The project “In the Footsteps of Irish Fathers” is intended as a pilgrimage and educational tour of Early Christian Ireland. Monastic at its core, the Celtic Church of Ireland survived during the turbulent era of the Western European Dark Ages, keeping the Faith, the Doctrine and literacy. It is out of the Irish monasteries that the great re-Christianization of Gaul and Germany began. For many centuries, the Orthodox treasure and learning of the Early Celtic church remained a hidden secret.
In many ways it is unknown even to the present day to both Orthodox Christians of the East, (who are unaware of the precious treasures of faithful courage exemplified by their Western brothers), and to the modern Christians of the West, who in many cases lost the Church historical perspective beyond the late Middle Ages. To the best of our knowledge, the current tour-pilgrimage is among the first comprehensive journeys to all the major and important sites of historical Irish monasticism.
Even though most of these sites are in ruins, pilgrims and curious travelers will be given a chance to explore and to learn about those monastic cities and settlements, to venerate holy shrines and to participate in prayers services at numerous places that are of prime importance to the historical Church. As an additional bonus, we will offer several side tours to the most famous natural wonders and pre-historical monuments of the Emerald Isle.
Although this trip is proposed with an Orthodox Christian traveller in mind, it will doubtless be edifying and beneficial to anyone who is interested in Christian monasticism, the history of the Christian Church or the history of Ancient Ireland in general.
Please note: this tour is offered only on the dates stated in the description!
Day 1: Group meets at the JFK Airport for an evening departure for Ireland.
Day 2: Arrival in Dublin Airport. Transfer to the hotel. Free morning. Tour of the city. Visit to the Chester Beatty Library, beautifully housed within the Dublin Castle complex – the greatest collection in Europe of Western, Middle Eastern and Oriental culture. Continue on to the 16th century Trinity College, founded by Elizabeth I, now home to the famous illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells. Vespers, dinner and overnight in Dublin.
Day 3: We will start the morning with a Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church. After the service and Lunch we will continue our tour of Dublin and will visit the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology and History in Kildare Street. This museum houses over 2,000,000 artifacts which range in date between 7000BC and the late medieval period. Dinner and overnight in Dublin
Day 4: Leaving Dublin we head towards The Abbey of Kells, a former monastery located some 40 miles away from Dublin. The abbey was originally founded by St Columba in the mid sixth century, and was later renewed in the ninth century by monks from the Island of Iona who were fleeing into the Irish interior away from the Viking menace. The famous Book of Kells was written and illustrated in the Abbey.
From the that Holy place we will continue to Slane and to The Hill of Tara, the seat of the early Irish kings and great open-air assemblies in the early centuries just before and after the birth of Christ. Before arriving at the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre, we travel through the Boyne Valley whose banks are lined with landmarks from almost every phase of Ireland’s past - from the prehistoric passage tombs at Newgrange, to the legendary Hill of Tara, seat of the Irish High Kings as well as monuments from the early days of Christianity.
Our tour of the Boyne Valley is completed with a visit to either Newgrange or Knowth burial passages, which were built between 3,500BC and 2,700BC and were used as tombs in which Stone Age men buried their dead. Leaving the Boyne Valley, we visit Monasterboice, a great learning centre of old, a monastery that was founded by St. Buite in the fifth century. Today, the site houses some impressive church ruins. The round tower, best known for Muiredach’s Cross, is one of the best specimens of a high cross in Ireland, this 17 foot tall cross can be traced back to 922. O/n Armagh
Day 5: We will start with Armagh, the “spiritual” capital of Ireland for over 1500 years and the seat of both Catholic and Protestant archbishops. Armagh is significant both for its pre-historic monuments and for its association with St Patrick. The hilltop enclosure of Navan was one of the most important of pre-historic ritual centres in Ireland: though it gives the impression of being a fort, the ditch is on the inside of the rampart – less defensive than symbolic.
A lake nearby was used for votive offerings and was no doubt also of religious significance in prehistory. Then we will also visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh and will continue to the nearby Navan Centre which tells the story one of Ireland's most important ancient monuments, Navan Fort. Leaving Armagh, we travel east through the Mourne Region and on to Downpatrick, where we visit the Saint Patrick Centre. The Saint Patrick Centre, one of Northern Ireland’s major Millennium Projects, is the first permanent exhibition to tell the story of Ireland’s Patron Saint. Following the visit to the Centre, you will get the opportunity to visit Down Cathedral, in whose churchyard St. Patrick is reputed to be buried.
Continuing northward along the east shore road past many fishing villages and along the shores of Strangford Lough we arrive in Belfast, a city that is beautifully ringed by high hills, the sea Lough and river valley. We will arrange to meet with the priest from the local Antiochian Orthodox parish and will hear his fascinating account of the Orthodox mission in an area that for so long was a battleground for Protestant and Catholic communities. Dinner and overnight in Belfast.
Day 6: This morning we leave Belfast and travel through the “Nine Glens of Antrim” before stopping at the picturesque ruins of Dunluce Castle, situated on the high cliffs above the Sea. Then we will continue on to the magnificent Giant’s Causeway. This area of hexagonal columns was formed over 60 million years ago by cooling lava and has given rise to many legends, as the basalt resembles giant steps.
Before arriving in Derry, we travel to Ness Woods Country Park and to the Ballygroll Prehistoric Complex. This is a remarkable complex of prehistoric stone monuments, still partly covered by peat. Excavations in the 1970’s revealed a considerable variety of prehistoric monuments ranging from a Neolithic court-tomb as well as a wedge tomb, to stone circles, a round cairn and a barrow, probably all belonging to the Bronze Age. Upon arriving in Derry we will take a sightseeing tour of the city which we will complete with a walk along the Walls of Derry. Dinner and overnight in Derry.
Day 7: This morning we leave Derry. From Derry fort we will travel further south to the site of another important centre of Christian learning in Ireland, the monastery on the Devenish Island. The island and surrounding vicinity appear remote today, but back in the time of St. Molaise, the banks of rivers and lakes were populated since the waterways served as a great connection between the inland and the ocean. Pilgrims and travelers were provided with much needed hospitality at the many monasteries and churches in the area. Most important of them all was the Monastery founded by St. Molaise, an Irishman who was brought up in Scotland. Dinner and overnight in Sligo.
Day 8: This morning we will travel from Sligo to Mullaghmore, where we will board a boat for a trip to Inishmurray Island which is an almost barren area of 1 mile by a ½ mile wide. The main attraction today is the island’s remarkable collection of antiquities. The great Cashel – a wall of un-cemented stones – encloses a group of ruins that are the most characteristic example of primeval Irish monastic establishment. The foundation of the monastery on the remote island is also attributed to that lover of hermitical life – St. Molaise.
The destruction of the monastery by the Vikings in the ninth century was fatal, but the island remained a pilgrimage destination until very recent times. The last inhabitants of the island –fishermen, left for the mainland in the 1940s. Back on the mainland, we continue further south through Sligo where we visit the nearby Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. This is the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland and is also among the oldest in the country. Dinner and overnight in Galway.
Day 9: This morning we plan to attend a Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church in Galway. The Orthodox community of the city does not have a church per se, but a priest visits here regularly, providing an opportunity for the local faithful to participate in worship and to receive the Holy mysteries.
After the service we will travel eastwards to visit Clonfert Cathedral, located on the grounds of a monastery founded in 563 by St. Brendan the Navigator.
This area was known as the ecclesiastical centre of Ireland, where numerous monasteries were located from as early as the 5th century. The monastery at Clonfert was a flourishing monastic settlement and a great center of learning. Onwards to nearby Clonmacnoise, founded by St. Ciaran in 548AD. The monastery was founded at an ideal location as it is situated at the junction of the major travel routes of Ancient Ireland and it is right on the border of three Irish provinces. Being an important pilgrim destination and under the patronage of various kings, Clonmacnoise became the most important of Ireland's monastic cities. Dinner and Overnight in Galway.
Day 10: The Aran Islands. Today we take an Aran Islands tour, travelling to the Gaelteacht area of Rossaveal to take the ferry boat to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. Enjoy a tour of the Island by mini-bus. We will visit the mystic fort of Dun Aengus with its imposing position overlooking the Atlantic. The Islands are still largely Gaelic speaking, and maintain many of the traditional Irish island customs which reflect the harshness of island life. Visit to the Aran Island Interpretative Centre where an excellent audio-visual display shows the history of the islands and the islanders.
Time permitting and also subject to ferry crossings, we visit Inishmann, (meaning the "the middle island") where we visit the ancient Kilcanonagh Church, which is a typical 8th-9th century stone building and is complete except for the roof, which must have been wood-framed. It is surrounded by grave slabs and it was here that the island buried its people until fifty years ago. We will also visit Teampall na Seacht Mac Rí (Church of the seven sons). Very little remains of this early church.
By the south door is the grave of Saint Cinndearg. Nearby is a holy well, 'Tobar Chinndeirge'. This used to be a famous place of pilgrimage for all of Connaught. "The Stations" are still held here on the 15th of August. We will return from the Aran Islands via Doolin. Time permitting we will stop at the observation deck over the Cliffs of Moher – one of the most imposing natural wonders of Ireland. Transfer to the hotel in County Clare for dinner and overnight.
Day 11: We will start our day with the exploration of another important monastic foundation at Kilmacduagh that was founded in the 7th century by Saint Colman, son of Duagh (hence the name), on a property given to him by his cousin and local king. The monastery was of such importance that it became the centre of a new diocese, the Diocese of Kilmacduagh. After venerating another Holy place, we will continue to the center at Craggaunowen, an archaeological open air museum, very unique and the only one of its kind in Ireland.
It shows what an early medieval crannog – natural or artificial and often fortified island - might have looked like. At the local Craggaunowen Castle that is adjacent to the site there is a museum with various exhibits. On one of them is a replica of the currachs – the leather boat that was most probably used by St. Brandon the Navigator in his voyages across North Atlantic.
The boat in the museum collection is the one that belonged to the team of the famous Tim Severin in his expedition of 1973, which attempted to repeat the journey of St. Brandon as described in the Latin text dating from the ninth century titled “Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot”. Passing the medieval city of Limerick and the pretty village of Adare, we continue on to Killarney located among Kerry’s spectacular mountains and lakes is famous for. Dinner and overnight in Killarney.
Day 12: The Ring of Kerry & The Skelligs. This morning, we embark on a tour of one of Ireland's most popular scenic drives, the Ring of Kerry. Starting in Killarney which is set beside the picturesque lakes at the foot of the Kerry mountains, we continue on to Killorglin, a pretty riverside village famous for the annual horse fair. There will be plenty of stops along the route to admire the views and take photos. Continue through Glenbeigh, with its spectacular views and long sandy beaches and on to Valencia Island where we visit the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre.
Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, the Interpretative Centre blends into the landscape and offers superb views of the fishing port of Portmagee. The centre illustrates four main themes associated with the Skelligs UNESCO World Heritage site using graphics, models, exhibition items and reconstruction. The Centre has an 80 seat auditorium with a 16 minute audio-visual presentation which explains the background of the monastic occupation of the island, as well as the life of the monks that live there. For the more adventurous among the group and subject to suitable weather conditions, we travel 12 km by boat to the Skellig Islands.
From a distance the islands look like floating pyramids of sandstone. Up close they look rugged and uninviting and after a cold and often rough boat trip, there are almost seven hundred steep steps to greet you on your arrival. The tiring climb up the steps is not for the faint hearted. The largest of the Skelligs is Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichil) and was home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland that is preserved practically intact since the seventh century. Returning to the mainland, we travel through Sneem, voted Ireland's tidiest town and certainly one of the prettiest villages, with colourful houses and shops set around a village green and continue on to Killarney. Dinner and overnight in Killarney.
Day 13: Dingle Peninsula. Today a breathtaking landscape will unfold in front of our eyes today as we drive around the Dingle Peninsula before arriving in Dunquin, on the westernmost tip of the peninsula, to visit the Blasket Centre. Here you will discover what life was like on the remote Blasket Islands. This living history museum explores all the dimensions of island-living, from the land, the sea, and the language, to the weather and the seasons, as well as the distinctive character of the Blasket Islanders.
Leaving Dunquin, we arrive at Gallarus Oratory, one of the best-preserved Early Christian church buildings in Ireland that dates approximately to the seventh century. The building suggests, in outline, an inverted boat. Time permitting we will stop at Dunbeag Promontory Fort, one of the most impressive archaeological sites of the Peninsula, that is also believed to be a part of the Christian and possibly monastic settlement. Return to Killarney for dinner and overnight.
Day 14: Leaving Killarney we travel northwards through the rich agricultural lands known as the “Golden Vale” before arriving at Cashel where we visit one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Ireland - The Rock of Cashel which rises dramatically from the flat countryside. This site has the best set of varied monuments in any Irish site. The rock is crowned by a group of buildings, both ecclesiastical and royal, including a round tower, a 13th century Romanesque chapel and the beautifully restored Hall of the Vicar Choral.
Continuing our journey towards Dublin we arrive in Kildare, where we visit St Brigid's Cathedral. The present restored Norman cathedral most likely occupies the site of the original pagan shrine to the goddess Brigid and the later early Christian foundation and church of St. Brigid. As the eighth century document states, St. Brigid was born into a Christian family in 453AD.
The present Cathedral was built by the Norman Bishop Ralph of Bristol in 1223 and continued to serve the people of Kildare through the centuries, though after the Reformation it gradually fell into disrepair and by 1641 it was totally ruined following the Confederate Wars. It was restored to its present glory in the 19th century and has in recent years undergone further restoration. From Kildare we will travel the short distance to Dublin. Dinner and overnight in Dublin.
Day 15: This morning, we travel into Wicklow, “the garden of Ireland” and visit Glendalough, where in the 6th century the Monastery founded by St Kevin became a centre of learning renowned in Europe. Its many early remains are of particular interest, especially the stone-roofed St Kevin's Kitchen, actually St Kevin's Church, so called because of its unusual construction. It appears to combine church, cell and belfry and is a notable example of the early development of Irish church architecture.
Also of interest are The Fine Round Tower, The Great High Cross (St Kevin's Cross) and the remains of the "Seven Churches". An excellent interpretative centre combines an interesting audio visual film with artifacts and information on the site. We return to Dublin through the scenic Wicklow Gap. The remainder of the day is free for some personal sightseeing. Dinner and overnight in Dublin.
Day 16: This morning we travel to Dublin Airport for the return flight to the US.
Important: the itinerary may be adjusted to satisfy the interests of the group to the best extent possible; i.e. services, rest, additional time spent in the most significant places Accessibility of some of the monuments is also subject to weather conditions and restoration works.
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