaty fields and I took a photo of the “peleton” as it snaked upwards between 2 hills. It was mucky going and there was another stop at the top.
The route started to descend downwards and I took a photo of the first official “St Declans Way” sign that I had seen so far.
This part of the way was through a conifer forest and was quite steep at times. A number of areas had been cleared of trees, which always makes me feel sad, as the ground always looks devastated. A local walker told me they plant the new trees in between the stumps, this way the remaining bits rot away !!!
There was a short lunch break on a logging road at the bottom before the group was on the move again. The scenery started to improve and there were nice country lanes and fields planted with rape seed.
Shortly afterwards I came across the remains of our “Lady`s convent” and stopped to have a look. It was nice to see a statue of “Mary” tucked into a corner and devotion still being shown to her. There was a real sense of peace here.
I have to say I much prefer the simpler churches like this. The larger ones like “Mount Mellery” abbey tend to leave me cold. I think it`s all the statues and spires, it all seems quite vulgar somehow, a grotesque show of wealth and status. Our Lady`s convent seems connected to the landscape and the community.
It was not long before I was back in “Ardfinnan” to check in. This was done in the local pub and free refreshments were laid on for the weary pilgrims.
Looking back it was a very enjoyable experience and one that I would recommend to others. It`s not the most pretty walk but there are some nice views on the way. The walkers are friendly and its well organised.
If I had to voice a criticism it would be that it would nice to have more information about the original pilgrim route. A number of walkers have said that the route varies each year. Looking at Knockmealdown actives site, the official route seems to be from Cashel to Ardmore. Ardmore abbey being the reputed burial place of St Declan.
The route taken from Mount Mellery to Ardfinnan does seem to have a ancient history to it and its possible like Santiago in Spain, Ardmore abbey has many pathways to it. However the absence of shrines,(Our Lady`s convent aside), standing stones, cairns etc does make me wonder.
Rathcruaghan to Cruaghan Aille (Croagh Patrick) followed an ancient stone pathway. The remains of which can still be seen in small sections today. I may be wrong but it would seem “Cashel” (with its historical connections) to “Ardmore” must surely follow an ancient pathway too.
St Declan was certainly a pioneer, his ministry pre-dating St Patrick. Indeed St Declan is credited with being the first missionary to establish a church here. It would be nice to know more about his work and his church at Ardmore. I will certainly look into this further !!!