Lough Derg in Donegal has been a site of Christian pilgrimage for well over a thousand years. In the 1350s the Hungarian adventurer George Grissaphan crossed the European continent to visit the internationally renowned island on Lough Derg. While site is still popular among Catholics, numbers have fallen since the decline of the Catholic Church in the 1990s.

Today the regime has been somewhat relaxed, but in the 1940s the pilgrimage came with a serious health warning. Sleep deprivation, starvation and constant praying for three days were all part of the experience.


Lough Derg Application & Rules 1941

The pilgrimage began by fasting from 12 midnight on the day the pilgrim traveled to Donegal. Boats took the already hungry visitors to the island site on arrival in Donegal and once there the a series of masses, private prayer and rituals began.

A vigil was maintained through out that first night. Sleep was forbidden before 9-30 p.m the following evening. To maintain a culture of deprivation attendees were advised to ‘bring warm but old old clothing’. The luxury of a rug presumably to kneel on while praying was forbidden.Indeed pilgrims usually discarded the luxury of shoes as well.While enduring these hardships food was limited to one meal of black tea and black bread each day. Surprisingly the death of a pilgrim in 1937 was reportedly the first of its kind.

Crazy as this may sound to many Lough Derg was highly popular among my parents generation, indeed the pilgrimage still continues today. While its still pretty hardcore it has been toned down.

These days you can avail of a streamlined one day version (read all about it on their website). On the three day pilgrimage meals still consist of tea and dry toast but soft drinks are now permitted on the third day. Today pilgrims can even bring ‘warm and waterproof clothing, change of clothing, towel & toiletries’. A 24 hour vigil is still maintained for the first night but you are allowed rest between 7-30 and 9 pm that evening.

Have you done the pilgrimage? Did you find it a positive or negative experience?



4 comments on “Sleep Deprivation & Starvation. Could you handle the Lough Derg pilgrimage?

  1. Shane Jenkinson on

    I remember my Gran doing it, maybe 20 years ago now, but she fell asleep at the wheel driving home from it and crashed into the back of a merc. No one seriously hurt but the Micra’s days were numbered


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