Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St Patrick's Purgatory

We just visited an island I have wanted to see for 30 years: Station Island on Lough Derg - also known as St Patrick's Purgatory.

Access is normally granted only to those coming to perform a pilgrimage. But that was waived for the day. We are in the area for a family reunion, the Flood family, and my wife is descended from the Floods of Pettigoe. We were allowed a day visit to the island because the Floods were the boatman to Station Island for many years, ferrying pilgrims back and forth to the island in what was thought to be the largest rowing boat in the world - seating 150 people. But these days large motor boats like the St Columba (first photo) take pilgrims to the island.

The Basilica is beautiful (second photo), but for me the highlight was seeing the Penitential Beds, which lie below the tree in the second photo. To me they are the heart of the island, a cluster of six beehive cells (only their foundations remain). They are built on the side of a large mound topped by a bell tower (third photo). Buried under the mound is St Patrick's Purgatory, a cavern where tradition has it Christ showed St Patrick the entrance to hell. Pilgrims up into the 1700s would come to the island to spend the night in the cave.

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