New focus on pilgrim sites could bring tourist bonanza

New focus on pilgrim sites could bring tourist bonanza The ancient monastic site at Clonmacnois

A new plan to focus on Ireland’s religious heritage could lead to a massive influx of spiritual tourists from abroad as well as a rebirth of spirituality for Irish Catholics, organisers have said.

Sharon Hearty from Lough Derg predicted that spiritual tourism in Ireland could even become the “new Camino”, a pilgrimage which saw more than 300,000 people walk through Spain last year to visit the reputed shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela.

As a member of the voluntary body Pilgrim Paths Ireland, the communications officer for St Patrick’s Purgatory said there are many ancient pilgrimage routes that pre-date the likes of the Camino de Santiago, and that people may not think “of the richness there is in Ireland and what they can uncover in terms of Celtic monastic history”.


“There is no doubt that spiritual tourism throughout the world is a huge industry and Ireland has a tremendous opportunity.”

Over 278,000 people walked the Camino de Santiago in 2016, with 6,500 of them being Irish.

In 2017 the number of pilgrims increased by more than 22,000.

Currently there are 12 ancient pilgrim paths that are part of the initiative, with five being combined to create a route 125km long.

According to Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ, who is organising a conference in Waterford next month on the theme ‘Pilgrimage and the Evolution of Spiritual Tourism’, they hope to “give sus-tenance” to people in terms of their spirituality and their life journey.

Through pilgrimages and visits to holy sites, he said, “it’s a way that people are finding they are becoming more spiritually alive than sometimes is the case in the institutional Church today”.

“I think it shows really that we are spiritual beings and that that has to be catered for in ourselves, and if it’s not being satisfied in one area people will look to see can it be satisfied in another area.”

The group will be holding Pilgrim Paths Week from March 31 to April 7 for the fifth year running. The Eastertime event is organised by local communities that are close to the medieval pilgrim walking routes.

Dr O’Sullivan added that with ecological concerns becoming more prevalent the idea of going on pilgrimage is a “way of expressing a spirituality connected with the natural world”.

Ancient pathways

Some of the ancient pathways include Tochar Phadraig which starts in Ballintubber Abbey and goes to Croagh Patrick, the 30km St Kevin’s Way which begins at Hollywood and ends in Glendalough and St Declan’s Way which is 96km and stretches from Ardmore to the Rock of Cashel.

The conference focusing on the growth of spiritual tourism will be held at Waterford Institute of Technology on March 9.

It will look at how the idea of pilgrimage can be factored into current policy around tourism in Ireland.