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Lough Derg Retreats (Pettigo, County Donegal)

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Louygh Derg Retreat, Donegal, Ireland

Louygh Derg Retreat, Donegal, Ireland

Copyright Bernd Biege 2010

The Bottom Line

Lough Derg or Saint Patrick's Purgatory is not a tourist attraction - this is a pilgrimage site strictly open to those seeking meaning and direction (or simply quiet contemplation) only. Visits of the "quick look, photo and away again" kind are definitely discouraged. But for any traveler wanting to experience the spirituality of Ireland Lough Derg (also known as Saint Patrick's Purgatory) is worth serious consideration. Serious in every sense, as the full pilgrimage should not be taken lightly.


  • One of the classic pilgrimage sites of Ireland.
  • Offers pilgrimages, retreats and simple quiet days.
  • A rare spritual experience, but physically demanding.


  • Definitely not an attraction for the average tourist.
  • Three Day Pilgrimage can be gruelling.


  • The islands in Lough Derg have long been connected to Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint.
  • Dubbed "Saint Patrick's Purgatory" the area became a major pilgrimage site in the middle ages.
  • Revived as a pilgrimage site in the 19th and 20th centuries, offering comprehensive pilgrim facilities but little comfort.
  • Three Day Pilgrimage should be undertaken by devoted pilgrims only - definitely not a "fun experience".

Guide Review - Lough Derg Retreats (Pettigo, County Donegal)

Lough Derg, or rather Saint Patrick's Purgatory off the shore, is tantalising near. The ecclesiastical buildings of the island retreat in Lough Derg are usually visible from the southern shore. Here the R233 from Pettigo suddenly ends after taking the traveler northwards through the wilderness for a few miles. And for the occasional visitor this will also mark the end of the journey - unless you are going to the island on a spiritual search you will not be allowed to proceed.

Proceed you should if you are looking to experience the total immersion into Irish spirituality (of the Catholic persuasion).

Lough Derg offers the following options:

  • Three Day Pilgrimages
    This full, classic pilgrimage can be commenced on almost any day between June, July or August and has to be started by fasting from midnight before arrival. Pilgrims must be at least 15 years old and in moderately good health. This pilgrimage involves fasting, walking bare-foot (sometimes through ice-old water), sleep deprivation and frequent kneeling!
  • One Day Retreats
    This is a sort of "Pilgrimage light" with less gruelling conditions, it requires advance booking. Retreat days are in May, August and September.
  • Quiet Days
    Lough Derg also offers simple, quiet days "where you can be all by yourself and rest for a while". Reservations are essential to ensure the correct contemplative atmosphere.

If Lough Derg tempts you, be sure to visit their website - and you might also want to read Pete McCarthy's "McCarthy's Bar" for a very personal description of the full pilgrimage.

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