Gougane Barra Pilgrimage  2004

From time immemorial, mankind has made his way to sacred places - to Rome, Jerusalem, St. James De Compestella, and nearer to home, Lough Derg, Croke Patrick and St. Gobnait’s. In our own Parish we have Gougane Barra, perhaps amongst the most majestic and humbling of all of our shrines. Perhaps the arrival of the miracles of Science coincided with a general disbelief in the miracles of Religion and led to the demise of pilgrimage. However, in the case of internationally famous Gougane Barra, the pendulum has now swung its arc and begins to swing back.

Beginning some fifteen years ago, Paddy Cronin, (who moved from Gougane to Kilgarvan fifty years ago) revived the Pilgrim’s Route from Kerry on Gougane Sunday. This year, on September 25th, Sean Cronin, Clohina, Kilnamartyra, - a cousin of Paddys – organized a walk from the ‘Lost Valley’ to Gougane, over Dooneens and Cloch Bharrach.

The walk began at noon at Jerry Shea’s cross. Setting off through the forestry and with kind permission, through Mike Twomey’s gate, following the lane and almost travelling back in time from the forestry with its even rows of sameness to an open land, shaped by the hand of nature and God and painstakingly honed by the hand of man over centuries.

On our left Damhas and Douchaill reared up, reminding the fifty or so walkers who set out that this was the same scene which greeted Saint Finbarr when he was reputed to have passed this way when first journeying to Gougane. We  passed Mike and Bina Twomey’s yard, white-washed, traditional, and ‘slachtmhar’, folded into the land and built to withstand the rages of the elements. The road curved and wound around the mountain, after a mile of so beginning to descend. On the valley floor, Keimineagh’s fields, their flat and regular lines a complete contrast to the land we were passing through, becoming visible.

We reached Pat and Betty Twomey’s; an ivy-covered stone the size and height of the house fifty feet from the front door sheltered another one hundred people, including Bishop Buckley, who joined the walk and after prayers and hospitality extended by the Twomey family we left to complete the six miles to Gougan arriving a little after three.

Walking towards the Island I remembered when we were small and standings along the lake edge would have sold toys, sweets and happiness for small boys seeking squirting guns. A hundred years before a carnival atmosphere with tents provided for those travelling from Kerry, stretched along the lake shore towards the present day National Park. At that time the pilgrim routes would also have come from the East - Liosbui, Inchigeela and Macroom, and from the West – Borlin, Kealkil and the Maolach Valley east of Bantry, as well as North and South. Conversation and crack, food and drink, fights and animals would have made the atmosphere like that of today’s Ballingeary Show rather than the calm hour before the quick spin home to get the second half of the match, like today. 

For centuries Gougane has been a draw for people seeking peace and renewal and also for those seeking just a good time. At various times it has witnessed faction fights, penitents, outlaws, ascetics, tourists, traders and pilgrims by the thousands.

A corrie lake holds the island upon which stands the Oratory and Cells, the centre piece of grandeur.


(Photos by Connie Cronin, Graigue, who has a photographic shop in The Square , Macroom.)


Photo M,         Walkers on the way to Gougane

Photo N,          Mike Twomey and his nephew Finbarr Twomey

Photo O           The Twomey Clan and guests beneath Cloghbharrach

Photo P           One of St. Finbarr’s successors, Bishop John Buckley follows in the Saints footsteps. The imprint of St. Finbarr’s shoes and staff can be seen on the rock. Cloghbarrach means “the rock of Finbarr”.

Photo Q           Some of the people who too part in the pilgrimage next to Gougane Barra Lake