Why attend Lough Derg, in County Donegal
Lough Derg is an island outside Pettigo in County Donegal. Between the 1st of June and the 13th of August (both dates inclusive) each year, this island facitates pilgrims attendance for a three day pilgrimage.
The pilgrim starts a fast at midnight of day 1 (only taking water and prescribed medication). The pilgrim then attends the island between the hours of 12 noon and 3pm approximately. More precise details can be found on the islands website.
On attendance, a fee is charged. If the pilgrim does not have the fee, they will never be turned away and more than welcome on the island notwithstanding. A leaflet is given to the pilgrim, explaining the programme and the individual prayers.
Warm clothes, sun cream, fly repellant and a Rosary beeds would be advisable.
The boat brings the pilgrim across onto the island. On arrival, the pilgrim leaves their belongings in a bunk bed dormitory. The pilgrim takes off their shoes and socks.
The pilgrim then completes three stations. A station consists of an approximate hour of prayer. Prayer consists of spoken word and physical action. The leaflet explains what to do. Walking on stone is involved but not sharp piercing stone. Once those three stations are complete, evening mass takes place at 6.30pm. After mass, the pilgrim can attend for a daily Lough Derg meal. The meal consists of black tea or coffee, toast or plain bread and oat coakes. Sugar is available but no butter or milk. Following the meal, the pilgrim can attend their dormitories and freshen up. The pilgrim prepares for staying up that night and keeping vigil. Night prayer takes place around 9.15pm for approximately 30 minutes. A candle is lit on the altar of the basilica which will remain lit for the duration of the 24 hour vigil. You are not permitted to intentionally sleep during that 24 hours. You are not permitted to lie down inviting sleep. A Priest working on the Island will thereafter give a talk to the pilgrim lasting approximately one hour. One of the pilgrims will lead the rest in the Rosary at approximately 11.45pm. Four stations thereafter take place in the Basilica during the night. The Stations last approximately 1 hour with an approximate period of 30 minutes of a break in between. Station 4 starts at 12.30am, station 5 at 2am, station 6 at 3.30am, station 7 at 5am. Morning mass then takes place at 6.30am, usually said by the Prior to the Island. Thereafter, the Pilgrims are permitted to go back to their dormitories to freshen up (but not lie down!!!). At 8.30am approximately the Sacrament of Confession is celebrated. This can be a concern or worry for some pilgrims. It shouldnt be. The Priests are very warm and receptive. How many times have pilgrims highlighted this part of the pilgrimage as the most important. They have said that they have left behind a weight on the island. Following Confession, the 8th station takes place outdoors. Trained Councillors are on the island to speak with people in the fullest confidence at any time. Following completion of the 8th station at approximately 9.30am/10am; the pilgrim is given time to themselves. They make talk to other pilgrims, visit the shop, acquire mass bouquets for family and friends, meditate in prayer at other locations, submit written prayer requests. Lough Derg Pilgrims are ordinary everyday people. Some people have heavy weights ongoing in their personal lives and turning to God for help. Some other people attending the Island in thanksgiving. Commonly people sit down beside complete strangers and start talking to eack other (on the common journey of this pilgrimage, fasting, keeping vigil and in their bare feet). Some people remark that the experiences of talking to other Pilgrims as their highlight of pilgrimage. Sometimes God speak through these people in possibly realising that our problems are not at the level of others. God can speak on Lough Derg in many different ways to many different people. At 12 noon, a renewal of baptisimal promise takes place in the Basilica lasting approximately 30 minutes. At 3pm, the Stations of the Cross take place in the Basilica, lasting approximately 30 minutes. The Pilgrim may possibly take this opportunity thereafter to have their second lough derg meal, their sole meal for day 2. At 6.30pm evening mass takes place in the Basilica, lasting approximately 1 hour. At 9.15pm Night Prayer takes place and the candle is extinguished. Then in or about 10pm; the pilgrim goes to bed to get the best nights sleep that ever was had! At 6am on the morning of day 3, the pilgrim is awoken by a bell. The pilgrim comes down to morning mass at 6.30am. After morning mass, the Pilgrim can either complete its 9th and final station in the basilica or outside. Following completion, the pilgrim attends their dormitories, freshens up and puts on their socks and shoes – one of the nicest feeling ever!!!. It is then that we appreciate wearing shoes. The pilgrim brings their belongings down to the pier to wait for the boat. The pilgrim might take this opportunity to bring Holy Water from the Island home. Some pilgrims exchange contact details with others on leaving the island. The boat usually leaves the island at approximately 9.45am. Everyone is usually in high spirits leaving the Island. The pilgrim must maintain his/her fast until 12 midnight on day 3. One lough derg meal is permitted. Fizzy drinks are permitted on leaving the island and for the duration of day 3. Items can be purchased in Pettigo when leaving. Some pilgrims have a meal at 12 midnight on day 3 to celebrate completion of the pilgrimage.
In the world we live in today, people carrying out this type pilgrimage sound crazy but the reality is that these people are far from crazy. These people find comfort in coming to the Island asking the Lord to address issues within their lives. Many times no one hears about those requests being answered but they are regularly answered. The staff of Lough Derg regularly refer to the “storehouse of prayer” on Lough Derg; built up over the centuries and there to be tapped into by pilgrims at any time.
The Priests and staff are very warm and welcoming; more than happy to stand and talk, listen or sharing a laugh.
The pilgrimage is physically difficult but far from impossible. Some people say that they wouldnt be able to do this pilgrimage. Unless they are elderly, under 15 years or in ill health, they should be well able to complete the pilgrimage. If difficulties are encountered, staff are available to help at any time. Mobile phones and cameras are not permitted at any time on the Island. If wishing to travel to the Island but a mode of travel is a problem, contact Lough Derg and explain where you are travelling from and they may be able to help you in getting to the island. Think outside the box for answers to your life – try lough derg. Your prayers on the Island are not just your words but your physical efforts.