A Thursday morning in August did not to dampen the enthusiasm as our group embarked on a 16 mile trek around the sites associated with St Patrick in the Co Down town of Downpatrick.
Over the course of the day, St Patrick’s Pilgrim Way took us to Inch Abbey, Saul Church, Slieve Patrick and Struell Wells before returning to St Patrick’s Cathedral and the burial place of Ireland’s patron saint.
The St Patrick’s Way is overall an 110-mile route primarily through Armagh and Down. But this summer, a new project has been begun by the two well-known former Sisters of Adoration whose backstory will be known to many.
Martina Purdy is, of course, the former BBC Political Correspondent and Elaine Kelly is an ex-barrister who also left her successful professional life behind. Now both are helping to popularise a section of St Patrick’s Way around Downpatrick, close to where St Patrick first landed in Ireland and in Newcastle.
They are taking pilgrims around these ancient sites twice weekly and a second route has been designed through the Mournes from Tullymore Forest to Newcastle.
“The idea for this really emerged during the recent lockdown when Martina was employed as a PR Consultant with the St Patrick’s Centre. She was keen to start work and the two of us began to scout the various sites around Downpatrick associated with St Patrick’s,” said Elaine.
“As a pilgrim guide, it has been very successful and rewarding. This year the option of travelling abroad has been largely withdrawn, with the result that the beauty and heritage of our own country is opening up.
“This has provided me with time to reflect on what the Lord is asking from me. I said that if anything came along that he was asking me to do then I’d do it and St Patrick’s Way happened and it has been amazing and really healthy for me.”
For Martina Purdy, too, the route has brought both spiritual and health benefits. She says increasing numbers of people from all over Ireland are becoming more aware of the rich Christian heritage associated with St Patrick in the north.
“We get people from all walks of life, atheists, people who are devout Catholics and Christians of all denominations. This walk is for everyone, and not just those who are interested in their Christian heritage,” she added.
“There is beauty, culture and history and it’s a great way for people to meet others after lockdown, and have an encounter with them. I have no doubt that lasting friendships will be developed from this.”
Last year both Martina and Elaine had to leave the Adoration Sisters. It was a decision they didn’t to take, but both accept what has happened.
“It wasn’t our choice to leave the Adoration Sisters, but now through this God is doing something different with our lives, something that we didn’t expect,” added Martina.
“We feel that this Pilgrim Way is from God and that the spirituality of St Patrick is relevant today, because like many during lockdown, he was isolated and alone.
Among those taking part was Martin McCarron from Aughnacloy, who undertook the pilgrimage with his daughter, Christina. He said his imagination was captivated by reports of the St Patrick’s Way walk.
“I’m not searching for anything particularly deep in my life at the moment, but just felt that I needed to do the walk. The main thing is that it was utterly enjoyable, especially chatting to strangers, finding different points of view,” he said.
“Both Elaine and Martina are lovely ladies and great hostesses. All in all it was a wonderful experience.”
For further information or to book a place on the St Patrick’s Way, Downpatrick, contact the saintpatrickcentre.com or call 02844619000.