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Pilgrimage to Ireland – Exploring Celtic Spirituality and More

Led by:
Sheryl L. Shenk, Spiritual Director
Ted Swartz, Playwright/Actor

14 - 28 September 2018

An overview of this pilgrimage:

Join us in exploring some of the most beautiful places in Ireland and seeing the ancient lands where Christianity took root, following in the footsteps of St. Patrick, St Kevin, St Brigid, and other early Irish saints from the 5th and 6th centuries. Listen to knowledgeable guides share stories and Celtic legends that will spark the imaginative consciousness, inviting a broader way of understanding faith. Beyond the early Celtic sites, our travels will include an opportunity to attend a national folk theatre as well as explore a Benedictine monastery in existence since medieval times, observing the rhythms of life as a monk. And there will be fun hearing musicians share “craic” (lively stories and song) in pubs. Our community of pilgrims will be guided in morning and evening Celtic prayers by Sheryl and others and enriched by the mirth-full woven stories of our common travels by actor Ted.


[Download this itinerary as a PDF]

Day 1. Sept-14. Meet group at Dublin airport in am and travel via coach to Glendalough where we will be staying for the next 5 nights. Glendalough (or Gleann da Loch, meaning ‘The Glen of the Two Lakes”) is situated in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The ancient monastery was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. Set in a glaciated valley with two lakes, the monastic remains include a superb round tower, a Celtic high cross, St. Mary’s Church and St. Kevin’s Church. The remains of three stone crosses and a stone fort are also to be found between the upper and lower lakes. The leaders will meet with the pilgrimage group this day providing an overview of Celtic Spirituality, our travels together, and describing the rhythms of group morning and evening prayers.
(Glendalough hotel accommodations; Contact info: 00353 404 45135) (Dinner provided)

Day 2. Sept-15. Retreat day at Glendalough. This morning we will meet at the visitor’s center for an introduction to this monastic city. Later, we will be guided on a walking retreat by Irish priest, Father Michael Rodgers, as we explore the 6th century Irish saint/ founder St Kevin, his timeless legends, and the monastic city and the lakes. "To be on pilgrimage", Esther de Waal writes as an introduction to Rodgers book on Glendalough: A Celtic Pilgrimage, "is to move into a world where the dividing line between past and present, between this world and the next, between what we call sacred and what we call secular, dissolves."
(Glendalough hotel accommodations) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 3. Sept-16. Departure for Kildare where we will meet with Sister Mary Minehan of the Brigidine Sisters who will introduce us to St. Brigid, 5th century founding woman saint of Kildare. Sunday worship will be at the Catholic Parish of St Brigid. After the service and sandwich lunch at Silken Thomas Restaurant, we plan to visit the grounds of the St Brigid’s Cathedral which contain St. Brigid's Firehouse and a Round Tower from which you can see a view of Kildare and the curragh from the top. After lunch we will travel by coach to St Brigid’s well: This well is reputedly a 'healing well', one of many in Ireland where healing liturgies are often held.
(Lynhams hotel accommodation; Contact info: 00353 404 45345) (Breakfast, Lunch, + Dinner provided)

Day 4. Sept-17. Meet with Marcus Losack, Irish Anglican priest and St Patrick historian, and travel to Newgrange, Hill of Tara and Hill of Slane. Newgrange, an ancient burial mound, was constructed around 3200BC. This makes it more than 600 years older than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and 1,000 years more ancient than Stonehenge. This area has great eminence throughout Irish history - legend tells us the foundations of Christianity were laid here.

We proceed on to the Hill of Tara, seat of the high kings, Tara was at the height of its power as a political and religious centre in the early centuries after Christ. On a clear day, half the counties of Ireland can be seen from atop Tara. Travel on to the Hill of Slane: In Christian history, the hill became established as the place where St. Patrick lit the first paschal fire in direct defiance of the pagan kings at nearby Tara. The hill remained an eminence of Christian significance long after St. Patrick appointed Erc as the first Bishop there.

We then travel on to Monasterboice Monastery which was founded by St. Buite, who died in 521 AD. Monasterboice contains two of the finest High Crosses in Ireland.

(Glendalough hotel accommodation) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 5. Sept-18. Relax around Glendalough in the morning and early afternoon. Depart for Dublin at 2:30 pm to visit Trinity College and see the Book of Kells, which is one of the masterpieces of Western art. Evening dinner 7-10 pm at Merry Ploughboy for a traditional Irish music and dance night.
(Glendalough hotel accommodation) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 6. Sept-19. Today we say goodbye to Co. Wicklow and head west to the Aran Islands. Enroute we will visit Clonmacnoise, one of Ireland’s most prominent Christian sites, founded by St. Ciarán in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th -13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe. After lunch, we will head on to Rossaveal port and on by ferry to Inis Mór. Overnight accommodation will be at two locations for our group:
(Ard Einne Guesthouse and Tigh Fitz Guesthouse, Inis Mór, Contact info: 00353 0 99 61126) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 7. Sept-20. Today we explore Inis Mór (meaning “Big Island”, the largest of the Aran Islands) where St. Enda founded the first monastery in Ireland. We will meet our guide, Dara Molloy, a Celtic monk, scholar and great storyteller, who will share with us about the Aran Islands and its historical sites such as Dun Aengus, churches, forts and monasteries dating as far back as 2,000 B.C. St. Enda, who is considered the patriarch of Irish monasticism, died around 535 A.D. He is the patron saint of Inis Mór having sought “life on the edge”, creating places of refuge. He is buried on this island. (Option: view Man of Aran film)
(Ard Einne Guesthouse and Tigh Fitz Guesthouse accommodations) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 8. Sept-21. We depart Inis Mór around noon, boarding the ferry to make our way on to Galway where we will settle in at the guesthouse with an orientation on exploring the city of Galway—the Claddagh, the River Corrib, the Salthill Promenade, and the Latin Quarter as well as options for live music venues.
(Ardawn Guesthouse accommodation; contact info: 00353 91 582 638) (Breakfast provided; Dinner included at Galway restaurant)

Day 9. Sept-22. Meet with Christine Valters Paintner, author and Celtic pilgrimage guide, for exploring the “Soul of a Pilgrim” that prays with the elements of water, wind, earth and fire. Group will divide into two groups of twelve and meet for two hours (one group in am, other in pm) at Christine’s apartment. The rest of the day is free to explore Galway on one’s own.
(Ardawn Guesthouse accommodation) (Breakfast provided; Dinner included at Galway restaurant)

Day 10. Sept-23. Worship at St. Nicholas Collegiate Church (Anglican), the largest medieval parish church in continual use in Ireland. If the weather is good, we will take a pack lunch and travel by coach into Connemara, hiking the Mam Ean Pass, an ancient site of pilgrimage since the 5th century where allegedly St Patrick came to bless the lands of Connemara. This is also the region beloved Irish poet John O’Donohue was raised.
(Ardawn Guesthouse accommodation) (Breakfast provided; Dinner included at Galway restaurant)

Day 11. Sept-24. We depart Galway and meet our archeologist guide, Michael Gibbons, who will lead us on a Burren tour (including Pol na bron dolmen, an ancient portal tomb from the Neolithic period and Kilnaboy church). Then we travel to the coast and view the beautiful Cliffs of Moher which rise 702ft above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point. From there, we travel on to Tralee for evening dinner.
Option: National Folk Threatre show in eve. at Siamsa Tíre, in Tralee (Benner Hotel accommodation, Tralee) (Breakfast & Dinner provided)

Day 12. Sept-25. Today we explore Dingle Peninsula, a 25-mile circular drive with unbelievable scenic views, beautiful pastel cottages and beehive huts. Highlights include:

  • Gallerus Oratory - best-preserved early church in Ireland; looks like upside down stone boat.
  • Old pagan site, church ruins with stone carvings, pagan stones, a Celtic cross
  • Slea Head - great view of Blasket Islands
  • Blasket Center - explains way of life on Blasket Islands
  • Riasc - excavated monastic settlement, remains of monastery, crosses and carved stones
  • A stop at Murphy’s ice cream in Dingle

St. Brendan 'The Navigator', born near Tralee in 484 AD, sailed the high seas to spread the gospel in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. Legends claim he fasted for 40 days on Mt. Brandon, Dingle Peninsula, prior to embarking on a legendary voyage to North America 1000 years prior to Christopher Columbus.
(Benner Hotel accommodation, Tralee) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 13. Sept-26. A day at Glenstal Abbey in Limerick (arrival at 10 am); meet with Benedictine monks to hear about their life, work, ministry, participate in noon mass, and walk the grounds. We will explore monastic chants, medieval Irish Christianity, and tour the icon chapel. Light dinner 5:15 pm followed by vespers at 6 pm. Depart for Glendalough at 7 pm; arrive at 10 pm.

Day 14. Sept-27. Retreat closure day with free time at Glendalough. Concert by local traditional Irish Group in eve at hotel. (Glendalough hotel accommodations) (Breakfast + Dinner provided)

Day 15. Sept-28. Depart for Dublin airport and return travel to USA (Breakfast provided)

About the leaders of this Pilgrimage

Sheryl L. Shenk is a spiritual director and co-creator of Eklectic Pilgrimages LLC, a newly formed company providing diverse opportunities to travel, exploring Christian spirituality through a contemplative lens and engaging participants in both a delightful and transformative journey. She is founder and former director of Blue Ridge Ministries, an ecumenical organization that has offered retreats focusing on Christian spiritual formation, discovery, and nurture for 14 years. Having co-led four prior Celtic Pilgrimages, she will be guiding the group through ancient sites where Christianity took root. Group experiences will highlight Celtic spirituality and include opportunities for Celtic morning and evening prayers. Both she and her husband Jonathan are Mennonites with a deep appreciation of Celtic reverence for God, earth, community and the stuff of ordinary life. Jon provides technical support and photography as needed on the trip.

Ted Swartz is an actor, playwright and founder of Ted and Company TheatreWorks using humor and professional storytelling to talk about issues of faith and social justice. He is passionate about creating art that provokes both laughter and thought. On the pilgrimage, Ted will be bringing our pilgrim stories as well as scriptural texts and characters to life, in all of our fumbling and faithful humanity. He is intrigued by the delicious intersection of Anabaptist theology, Celtic spirituality, and theater. Ted will be joined by his wife Sue, an occasional acting partner and one of the reverent ones.

Come and explore Eklectic Pilgrimages: Journeys for the reverent and the rest of us!