From Whitsunday to the Feast of the Assumption (June to mid-August), tens of thousands beat a path to the shores of Lough Derg, ringed by heather-clad slopes. In the center of the lake, Station Island—known as St. Patrick's Purgatory (the saint is said to have fasted here for 40 days and nights)—is one of Ireland's most popular pilgrimage sites and a haven for those seeking spiritual renewal. It's also the most rigorous and austere of such sites in the country. Pilgrims
stay on the island for three days without sleeping, and ingest only black tea and dry toast. They pay €70 to walk barefoot around the island, on its flinty stones and pray at a succession of shrines. Non-pilgrims may not visit the island from June to mid-August. You can also visit the island for a "Quiet Day" trip (10–4) that costs €40 including the boat journey and lunch. In the Basilica of St. Patrick's Purgatory look out for the astonishing work of the Irish stained-glass artist Harry Clarke whose 14 windows feature the apostles, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary. To find out how to become a pilgrim, write to the Reverend Prior. To reach the shores of Lough Derg, turn off the main N15 Sligo–Donegal road in the village of Laghy on to the minor R232 Pettigo road, which hauls itself over the Black Gap and descends sharply into the border village of Pettigo, about 21 km (13 miles) from N15. From here, take the Lough Derg access road for 8 km (5 miles). During pilgrim season, buses connect Pettigo with Ballyshannon and Enniskillen from Thursday to Monday. There are no services on Tuesday or Wednesday. It's a 30-minute journey from both towns and the return taxi fare is €30. There is also a direct Bus Éireann service in the Pilgrim Season from Dublin to Lough Derg from Thursday to Monday. Journey time is just over four hours.
Pettigo, Co. Donegal, Ireland