The difference a pair of shoes makes…

The difference a pair of shoes makes… Station Island, Lough Derg, Co. Donegal. A south-east view of the basilica on Station Island. Photo Andreas F. Borchert

When planning how to mark the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the Dominicans in Ireland it seemed right and fitting that the pilgrimage to Lough Derg be included. It is a unique place of pilgrimage in the entire Church worldwide and it is Irish.

Last weekend, 10 of us Dominicans, together with some people who worship at St Saviour’s in Dublin went to Lough Derg on pilgrimage. With another 60 or so pilgrims we arrived on the island on Friday morning to begin our prayers and penances until Sunday.  In our group were three young people from Latin America and among our Dominicans were brethren from Poland, Columbia, Hong Kong and Trinidad.


Of course when one thinks of Lough Derg one thinks of the bare feet, the cold, the rain, the midges, the black tea but it is so much more. It affords the pilgrim a distinctive opportunity for space and time to focus on God, his reality and majesty. Without the basic comforts of food and sleep one is left standing before the mystery of the divine. Stripped of all distractions one faces the reality of one’s aloneness with God. The homilies and talks we heard helped us to think deeply on God and his role in our lives. The wonderful celebration of confession was truly a moment of accepting the personal love of God when we were invited to open our souls to God in confidence and trust.

As a pilgrim to Lough Derg one always meets wonderful people. Sharing in the common experience of prayer and penance brings people together. One realises the depth of faith that remains in so many Irish people. On the island one so easily shares one’s faith. It is a safe place of encounter with God and with others. One has a real experience of the Church as a community of believers, who share so much at a deep and personal level.  On the island one can be oneself and not part of a bigger game of make believe.  People of faith without shoes in the middle of the night help you to see that faith allows you a freedom to be a believer. On the holy island one meets real people and real faith.


I want to thank the prior of the island, Fr Laurence Flynn and his staff for their kindly welcome and encouragement. It is a hidden jewel of the Irish Church and an rare opportunity to get away from the mobile phones, the preoccupation with status and comfort in order to be given the space to go deeper in being with God.

All that being said, it is wonderful to put one’s shoes back on and to get on the boat home. A few days without shoes, sleep and food does make one more grateful for the ordinary delights of life like, shoes, milk in your tea, butter on your toast, but it also leaves you with a renewed awareness of how blessed we are to be believers, to have faith, to experience the awesome love of God and the real community of fellow worshippers. You realise you are not alone on the journey of faith and that we live our faith in the midst of many good and holy people .