People make pilgrimages for different reasons. The beautiful thing is that a pilgrimage has nothing to do with how physically fit one is or how many hiking miles a person can add to their personal best (unless they choose to do so), it's about making a spiritual connection with the journey and the destination. Anyone who has seen the movie The Way knows that hiking such a long distance with only the clothes on one's back and the company besides them can be life-changing, in so many more ways than just one.

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Ireland, in particular, has many pilgrimage hikes that visitors and locals alike can take part in. Some are more popular than others but many have roots that date back to the country's early history, even as far back as the patron saint Saint Patrick, himself. These pilgrimages take hikers across Ireland's widest expanses, down through towns and villages, and past places of both historical and spiritual significance, to show a side of the country that not many have the chance to see often. It's one thing to experience Ireland via tour, it's another to walk its most sacred and beloved lands on foot.

Kerry Camino

The Camino de Santiago in Spain is usually the first pilgrimage people think of when they hear 'camino' which means 'path,' and the Kerry Camino was actually modeled after that same route. This pilgrimage can be found in County Kerry and takes hikers all the way to Dingle, specifically right to St. James' Church. It takes roughly three days to complete this hike which makes it significantly shorter than the Camino de Santiago but no less meaningful or significant.

The path itself follows in the footsteps of St. Brendan, the route following Dingle Way the entire time. Along the way, hikers will experience much of Ireland's true beauty from coastline to mountainscape, with many green fields and valleys in between. Dingle Way also encompasses small villages and towns where hikers can have their pilgrim passport validated, as well as get some much-needed rest, chat with locals, and grab a meal. St. James' Church, where hikers will find themselves at the very end of their pilgrimage, was dedicated to St. James of Santiago de Compostela, which is how Dingle became a major point of departure for many Irish making their way to Northern Spain.

Croagh Patrick

The tradition of making the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is one that has been ongoing for 5,000 years and is also one of the most popular pilgrimages in the country. This pilgrimage is a bit different than most and involves hikers climbing a mountain that reaches a height of 2,500 feet, and, traditionally, it's done barefooted. The tradition is symbolic as an act of penance and is usually done on the last Sunday of each July. While it is more challenging than other pilgrimages or hikes, in general, the increase in popularity surrounding this pilgrimage has led to some erosion at the summit of the mountain.

If you're wondering why so many would hike a mountain wearing no shoes, the answer lies with Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Many people complete the pilgrimage in honor of him, as it's believed that the patron saint spent 40 days at the summit of that same mountain, where he fasted in the duration. This is also the location in which it's said that Saint Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland, as they kept showing up during his time fasting at the mountain summit.

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The Derrynane Mass Path

The Derrynane Mass Path follows Ireland's history back to the days when even saying mass was illegal and could result in a death sentence for whichever Catholic priest was caught speaking it. Because of this, many people wove their way down rural paths to 'mass rocks' where they could practice their faith in secret. The paths to the mass rocks were called mass paths and this is what the Derrynane Mass Path represents today.

In County Kerry, residents of Catherdaniel used this path, specifically, and it's almost four miles in length from start to finish. The path itself is a loop hike which means that it follows a circle rather than having an in and out path, and it begins at the Derrynane House which belonged to Daniell O'Connell. O'Connell's role in the Irish Catholic Emancipation is well-known, and walking this route is just as much a tribute to Ireland's history as it is to the faith of its people and all those who walk the Derrynane Mass Path.

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