Offering pilgrims a place of rest

Fr Owen McEneaney is the new prior of Lough Derg

Fr Owen McEneaney exudes an air of quiet confidence when he talks about the launch of his first pilgrimage season as the new prior of Lough Derg.

Station Island, often referred to as St Patrick's Purgatory, on Lough Derg is in the parish of Pettigo, Co. Donegal. Here Fr Owen took on the dual role of parish priest in Pettigo and prior of Lough Derg last September.

He had big shoes to fill in replacing Msgr Richard Mohan, who worked on the island for 40 years – 23 as prior. However, when Bishop Liam McDaid of Clogher announced his move to Clones, Co. Monaghan as parish priest, Msgr Mohan said that while he was sad to be leaving he was “happy that my place is being taken by a very competent, dedicated and conscientious priest in the person of Fr McEneaney”.

Fr Owen is originally from Raseragh, South Monaghan in parish of Carrickmacross. He went to Maynooth to study as a seminarian straight from secondary school in 1978. He worked for many years as a curate in both Ballybay and Monaghan town, until his appointment as administrator of the Cathedral Parish in Monaghan in 2001.

He says he is settling in well to his new position and most importantly he is part of a hard working team “who know the place better than I do”.

Spiritual heritage

Fr Owen says it is “a great joy” to be associated with a place that is so much part of our rich spiritual heritage. “I’m so much looking forward to my first full season on the island – meeting so many new people and hopefully sharing in a small way in their journey of faith”.

While the role of prior differs from being a parish priest, his pastoral experience – and his experience as a member of the priest team on Lough Derg from 1991 until 1998 – will stand to him, as he says the role is still about “meeting people although for a short time”.

Fr Owen says one of his abiding memories from his summers on the island, “was the healing and the joy that so many pilgrims experienced. For some it was through the Sacrament of Reconciliation – for other it was something else entirely – and for others still it was just as a result of spending time in this very unique, sacred, holy place – healed by the place itself.”

Old memories

For over 1,000 years pilgrims have been coming to Lough Derg to pray barefoot without food or sleep. It is a unique island, rich in faith and heritage, where people find peace but also a personal challenge.

Fr Owen says the sanctuary itself faces the same challenge that the Church faces worldwide – “reaching out and engaging with people in order to unlock for them the joy of the Gospel in a fresh way”.

“Just as people have beliefs that shape their views on almost everything in life, it has interested me that often times people have ‘stereotypical’ views of what Lough Derg is about – views shaped by old memories from years past or stories that they’ve heard along the way,” he says.

“These block them from truly appreciating the power that Lough Derg and its unique style of pilgrimage has when it comes to helping them get in touch with the deeper meanings of life.”


Fr Owen says the Irish are a pilgrim people, and a certain hunger or restlessness is part of our make-up. What Lough Derg offers us, is a place of rest from this.

“The world tells us if you must rest then it should be a physical one, rest the body from the arduous rigours of daily living. What the pilgrim can experience on Lough Derg is a rest like no other – a rest that revives and rejuvenates our inner selves as we experience the God within. This in turn fuels the strength we need to navigate the challenges of life’s journey,” he says.

Looking to the future, Fr Owen hopes that Lough Derg can continue to function as a sacred place or “sanctuary where people can continue ‘to come as they are to a quiet place and rest a while’ – a place where people are not judged – a place of care and understanding and compassion – a place where one can encounter the grace of God – meet the Christ who desires them more than they ever fully appreciate”.

“Lough Derg is so much part of our Christian heritage, our ancestral heritage. Our fore-fathers and mothers prayed here for their families and we are their families today and our children will be Lough Derg’s families of tomorrow,” he says.

“Just as it has been in the past, may it always be a well-spring of living water for our people – quenching their thirst and sending them home renewed.”