Ireland as we all know is famous for its Guinness, friendly people and beautiful rolling green pastures, but perhaps today we forget that Ireland was once known as the land of saints and scholars. In fact, this small land on the edge of Europe, has bred so many saints, that many left to Christianise the rest of Europe, while those who stayed undoubtedly shaped our beautiful country to what it is today. Here at Irelandways.com we will now delve into the stories of 3 of our most famous saints spanning the 4 corners of the country.
Saint Patrick and The Western Way/ The Great Western Greenway
St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint and is probably the most well-known internationally. Saint Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. Legend has it also, if you believe it, that Ireland is serpent free because of Saint Patrick. Each year on March 17th, Saint Patricks Day is celebrated here in Ireland and in many countries around the world. Many places around Ireland are named after Saint Patrick, however probably the most notable place is Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Known as Ireland’s Holy Mountain. St. Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days and nights on the summit during lent, and a small oratory was built back in 600 AD to mark this. Today, a small chapel built in 1905 remains on the summit. If you wish to walk in the footsteps of Ireland’s most famous saint, the climb of Croagh Patrick is an optional day and just a short step from Westport, a town on the Western Way and the Great Western Greenway.
Saint Brigid on the Barrow Way
Saint Brigid, Ireland’s female patron saint, born in Louth in 450AD, dedicated her life to the care of the poor, sick and elderly. St. Brigid, also known as ‘Muire ne nGael’ which means ‘Our Lady of the Irish’, lived during the time of Saint Patrick. She is strongly associated with the county of Kildare and set up many convents countrywide but most notably in county Kildare. As the legend goes, when looking for land from the King of Leinster to build her convent, Brigid had to ask god to make the king understanding to her needs. The king declined her request so Brigid asked for as much land as her modest cloak could cover, the king accepted and was awestruck as her cloak expanded to cover many acres of land in every direction. The king converted to Christianity in response to the miracle of the cloak and Brigids convents were built, the most notable being the one in the town of Kildare.
The St. Brigids cross made of pulled rushes became the symbol of Saint Brigid. Each year across the land, it is customary for a cross to be made and the previous year’s cross to be burned to protect the house from fire and evil. Each year on February 1st, St Brigids day is celebrated. The Barrow Way, starting in the town of Athy in county Kildare, will lead you through the countryside where St. Brigid once lived.
St Kevin on the Wicklow Way
Saint Kevin (or Chaoimhin) born in Wicklow to a wealthy family in 498, turned his back on a life of privilege and spent his life in solitary prayer and contemplation in the valley of Glendalough. It wasn’t until after his death in AD 618, at 120 years old, that the famous monastic site was founded from his humble hermit’s retreat. The site that remained became a centre of learning where monks would copy holy manuscripts and look after the sick. It quickly became a destination of pilgrimage for many early Christians and still attracts visitors to this day.
Many legends abound about the life of Saint Kevin, many of which refer to his love of nature. It is said that one day a bird laid an egg in St. Kevin’s open hand during prayer and he is supposed to have kept completely still until the bird had hatched.
If you wish to check out the beauty of the Glendalough Valley, including the beautifully preserved round tower as well as views of St. Kevin’s bed, contemplate our Wicklow Way walking route, you won’t be disappointed.
For more information on any of our walking or cycling holidays in Ireland please contact one of our travel specialists.