The number of pilgrims to Lough Derg hit a record high this year as the pilgrimage season came to an end on Thursday.
Yesterday morning, in bright autumnal sunshine, before they departed by boat, Fr La gave a final blessing to those pilgrims who had arrived on the station island on Tuesday.
Afterwards, in a reflection on this year’s summer season, Fr La said that for a decade or more, the number of people making the three-day pilgrimage has been in decline, but that had changed this year.
“This year we held firm with our numbers from last year and actually increased by a few score,” he said.
For over a thousand years, pilgrims to Lough Derg have followed a series of patterns during their stay on the island, eating only one meal a day of black tea or coffee, dry toast and oatcakes. During the Middle Ages, mainly because of the difficulty in getting to Lough Derg from the continent, it was considered the toughest pilgrimage in Europe and the Christian world.
In modern times, the three-day pilgrimage has only been available in the months of June, July and the first half of August.
Fr La, who is prior of St Patrick’s Purgatory, said: “I am conscious that as the years move on, perhaps, Lough Derg is shedding something of the darker narrative that speaks of harshness and pain.
“People are talking more about the blessing of this place and the help and the comfort and the compassion of God that it offers.”
The season of one-day retreats starts tomorrow, Saturday, and runs until mid-September with retreats mainly taking place at weekends, though some are held during the week.