Irish Pilgrimage: The Celtic Lands
by Vanessa Hammond
(Victoria, BC, Canada)
Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise, Ireland
Ireland has pulled me home almost every year since I left in 1966. For the first few years my return journeys were to see family, sometimes as part of a work journey. Later I took kids and grandkids. In 2001, by accident, I organized a journey through Wales, Ireland and Scotland for a group of 12 of us. We visited pre-Celtic, Celtic and early Celtic-Christian sties, walked the land I loved and shared our experiences. We grew together as a group, had wonderful conversations, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. One of the group, a member of the clergy, described it as "A whole new way of seeing and being." At some point someone in the group started to describe it as a pilgrimage. It was. We were seeing the world differently. We had reasons beyond the entirely practical for our choices of where to visit.
For me, the concept of pilgrimage was not new. As a child I had lived near the Ganges, one of several holy rivers for Hindus. My father had Moslem friends who rejoiced in their experience of the Hajj. And, living in Ireland, the landscape was alive with holy wells, pilgrimage mountains, places of cultural and spiritual richness. I found myself reading and studying extensively to build on what I had learned from my family.
That first "Island Pilgrims" journey has been adapted each year, reflecting the interests of each of the current group of pilgrims. I go as one of the group, organizing and driving, but paying the same as everyone else, certain that if I was a paid leader I would become "tour guide" rather than spiritual explorer. The time apart renews me for the rest of the year, not because of startling revelations, but because of the feeling of being in my homeland, communitas within the group, and the reminder that all of creation is sacred. And I am reminded that every day is its own pilgrimage, can never be repeated, can be lived to the full.
May your luggage be light, your hearts open, and your friendships as wide as the world.
Vanessa, Island Pilgrim