No hardship watching pilgrims reveal all

No hardship watching pilgrims reveal all Ed Byrne (on right) is among the motley crew walking the Camino de Santiago as part of a new TV series in BBC2.

St Patrick’s weekend brought a flurry of snow and religious programmes of varying quality, some related to the feast day, some not.

On the Friday, BBC2 launched a new series, Pilgrimage – The Road to Santiago, featuring a bunch of celebrities doing sections of the Camino pilgrimage over a few weeks.

It was enjoyable, took faith seriously and given the episode was an hour long, allowed plenty of time for thought. It was the antithesis of those superficial shows that assume the attention span of a gnat in its audience. However I did find a few of the celebrities a bit irritating at times, with their big personalities sometimes an obstacle to reflection. Some were people of faith though I thought in that first episode there was much more attention on those that weren’t, especially on the lapsed Catholics.

Comedian Ed Byrne had been an altar boy but fell away from the faith in his late teens and was now quite dogmatic that there was nothing to it, though I think he was becoming mellower towards the end. Actor Neil Morrissey (a strong presence in Line of Duty and Striking Out) also had a Catholic upbringing but was now an ‘absolute non-Christian’ though I found him less dismissive. Debbie McGee (wife of the late magician Paul Daniels) had also been brought up Catholic and was still struggling with her grief. There was one touching moment when she consoled a fellow pilgrim who had recently lost his father. Actually, one of the things I enjoyed most was hearing from random pilgrims along the way and I hope we get more of that.


JJ Chalmers was a more restrained character, son of a Christian minister but not a regular church goer, and TV presenter for the Invictus games. Heather Small was a singer and Christian but seemed to be conflicted about the Church.

Raphael Rowe had served a jail sentence for a murder he didn’t commit and though the sentence was eventually quashed the shadow of prison still haunted him. A solitary person, he was beginning to find comfort in company and he had a particularly interesting conversation about God with Rev. Kate Bottley. She described herself as more as person of faith than of religion, which begs a few questions, and despite her bubbly personality she struggled with the physical demands of the pilgrimage.

She turned up again as presenter on last Sunday’s Songs of Praise on BBC1. She introduced us to a farm, run by Christians, which offered young people new opportunities in life and a pre-marriage initiative on the style of the Alpha course. There were some particularly striking musical items.  Drop Drop Slow Tears was a beautiful acapella song from Voces8, there was a rock gospel version of Be Thou My Vision, and, for the weekend that was in it, a fine choral rendition from Downpatrick of I Bind Unto Myself Today, based on St Patrick’s Breastplate.

For St Patrick’s Day itself RTÉ’s television Mass came from Listowel, with an introduction that stressed the literary heritage of John B. Keane, Brendan Kenneally and Brian McMahon. The music was traditional in flavour, and two pieces in particular caught my attention – an acapella Ár nAthair with strong solo and Muscail Misneac,’ an Irish language version of the familiar Be Not Afraid – also on RTÉ1 that morning was the excellent Give Up Yer Aul Sins – a wonderful blend of old and new, with a Dublin children’s perspective on the story of St Patrick, told with awe and innocence. It’s readily available on YouTube for anyone that missed it.


Unsurprisingly, EWTN marked the saint’s day as well. Two morning programmes, while technically ropey, conveyed different aspects of the saint’s life.  Originally made in the 1980’s St Patrick of Ireland featured many quotes from St Patrick’s Confessio which was useful, and concentrated to a great extent on those parts of the story that relate to the western and  northern parts of  the country. The scenes from Croagh Patrick and from St Patrick’s Purgatory  on Lough Derg resonated with the Camino pilgrimage scenes , but without the high definition video and sweeping drone footage.

Saints of Europe, later that morning, focused more on Tara in Co. Meath and while it was largely a talking head approach, Fr Bernard McGuckian was a personable presenter with an easy-going anecdotal manner and was quite informative.

Good stuff all round.


Pick of the Week
RTÉ 1, Palm Sunday, March 25, 11 am

Mass in collaboration with Trócaire, congregation from Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard and music by the D10 Gospel Choir. Celebrant: Fr Bill O Shaughnessy.

MASS ON HOLY THURSDAY                     
RTÉ 1, Holy Thursday, March 29, 4.40 pm

With congregation and choir from St Mary’s Church, Mountbellew, Co. Galway. Celebrant: Fr Karl Burns.

EWTN, Good Friday, March 30, 8.15 pm

Pope Francis presides over The Stations of the Cross, from the Colosseum in Rome.

Share This Post