“According to his Life, Declán is reposed in the Lord at his monastery in Ardmore and was subsequently buried there. His feast day in the martyrologies is 24 July. A Middle Irish note added to the Félire Óengusso, which is of no historical value, tells that Declán was responsible for introducing rye (Irish secal, from Latin secale) into Ireland.St Declan’s Stone on Ardmore beach; supposedly, it carried his bell to Ireland.
Declán has enjoyed a steady cult in Waterford, where many church dedications still name him. Every year on his feast-day, locals and people from the region celebrate his pattern. The pattern includes various devotional acts at sites associated with his life. The path walked by Declan from Ardmore to Cashel, County Tipperary has been restored as St Declan’s Pilgrim Path, and an annual walk of the path, nicknamed the “Irish Camino“, is organised from 24 to 28 July, beginning in 2013.“
That is a straight lift from Wikipedia, and I don’t mind robbing it verbatim as I occasionally throw them a few quid (whenever Jimmy puts the bite on me). I reckon they’re worth a punt or two. Some folks get terrible sniffy about this resource, and it is the butt of many a gag. To be fair, I always find it sensible and well-written. It is certainly one of the few more ‘democratic’ sites online, and that’s saying something.
I have decided to plump for St. Declan’s Day for this Declan to run Declan’s Way. There is a logic to it. I had originally thought that perhaps, given that the 24th of July falls on a Sunday this year, that the pilgrim path might be a little busy. But the truth is one more body on the path won’t make much difference, and as I plan to set out at first light (sunrise is about 05:40 in Cashel), I doubt I will see too many pilgrims making the journey at that stage. More likely I will encounter them as I reach mid-morning and on into the afternoon.
The route is estimated to be 115kms and I hope to finish it within daylight, which means 16 hours on my feet, more or less. The official website is here, if you are curious to read more. Sport Ireland lists the route as 85% Moderate and 15% Strenuous, as it passes over the Knockmealdown Mountains.
As luck would have it, the Way breaks down nicely into bitesize sections of about 20k each, with just one – the mountain section – being about 30k. This means ‘plannable’ rest stops.
Cashel is the starting point, which is of course home to the world-renowned Rock (no, not that one…). And along the way, the route takes in some wonderful sights. Cahir is home to a very impressive castle; one of our oldest, largest and best preserved. Lismore Castle is very much a going concern with commanding views over the Blackwater. The mountains are splendid, and then you have the coastal communities along Waterford and Ardmore. The trick, of course, is to have some time to stop and admire the views…
‘Worth noting that I may have purloined these images from the interweb… assuming I make and complete the journey, I am bound to gather images of my own, but I am rather sure they will not be as splendid as these. What I can say with certainty is that, assuming there was a Saint Declan, none of these things were in existence when the original trek was made from Ardmore up to Cashel when my namesake popped up to see Saint Patrick. And, neither would have been a saint, for obvious reasons…
Also, the original trip was made south to north, whereas now the route is done in reverse, starting at Cashel, and finishing where the saint lies, as is the tradition with pilgrim routes. This all presents some logistical hurdles, as I will have to be in Cashel for sunrise, but when I arrive in Ardmore, I will need to collapse somewhere for a reasonable amount of time, and also have transport back home. Ideally that would mean having the car at Ardmore, but that’s at best a two and a half hour drive there, and that’s just to leave the car somewhere safe, like a B&B. You still have to return to Cashel to start your journey.
How to add that to that complexity? I have a few ideas.
Following on from the rip-roaring success of A Right Royal Triathlon, I am planning on making another short film (sorry, did I miss something? ed.). This means recording as much video as the GoPro will allow, on the move, and when I’m having breaks. And some preamble stuff, too. In fairness, I have already started to gather that footage, and I will be adding to the pot as training continues, and the weather improves.
I also rather optimistically and successfully applied for an FKT. This I have mentioned previously. It stands for Fastest Known Time, and is a big deal for serious runners on known competitive routes. This is neither, of course, but assuming nobody sees my little entry on the official FKT site and knocks it out of the park before I get a chance to do it, then even if I have to crawl over the Knockmealdowns and roll all the way to Ardmore, I should be able to register the first FKT for the route. Until someone else does it.
So that’s a little motivation to keep going. That, and the fact that I will have a camera strapped to my head or stuck up my nose for much of the journey. I will be travelling unassisted, as this is the guideline from the site. ‘Self-supported’ is the official description. Essentially, it means you travel on your own steam, without a crew or assistance. Hardcore is Unsupported, but that means drinking water from streams and that kind of mad stuff, and I’m planning on buying sandwiches on the way, so no Robinson Crusoe malarkey for me, thank you very much.
Anyway, here’s an image of Saint Declan. I have no idea if it’s a good likeness, but I can see some resemblance to me, around the eyes. And perhaps even more so if I make it to the end. For comparison, I raided the archives and found a composite image of me that I put together in November of 2003. This was the day after filming for King Arthur wrapped in the Wicklow Mountains. I had spent most of that Summer up at the crack of dawn, had mud rubbed into my face, beard and hair, and run around a field (sometimes the surroundings were set on fire with gas and diesel), waving a rubber sword, and hitting people. Or getting hit. Or at least pretending to. And then falling over. Then hearing ‘cut!’, and then doing it all again.
Good times! And once I knew they would not be calling me back anymore, I went straight to the local salon and had most of it removed. Think walking twenty miles with a small pebble in your shoe. (See here for an older post on the movie).
The one below that is a little earlier again. I was working at a publishing company and we were shooting a pilot for a historical documentary, and I was the reluctant talking head. I am sure there is a VHS tape somewhere, but you will be spared this trauma. I was looking for something with a hat. No staff, though. And certainly no halo. That Viking hat, leather jacket and shirt combo will haunt me to the end.
As I hope to document my own journey along St. Declan’s Way, though, I cannot guarantee that there will not be similarly harrowing images of my face to contend with, once I have recovered from my own particular pilgrimage. You have been warned.
And in other news, the government have decided to give us all a brand new, shiny Bank Holiday for all our sterling efforts during the, eh, pandemic thingy. After much hand-wringing and hair-pulling, they have decided in their wisdom to celebrate St. Brigid.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, though on the plus side, they get credit for choosing a woman from Irish ‘history’, and not just inventing something new. The downside is that we are once again opting for the easy religious choice here, and when I say religion, I mean Christian, and when I say Christian, I really mean Roman Catholic, and its rather odd fascination with Mary.
“You heard me. I’m pregnant!”
“Oh. And I suppose you’re going to tell me the father was some sort of holy spirit or something, yeah?”)
And it turns out the modern version of St. Brigid is of course another stolen figure from our pagan past. There may not even have been a real ‘Brigid’, or more likely, Brigit. She may have been an amalgam of figures. Her feast day is February 1st, which is, as any decent Irish historian knows, more commonly known as Imbolg – one of the four ‘Celtic’ festivals: Samhain, Beltane, Imbolg and Lughnasadh. The one that survives to this day is Samhain, in the guise of Hallowe’en. Worth noting that the very use of the word Celtic has been steadily eroded over recent times. And here’s one of many pieces you can read at your leisure, if you wish. Here is an excerpt, if you are too busy with other things to read the whole article:
‘Yet the new exhibition at the British Museum – presented in association with National Museums Scotland – sets out to demonstrate that “Celt” is the Schrödinger’s cat of identities. It exists, because we can see it before our eyes; and yet, it does not exist, because in all likelihood the people we now call Celts never defined themselves that way.‘
There is a certain beautiful irony in the Irish government tripping over itself to be seen as ‘right on’, and in so doing, putting their foot right in it. Not that it matters hugely in the general scheme of things. Natives of Kildare (where I live) love St. Brigid as she is ‘one of our own’. Every Imbolg… oops, sorry… St. Brigid’s Day, kids in primary schools all over the county weave the famous Brigid’s Cross. Her pagan roots refuse to lie down and die, though of course, the priestly agents have signed the transfer paperwork, and she is now most definitely on Team Jesus, her old club now decidedly out of the Premiership and playing in the non-leagues. In that sense, it was a wise move.
And for the rest of the country, it will be yet another day off. Which many will moan about, as it’s on the first day of February, when the weather is usually ‘shite’, to coin a phrase. What genius picked THIS day for a bank holiday, they will moan, as they pack their kids into the SUV and head off for a walk in the mountains. In the rain.
For the people that actually earned the extra holiday? The healthcare workers? The frontline staff? The nurses and doctors? And even the lowly firefighters like me? It’s meaningless, because we have to work those days too, and we don’t get time off in lieu.
But eh, yeah. Go Brigit!