A pilgrim on the road to the end of the earth

Redemption Road: Grieving on the Camino

These days the Camino is fashionable. Many of those who have followed that medieval pilgrim route to Compostela have written accounts of their experiences. But of all the books on the Camino that have come my way, Brendan McManus’s new book is the most remarkable, the most moving and the most truly insightful. This is a book from which every reader will take away some sort of gift for the spirit. It is, in its straightforward way, a most powerful read.

A Jesuit now based in Belfast, Brian McManus carried on his walk the emotional burden of the feelings which his brother Dermot’s suicide, after long years of depression, had left him. The pilgrimage he made was to carry Dermot’s Barcelona football club T-shirt to the shrine of St James at the end of the Camino.

But this proved to be a difficult journey – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Injuries to his leg and foot pained and delayed him. But the friendships, brief and passing, made along the way, sustained him. Above all,  it was through applying the insights of Ignatius Loyola from the Spiritual Exercises that he was able to resolve many of the crises that he encountered, sometimes it seems on a daily basis. And always there were the memories of his brother and his troubled way through life.

Camino del Norte

Brendan McManus was not always helped by other pilgrims though. He was not taking the usual route, the Camino Francés, but one along the flatter land nearer the sea, the Camino del Norte, completing his walk on the original Camino Primitivo. But everywhere he encountered rule mongers – of the kind that we meet in every walk of life – who told him that he was on the wrong road, he should do so much a day, he had to complete the walk as they were doing it. But in choosing which camino to take, Brendan took what the poet called “the one less travelled by” and that made all the difference.

The theme of this book is that, thanks to Dermot and to Ignatius, he found his own path. Indeed what he writes about Ignatius will, I think, send many of his readers back again to the Spiritual Exercises.  

He reached the shrine; but by chance, haunted still by a feeling of incompleteness, he went on to the additional route of many pilgrims today, going out to finish at Finisterre, “the end of the earth”, looking out over the Atlantic, “the sea of shadows” of the ancients. There he found completeness and the ghosts were cast off at last.

The last chapter and the epilogue are the most moving parts of this book. It would not be right to reveal what happened, but it made a great impression on this reviewer.

In medieval times, the way to Compostella for Irish pilgrims began, not in Spain, but at St James’s Gate in Dublin. There is a sense it seems in which all journeys begin and end where we actually live.

This is a book which must be read, not for what it says about the camino and Spain – Spain is of secondary interest, for he passes through Guernica with no allusion to that village’s unhappy past. No, this is about everyone’s own pilgrimage, and as such everyone will learn from it, not lessons, but aids to their own way through life, aids to complete their own journey to their end of the earth.

The author’s royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Console, the national suicide charity. Visit www.redemptionroad camino.com


* Anyone concerned about issues relating to suicide, self-harm or depression can contact Console, 1800-247-247; Samaritans, free phone 116-123; or Aware, 01-661-7211.