Taking time together as a family at Lough Derg is a 'very precious thing'
Family connections run deep with Lough Derg
THE team at Lough Derg reckon that since St Patrick first established Station Island as a place of pilgrimage in the fifth century, more than 50 generations of Irish families have sought its spiritual refreshment.
Fr Owen McEneaney, the Prior of Lough Derg, said the pilgrimage offered families a unique connection with their ancestors' "spiritual footsteps" and the chance to "walk the same ground where parents, grandparents and relations walked and prayed".
"From the time of St Patrick right up to today, experiencing this communion of love at the heart of God has a particular resonance for pilgrims to Lough Derg, leaving the island as they often do with a deep, deep sense of God's presence, closeness and love," he said.
"It is as if they have been taken into the communion of love that is Father, Son and Spirit.
"If you have thought about coming to Lough Derg but never managed to get here, or if you have been here in the past and thought you will come back some day, then let that 'some day' be this year.
"It is our hope that you will say 'yes' and come as you are - come home to the love of God's family and connect with your family."
One family for whom Lough Derg holds a special place is the MacAllisters from Belfast.
They made the pilgrimage last month, experiencing a one-day retreat, and, as Paul MacAllister explained, it was a "very precious thing" to do it as a family group.
"I started to come here when I was in my mid-teens with the school and then twice in succession in 1994 when my father passed away," he said.
"Since then I've done it around seven times and then we started to come on the one-day retreats, primarily to bring Mum back to the Island as she wasn't able for the challenge of the three days any more.
"Mum did the pilgrimage some 15-20 times from memory and I do know that my father did it 26 times, God rest him."
Mrs MacAllister, who celebrates her 92nd birthday this year, first did the pilgrimage when she was in her teens, and it was her husband who established a tradition of being on Lough Derg at the start of June.
"There is a history of my family coming to the Island and it was always my father's wish that all of us - the six children - would do the pilgrimage together," said Mr MacAllister.
"Sadly that didn't happen. though I know that he did it with my three sisters."
Mr MacAllister said he had come to Lough Derg this year with his family, some friends and a work colleague from Scotland for "an opportunity for us all to be together".
"For me, it's the only place I have ever found on God's earth where time doesn't necessarily stand still, but it slows down," he said.
"That is a very precious thing for me in an otherwise very busy working life.
"Another reason I make a point of being on Lough Derg is to give thanks - I am happily married and have lovely children who are all in good health.
"Finally, the third reason is that it just seems like the right thing to do. It is hard to sum up this place in a few words, but it's a place I will continue to come back to."
It was, he said, important to be on Lough Derg with his mother "and listening to her remembering her experience of her time on the Island - she remembers every little thing about the pilgrimage even now in her twilight years".
"To spend a whole day with her in this connected place is a very precious thing," he said.
- With the World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin next year, the Lough Derg team is extending an invitation to "family groups, the parish family and the diocesan family" to come to the island to prepare for this occasion, "to be part of the unbroken link of Lough Derg as a place of continuous prayer for families over the generations".
- More information by telephoning 00353 (0) 71 9861518 between 8am and 9pm during June, July and August or from www.loughderg.org.