Eight Columban Sisters set out for Lough Derg on a one day pilgrimage. We got the coach from Whitehall Church Dublin and were joined by several parish sisters and parishioners from the nearby parishes, thirty two of us altogether. We drove up through the lake district of Cavan, into Northern Ireland territory, eventually after a three hours’ drive arriving at the sacred Island that is Lough Derg.
Some were expecting a penitential experience of bread and water and walking barefoot but it was the opposite. It was most enjoyable and so prayerful. The three day penitential exercise still goes on earlier in the year. The boat-ride took about ten to fifteen minutes and the island looked beautiful, the Basilica looming in the distance, surrounded by all the various facilities.
We were welcomed with a short prayer service and then were all treated to tea, coffee and delicious scones. This was followed by the Stations of the Cross led by a young woman. Next we had the Rosary. We were free to walk around outside or sit by the waters edge, or stay inside if we preferred. It was broadcasted and you could hear it everywhere. The Chaplain gave some reflections; we had quiet time for prayer and our own reflections.
At the back of the Basilica there was a life size poster of St. Columban with a brief history of his life and sayings on large print. In front of the poster there was a boat anchored on rocks and the fishing nets cast around it. Like ourselves, Columban was a missionary and not well known in his homeland. This year he is being rediscovered.
The vegetation on the island was rich, flowers and shrubs of all hues. People sat on seats enjoying the gentle lapping waters of the lake.
“He leads me beside still waters, He revives my drooping spirit”
At 12.30 we had lunch, two sittings, 360 people attended that prayer day. Confession was available in the afternoon, four priests were hearing. We had free time until 3.15 when we had Mass.
It was heartening to see so many young people looking after the needs of the pilgrims, guiding us on and off the ferries etc.
It is a special island made sacred through centuries of prayer and penance, a meeting place between God and His pilgrim people.