Lynette Fay: I salute anyone who can 'do Lough Derg' more than once

I remember kneeling in the Basilica at 4 am in the morning, asking myself some serious questions. I also got very excited in the middle of the night when someone mentioned Lough Derg soup. I was very hungry and the idea of soup got me very excited; it was short-lived

Lough Derg has long been a place of pilgrimage – but not this year
Lynette Fay

THEY say that anyone who completes the pilgrimage three times will go straight to heaven; they deserve this express route. I have done it once, but I have no idea why I ever decided to 'do' Lough Derg.

For the uninitiated, 'doing' Lough Derg equates to starving yourself of food and sleep for a weekend, walking around a rain and wind battered isolated island barefoot, kneeling on rocks and cold floors, and praying – a lot. This is done in the name of cleansing the soul.

The fast for Lough Derg starts at midnight the night before you make your way to the island. We drove to Pettigo, boarded the boat. The pilgrimage had started. Mummy had been a few times, and seemed to get a lot out of it, so I convinced myself that I might too. I had no idea what lay ahead, or what I was seeking from it.

I didn't know until a long time after that. There are a lot of masses, a lot of rosaries, Stations of the Cross, and a lot of silence. It rained through the night on the Friday and the winds were strong. There is no shelter on the island, apart from the freezing Basilica, which we circled for hours, going indoors occasionally.

I remember kneeling in the Basilica at 4am, asking myself some serious questions. I also got very excited in the middle of the night when someone mentioned Lough Derg soup. I was very hungry and the idea of soup got me very excited; it was short-lived. Lough Derg soup is hot water with added salt and pepper – for seasoning. Of course it is!

Next morning, we made our way to the canteen for a 'breakfast' of dry toast, oatcakes and black coffee and tea. All I could smell was the delicious aroma of bacon wafting across from the seminary, where the priests reside. That might have been the worst penance of the whole weekend.

The sun shone for a while on the Saturday afternoon. Mummy and I were outside chatting and I was half lying on a mound of grass when one pilgrim approached me to remind me that "ah there's no snoozing now, you wouldn't want to be cheating, would you?". She was a Jenny, the prefect in Derry Girls sort of character.

Little did she know, I had a sneaky snooze on the Saturday morning and didn't go to confessions – for which I am not sorry. I underestimated just how much I need sleep. I couldn't have finished out the weekend otherwise.

After mass on the Saturday evening, we were permitted to go to bed. We slept in open dormitories. The prospect of a full night's sleep had me ecstatic. I was just falling asleep, and then it started: the snoring. I wrongly accused Mummy of the crime, only to realise that a woman in the next cubicle was the culprit.

I cancelled any soul cleansing I had done with the thoughts and language that were racing through my mind. I couldn't wait to get up the next day, get off that island and home to my own bed.

That weekend tested me in every way. I didn't completely fail, but I was far from the perfect pilgrim.

No one will be 'doing' Lough Derg this year, due to Covid-19. Pilgrims are encouraged to do it themselves in their own time, at home. Whether at home or on the island, I salute anyone who can 'do Lough Derg' more than once.


I DON'T know whether to blame Covid or pregnancy, but I am out of shape, unfit and lethargic. Lack of sleep, lack of routine and spending too much time in the house have definitely not helped.

Every Monday for the last two months, I have tried to kick-start a healthier routine – and try to incorporate both exercise and healthy eating into every day. Every week I have failed, because I have been setting the bar too high. I have been literally trying to run before I can walk.

In an effort to set an achievable goal, this month I have decided to do 20 minutes of some sort of exercise every day in July. Stretching, walking, and eventually, I might run at the end of the month.

In order to hold myself accountable, I will document this on the radio every day and on Instagram stories.

You're welcome to join me: #20minsaday – it can't be that difficult, can it?

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