A new book by a former newspaper editor takes the reader on a magical journey along the paths of our ancestors.
‘Tochar – Walking Ireland’s Pilgrim Paths’ by Darach MacDonald chronicles the author as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of early Christians by walking this country’s ancient pilgrim paths.
From the well known paths like walking up Croagh Patrick to less well known ones like a walk around Lough Derg in Donegal Darach brings the reader along on his personal journey as he contemplates his own faith (he describes himself as a ‘healthy sceptic on matters of belief’) and the faith of our fathers.
‘So I have set out on a personal odyssey along the paths of our fathers. In doing so, I have experienced rare opportunities for spiritual reflection and honest reassessment of my life. This is my pilgrimage’ Darach tells the reader in the opening chapter seeking to make it clear this book is only about his experiences, and others may not agree, or have the same experience if they follow in the author’s footsteps.
“It’s a personal experience” Darach, the former Ulster Herald editor said.
“I started looking for somewhere nice to walk and as I now live in Castlederg I ended up at Lough Derg in Donegal where someone told me about a touring path, or a pilgrim path around the lough I didn’t know about.”
This got Darach thinking about other ancient pilgrim paths and how pilgrimage itself remains a central facet of most world religions.
‘People still travel to sacred places and assert belief in acts of repentance, renunciation and renewal
‘For two millennia since his death on the cross, following of Jesus Christ have gone to sacred shrines – they have endured tribulations, recited prayers, performed rituals and sought indulgences to attain salvation.’
From Glencolmcille to Tochar Phaidraig and from Clonmanoise to Slemish, Darach journeyed up and down the country to walk the popular, and not so popular pilgrim trails of Ireland – on their traditional days whenever possible.
‘Clonmacnoise in North Offaly really surprised me. I did it in winter and didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.”
Darach also walked up Slemish on St Patrick’s Day morning and discovered some really beauiful places throughout his journey, or ‘pilgrimage’.
The author also walked St Declan’s Way in Tipperary which traverses the first district in Ireland to embrace the message of Christ.
Darach tells us that Declan brought the news of eternal salvation through the gospel in AD 415 long before Patrick’s mission to the north-east.
“What he lacked, obviously, was a good public relations campaign and strong political lobbyists. Otherwise we would be parading hither and yon for St Declan’s Day on July 24 and there would hardly be a peep on March 17.’
The book is full of these type of observations and wit and makes for a very enjoyable, and easy going read.
“I tried to do minimum research on the walks themselves – just where they where and when to do them. The Heritage Council have lists of such things.
Darach said he got a sense of exhilaration from walking to these places
He said he completed the walks over the course of a year but said it has been a spiritual as well as a physical journey.
The book also is about the people Darach met on his journey, and the experiences he had – from the funny to the sublime.
In the foreword by Fr Brian D’Arcy he refers to Darach as a struggling Catholic – ‘the best kind’ and he says it is his belief that ‘too often we are so preoccupied with our destinations that we miss the joy of the journey.’
That is what this book is about – one pilgrim’s journey – and that is what makes it a bit special.