When I was a young boy I had the best of all birthdays. That was because my birthday is on Saint Patrick’s Day. Since I attended Catholic school and the teachers were all Irish Catholic Nuns, my birthday was celebrated by everyone. The extra added part of my education was to learn everything there is to know about Saint Patrick.
When Irish immigrants arrived in the United States they celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day as a way to remember Ireland and as their numbers grew so did the size of the celebration. But Saint Patrick would not be one of the ones celebrating if he were here today. In fact his life was lived just the opposite of the wild celebration we see today.
One of the stories told to us by the Irish Sisters was how Saint Patrick spent many hours in prayer, self denial and purgation. Irish legend has it that one of the places he went to spend time alone was a place in County Donegal now named Station Island near the town of Lough Derg.
Since the 6th century pilgrims have visited the island to make a three day pilgrimage retreat that is one of the most difficult in all Christendom. Patterned after the prayer life of Saint Patrick and the monks that followed his path to the island it is three days of fasting, prayer, sleep deprivation and barefoot walking between prayer stations.
Penitents fast from midnight of the first day of the pilgrimage and catch a ferry from Lough Derg between 10:30AM and 3:00PM for the island. The first night is spent in church in prayer. Pilgrims are allowed one small meal each day of dry toast and black tea or coffee. During the day they walk the island barefoot from prayer station to prayer station.
The second night they are allowed to sleep in a dormitory room. On the third day they leave the island by boat at 10:00Am but are to keep the fast until midnight. The retreats are available from May 1st to August 15th. The cost is 5o Euros for seniors and 55 Euros for others. Pilgrims must be at least fifteen years of age, in good health and able to walk and kneel unaided.
One day retreats, youth retreats and group retreats are also available. You can book them at www.loughderg.org where I found the updated information. I remember when the sisters first told us about this place and I was amazed that anyone would volunteer to do such a thing. But when I went online to research this article I was able to view some of the pilgrims making the stations.
I am sure it is not for everyone but I would like to visit Lough Derg and Station Island to almost go back in time to a simpler age and perhaps find out if I have what it takes to complete the Saint Patrick three days of prayer. It would be a different sort of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.