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St Declan’s Way Magazine 3

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Friends of St. Declan’s Way 

St. Declan’s Way Gathering Walk a huge success

Tired but elated, leaden-footed but light-hearted, the walkers of St. Declan’s Way arrived into Ardmore on Sunday afternoon July 28th following their trek from Cashel. Feet and calves were stiff and sore but spirits were most definitely high as the group of 60 approached Ardmore’s famous landmark, St. Declan’s round tower. On Wednesday morning, July 24th they had set off within sight of another round tower at the Rock of Cashel. Over a wonderful five-day adventure they had made their way southwards, retracing the footsteps of the 5th century saint. 
The walk, organised by Knockmealdown Active, passed through Cahir and its imposing castle, down the River Suir and past the Swiss Cottage, on to Ardfinnan and past historic Lady’s Abbey. There was camaraderie, hospitality and crack all along the way. We heard stories and tales and were treated to an abundance of history and heritage. Apart from a few showers to cool us down, the weather was extremely kind. Clear skies gave excellent views both north and south as we crossed the Knockmealdown Mountains on Friday.
One of the highlights of the event came after our descent of the mountains, when sister organisation Knockmealdown Forum welcomed us into County Waterford with a medieval-style meal complete with hosts in costume. Stew and traditional Waterford Blaas were served up and helped to restore energy levels after a long trek. A special thanks to Knockmealdown Forum for their hospitality and their assistance with signage and stewarding.

Our walk was a community-led initiative organised by Knockmealdown Active, a community group based on the northern slopes of the mountains. It was part of The Gathering 2013 and we were delighted to host ramblers from Australia, the UK, Canada, the USA, France and the Cayman Islands. 106 individuals participated over the five days and an elite group of 20 completed all five days. Photos of the walk can be viewed on the Knockmealdown Active Facebook page and website – Our photo above shows walkers ap-proaching Bottleneck pass on the Tipp-Waterford border.

St. Declan the Muse.
“It seems to be true that pilgrimage brings out the best in people! It has been a beautiful experience and I can’t wait to do it again and with groups”.
ImageSo says poet Kathy D’arcy (left) recalling her recent walk along St. Declan’s Way when she encountered hospitality, scenery and history along the route. All along her journey from Ardmore to Cashel, she came across people who have a deep affinity with and reverence for St. Declan’s Way.
Kathy has been artist in residence in Ardmore over the summer months and has sought poetic inspiration for her latest work from the history and heritage of St. Declan’s Way. Already the author of two acclaimed collections of poetry and a play, Kathy chose to come to Ardmore when she was awarded an Arts Council Bursary. She has also engaged with the local community, running several writing workshops for both adults and children. As part of the Ardmore Pattern Festival, Kathy ran a special walking writing workshop which included a trek along part of St. Declan’s Way. This culminated in the publication of a book of children’s stories; both the workshops and book were supported by Waterford County Council
Kathy is now concluding an epic poem about ancient ways and will read from her latest work on Culture Night (Friday, September 20th) at 8 Lismore Castle. For more on Kathy’s work visit

Well done and thanks to all those involved in the event, to the organising committee of Knockmealdown Active, to our volunteer walk leaders and first aid crew who provided excellent guidance and backup. Well done to those who enlightened the group about the history of all the places we passed en route. Thanks also to South Tipperary & Waterford County Councils, the OPW, Lismore Heritage Centre, Cashel Town Council, Ardmore Tidy Towns and South Tipp Tourism Company and South Tipp Development Company for their support.

Following a long process of assessment, the National Trails Office has deemed St. Declan’s Way suitable for development. This is an
important step along the way to having the route officially approved as a national waymarked walk. It clears the way for the next stage of the process, which entails putting all the necessary trail infrastructure in place and carrying out improvement works.
A key issue that had to be resolved was the Knockmealdown crossing. The NTO were reluctant to approve the route of St. Declan’s
Way over Bottleneck Pass (Bearna Cloch an Buidéal) for safety and environmental reasons. National policy in this area does not permit waymarked walks above 300m elevation, and the route over Bottleneck Pass exceeds this by over 200m.
An alternative route over the Knockmealdowns has been identified via Mount Mellary Abbey (pictured above). The NTO assessed this alternative in August and issued a report to express their satisfaction that the new route met the necessary requirements. It should be pointed out that the original route over Bottleneck Pass can still be walked by experienced walkers who can self-navigate and who have appropriate arrangements in place. It is also planned to arrange guided walks over the original route for those who wish to cross the mountains at this point.
South Tipperary Development Company is currently coordinating a funding application to source the necessary finance to carry out the work. A wide range of stakeholders along the route support this initiative and we hope to have positive news in our next issue.

National Trails Organisation : St Declan’s Way suitable for development
For further details on the Friends of St. Declan’s Way contact Conor Ryan, Conservation and Trails Animator, South Tipperary Development
Company. Phone: 087 7378123; E-mail

The Life of St. Declan: Declan names Ardmore 

While on a return voyage from Wales, where he had spent 40 days as a
guest of St. David, Declan’s ship was magically guided by a bell floating on
a rock. Declan declared to his followers that he would found his city and
monastery wherever the floating bell led them. The story continues:
The bell directed its course to Ireland until it reached a
harbour on the south coast, in the Decies of Munster, at
an island called, at that time, High Sheep Island and the
ship made the same port, as Declan declared. The holy
man went ashore and gave thanks and praise to God
that he had reached the place of his resurrection. Now,
in that island depastured the sheep belonging to the wife
of the chieftain of Decies and it is thence that it derives
its Irish name—Ard-na-Caorac: There was in it a high
hill and it was a promontory beautiful to behold. One of
the party, ascending the summit of the hill, said to Declan:
“How can this little height support your people?”.
Declan replied: “Do not call it little hill, beloved son, but
‘Great Height’,” and that name has adhered to the city
ever since, Aird Mhór-Declain. After this Declan went
to the king of the Deisi and asked of him the aforesaid
island. Whereupon the king gave it to him.

A panoramic view of Aird Mhór Deagláin

St Declan’s Way – Ireland’s new ‘Camino’ in the Irish Times

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This article is a thought-piece on the ‘new’ St Declan’s Way pilgrim’s highway that I’m PRO on the Waterford side and the subject of my postgraduate certificate from Trinity St David, Bangor, Wales. Delighted to be part of it and this Friday (26th) I get to cook for all near the top of the mountain! while dressed as a monk!

Irish Times article;

The Irish Camino: walking in the footsteps of the saints

Local communities throughout the country are developing old pilgrim trails

John G O’Dwyer  Sat, Jul 20, 2013,    

Imagine celebrating our national feast day, not in March, but in high summer. Hard to visualise the occasion with bikinis, barbecues and beach badminton isn’t it? Yet it could have happened, because July 24th is the day of commemoration of an early Irish saint whose credentials are comparable to those of St Patrick.Regarded by many historians as having pre-dated Patrick as an Irish Christian missionary, St Declan of Ardmore is, nevertheless, virtually unknown outside his native area. The murky world of medieval church politics has much to answer for here. It allowed the deeply venerated saint of the southern Déise region to fade from the public consciousness when the northern church rose to prominence. History was then adroitly rewritten to suit the needs of the time, with Patrick, the first Bishop of Armagh, promulgated above Declan as the initial and single-handed evangeliser of the Irish people.Now Waterford’s patron saint is to reclaim his inheritance. An ancient pilgrim trail that he footed regularly is set to be traversed again as a richly symbolic journey. Meandering 94km through extravagantly varied terrain in Cos Tipperary and Waterford, the newly revitalised St Declan’s Pilgrim Path commemorates the saint’s many excursions from his monastery at Ardmore to the royal seat at Cashel.Overgrown and virtually forgotten for decades, the trail is, mainly through the efforts of a Tipperary man, being returned to public consciousness. Dense briars and rhododendrons have been diligently cut back in preparation for the first full-length public walk of the route, which takes place from July 24th to 28th.And so on a bright, blue-sky, July morning, I find myself rambling rustic lanes by the River Tar and traversing timeless monastic ruins at a point where the handsome Knockmealdown Mountains erupt spectacularly from the fertile plains of Tipperary. With me are Kevin O’Donnell, the instigator of the pilgrim path project, and some members of Knockmealdown Active, the volunteer group that is staging the inaugural St Declan’s walk.

An ‘Irish Camino’
O’Donnell, the group’s chairman, comes across as a quietly passionate believer in the venture. He conceived the idea for revitalising St Declan’s Pilgrim Path when he walked the Camino de Santiago, in Spain, some years ago. Now he wants to dub St Declan’s Path an “Irish Camino” and immediately points to the strong penitential credentials of the trail from Cashel to Ardmore.

“It takes five days to complete and goes up to more than 500 metres when crossing the Knockmealdown Mountains by the prehistoric Bottleneck Pass route,” says O’Donnell. “This needn’t put people off, though; the first two days from Cashel and the last days to the coast are on easy terrain. Walkers without the fitness or time to do the full journey will have the option to join for stages of the route.”

As we dally by the riverbank to absorb the serenity, Conor Ryan, who works as an animator with Knockmealdown Active, suggests that with the number of pilgrims completing the Camino rising to more a quarter of a million in recent years, the time is now opportune to revitalise the path .

But can South Tipperary and Waterford really capture a slice of the rapidly growing and lucrative reverential trails market? Ryan believes so.

“This month’s inaugural walk is part of a strategy to turn St Declan’s Path into a fully functioning Irish pilgrim route,” says Ryan.

He believes the trail will, in future, “appeal strongly to walking enthusiasts because of its length and variety. I also expect it to attract visitors who have family ties linking them to the towns and villages along the route,” he says.

But how is it all going to work for the reopening walk? “Accommodation or car parking will be at each day’s destination, with participants bussed from there to the walk start point each morning, from where they will walk the pilgrim route to their cars or their accommodation,” says O’Donnell. “The participation fee is €70 for five days, or €20 per day. Full details are at”
St Finbarr’s trail
In a similar vein, two communities in Co Cork have expended monumental effort on developing a pilgrim trail along the way St Finbarr reputedly journeyed on his way to found a monastery at Gougane Barra. Since then, a tradition of walking the 30km path, particularly on St Finbarr’s Day, September 25th, has developed. The route has been fully waymarked as a year-round pilgrim path and is being promoted as the “Cork Camino experience,” says David Ross, spokesman for the Drimoleague/Keakill St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path Committee.

“Besides the obvious tourism benefit,” says Ross, “communities along the route are happy to discover and share the rich Christian heritage, which for centuries prompted their forbears to walk St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way in search of solace, meaning and spiritual fulfilment.”
Clare and south Galway
Another route with spiritual resonance on an epic scale is the newly inaugurated Clare Pilgrim Way. Ireland’s longest redemptive trail circuits Cos Clare and south Galway in five stages, linking all the main spiritual and ecclesiastical sites in the area.

According to Pius Murray, a member of the community-based group behind the venture, “The Clare Pilgrim Trail is aimed at facilitating users to reconnect with nature and through this experience develop a heightened sense of spirituality.”

Here, Murray succinctly captures the essence of the ageless siren call that is increasingly drawing lovers of inspirational landscapes to explore Ireland’s mystical pilgrim paths.