The Columban Way

Our Congregational patron, St Columban (also known as Columbanus), travelled more than 3,000 km across Ireland and Europe at the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th centuries. According to his biographer, Jonas, he was born in the shadow of Mount Leinster on the border of Co. Wexford and Co. Carlow. He became a monk in the monastery of Bangor, Co, Down under the Abbot Comgall for more than 20 years before crossing the Irish Sea with twelve companions, among them St Gall from whom the city of St Gallen, Switzerland takes its name. Columbanus founded monasteries in Annegray, Fontaine-les-Luxeuil-les-Bains in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, Eastern France; in Bregenz on the banks of Lake Constance, Austria and in Bobbio, in the region of Emilia Romagna, Northern Italy.

The Columbanus pilgrim journey forms the basis of a 21st century pilgrim route which is called the Columban Way or Turas Columbanus. This pilgrim route which begins in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, across Mount Leinster and Myshall, Co. Carlow and continues through the midlands to Cleenish Island in Co. Fermanagh and Bangor, Co. Down, marks the first phase of the European Columban Way which has its final destination in Bobbio, the final resting place of Columbanus.

A few weeks ago, Srs Paulina Yang, Anne Ryan and I joined a group to walk the first part of the Turas Columbanus, beginning in Bunclody. As we set off, I was very conscious that not too many people would be able for the distances involved in this, (15 km from Bunclodyto  Mount Leinster, 10 km from there to Myshall and then 20 km on the second day from Myshall to Leighlinbridge) but I was also aware of the interest many people have in the development of the Columban Way so from the first steps I took, I felt that the presence of so many others was very much with me. I realised that through their prayer, theywere actively participating in the Turas Columbanus and this gave me the stamina to complete what turned out to be a very strenuous walk and climb to the top of Mount Leinster.

Our second day began with Mass in the church in Myshall which is dedicated to St Finian but has strong links with St Columban. For me, it was a very moving experience when the parish priest, Fr Tom O’Byrne, invited Fr Peter Dong to concelebrate with him – the first Chinese Columban Father to celebrate Mass in the birthplace of St Columban.

Halfway through the walk that day, Paulina, Anne and I received the news that Sr. Maureen Byrne had passed away. It seemed so fitting that, as Maureen reached the end of the journey of her life, we were in the process of continuing to walk in the footsteps of St Columban. And so, the journey continues.

As I continue on the pilgrim walks in the footsteps of St Columban,I know so many people will be with me and very close to me in spirit – a gift for which I am very grateful.

(For further information and updates on planned activities, please email turascolumbanus@gmail.com)

Ann Gray