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Follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick

17 March 2021 | By Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

Spotlight on intangible cultural heritage providers

Country of Origin: Northern Ireland
Atlantic CultureScape ICH Partner Cluster: Newry, Mourne & Down District Council
Intangible Cultural Heritage type:  Pilgrim Walks Social Practices, Rituals, Traditions and Festive events

Through participating in the Atlantic CultureScape Project (Northern Ireland Cluster), walking guides Mairéad Sweeney, Duane Fitzsimons and Brigid Watson are developing a St Patrick’s Way Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Experience due to be available to visitors later in the year. Here they tell us what to expect on their walking experience, following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

Saint Patrick’s Church, Saul

St Patrick’s Way

Explore the Home of Saint Patrick on the east coast of Ireland. Discover why this area is known as the Cradle of Christianity. Within a short radius we have many historic sites linked to him. We have his landing point at the Slaney River, his Holy Wells at nearby Struell, the tallest Saint Patrick Statue in the world on Slieve Patrick and the route of his funeral procession along the River Quoile to Downpatrick his grave at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick. No wonder that Downpatrick was on a very ancient medieval pilgrim route for national and international pilgrims and remains an important Patrician Heritage site today.

You will walk in the company of local expert guides who have carefully crafted unique cultural heritage experiences relating to Saint Patrick. Walk with one of three guides, Duane Fitzsimons, Mairéad Sweeney or Brigid Watson. Together they have a wealth of knowledge and guiding expertise. They will take you on a journey through the centuries reconnecting you with the story of Irish Christianity.

Who is Saint Patrick, from whom the town Downpatrick takes its name?  Who is this man who has given such significance to this area? Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and his feast day on 17th March is celebrated worldwide. He is one of the most popular of all saints, celebrated anywhere in the world, and there are more churches worldwide named after Saint Patrick than any other saint! Saint Patrick’s Feast Day is on 17th March and on that day, the area is thronged with visitors, enjoying the traditions that have been preserved. But we invite you to come to this area at any time and feel the connection with the past, as you walk through its heritage with us.

From Patrick’s own writings we can say that he was a native of Roman Britain, who at the age of 16 was captured by Irish raiders along with thousands of others and spent six years in captivity tending flocks in the woods and on the mountain. During this time, he reveals in his writings that he experienced a religious conversion, having neglected spiritual matters in his youth. He subsequently escaped from captivity and returned to his family, but he felt a calling to spread the word about Christianity, so he trained for the church in Auxerre, France and in 432, he arrived back in Ireland to the east coast of Ireland and to the area of Downpatrick. Information about him after that is mainly derived from 8th century and12th century documents by monk historians. However, what really matters is the faith that he brought to the country, starting his mission at the area around Downpatrick.

St Patrick’s Holy Wells at Struell

Saint Patrick sailed up Strangford Lough on the East Coast of Ireland and arrived at a landing point at the Slaney River. He met with a local chieftain Dichu, who was impressed with Patrick’s Christianity and offered him a barn at Saul. Sabhal is the Irish for barn. This was 4 miles from Downpatrick. Saint Patrick built his first wooden church here and since then there has been a Christian presence on this hill, overlooking the very lough that was the gateway to Saint Patrick’s arrival. Join us to feel the special atmosphere here. The site is often referred to as a ‘Thin Place’. A thin place makes us feel something larger than ourselves, as though we are held in a place between the worlds, beyond experience. These in Irish are ‘áiteanna tanaí’ or thin places.

From Saul Church, follow the path of the funeral procession along the beautiful Quoile River, to the final resting place of Saint Patrick, at the historic Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, where his grave and the remains of Saints Brigid and Comcille are located. We offer you the opportunity to find out about traditions associated with them too.

Walk the journey with us to Saint Patrick’s Holy Wells at Struell. This is a most beautiful location, between high rocky outcrops, bordered with golden gorse bushes in springtime It is along the side of a small stream and in fact the name ‘Struell’ is derived from the Irish An tSruthail which means ‘the stream’. In the earliest records, the well at Struell was known as Slán, from Irish, which means ‘health’, reflecting the curative powers of its waters. At Struell Wells, there are several wells and bathhouses and a rocky outcrop called Saint Patrick’s chair. These wells and bathhouses date from different periods. However, the initial practices, date from pagan times and involved immersion in the wells on St John’s Eve on 23rd June. This is the most important and ancient historically documented holy well site on the Island of Ireland. There is 8th century documentation of Saint Patrick spending the night immersed in the wells, singing psalms before resting on Saint Patrick’s chair afterwards. Today pilgrims and visitors from far and wide come to Struell Wells and we invite you to join us, in search of a connection with Saint Patrick, or the beauty of the area. You may feel solace, feel the coolness of the waters or simply appreciate being close to nature, in the quietude of this beautiful site as you hear of its authentic roots through history.

St Patrick’s landing point

Walk with us along quiet country roads, from Saint Patrick’s landing point along quiet roads and paths to reach the mountain of Saint Patrick, where the tallest statue of him anywhere in the world, is located. From here you have magnificent views across the country to Strangford Lough, the gateway through which Saint Patrick passed, as he made his way to start his mission in the Downpatrick area. Walk along the shores of Strangford Lough and appreciate the scenery that Saint Patrick would have seen as he approached this area.

So many reasons to come and walk in the footsteps of Saint Patrick on the St Patrick’s Way! We are waiting for you to join us!

Blog written by:
Mairéad Sweeney – @DiscoverNorthernIrelandwithMairead      
Duane Fitzsimons  –    
Brigid Watson – @sustainablejourneysireland

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