Shillelagh to Conegal—End of the Wicklow Way
What was supposed to be an easy day to end the Wicklow Way’s final twelve miles turned into a bit of a lesson. The way is not marked as well south from Glendalough to Clonegal as the first three days north of the holy monastic ruins. Today that fact caught up with me.
To start the morning, I walked up the sharp incline of Stooken Mountain that revealed a spectacular view of the valley where Shillelagh resides. And yes, Shillelagh is where the Shillelagh Sticks are made. We stayed at Liam Kelay’s B&B and he is a maker of the famous fighting and walking sticks, which he told us he sells world wide.
Except for lumber lorries I didn’t see anyone until Moylisha Hill. I have taken to the idea in Ireland the descriptor “hill” equates to “the wind will be blowing.” Though, today wasn’t as bad as White Hill. In fact, the wind dried out the moisture on my boots and pants I had collected from walking through a few miles of very damp grassy lanes. Just before leaving the Hill I encountered two young adults from Sweden. Today was their first day on the walk and they were curious about what was ahead. The conversation reminded of many of my daily conversations at home. Yes, I am the guy with the grey hair and the experience, thank you very much. I call it a gentler name, “spiritual direction.”
Through some mild trekking I entered the Newry Forrest. Shortly into the path I had the feeling I had missed a marker somewhere. I had passed two junctures and had not seen a Way marker. Even for a poorly marked walk, this was unusual. After a mile or more, I decided to back track to the last marker I had seen. A mile back I saw I had missed a marker turning up a small forest path. This will be a good reminder for me tomorrow to pay extraordinary attention when I start walking the South Leinster Way, a very sparsely marked trail. The best part of my “extra” journey was I didn’t get upset or even frustrated, it was simply a matter of getting myself back on track. For me, this was a good response to the type of things that usually send me over the top. I do pray this lesson follows me home.
Finishing the Wicklow Way in Clonegal had a few very pleasant surprises. The Way ends at the foot of St. Brigid’s Church. Just outside the path to the church is a shrine to St. Mary and St. Brigid. I have been praying to Our Lady of Perpetual Help each morning. I was blessed to see her greet me at the end of the Way. I was also able to get a certificate at O’Connor’s Pub acknowledging my completion of the 131-kilometer (82 mile) walk. To top off the day we had a marvelous meal at the award winning restaurant Sha-Ro Bistro. Who knew a village of a few hundred Irishman would entertain an internationally acclaimed fine dinning establishment.
Tomorrow begins another leg of the pilgrimage. The path of life is full of junctures and “Y’s” in the road. In a way, like life, I am putting away the map of an easier trek and pulling out the road markings for a more difficult walk. I’m sure I’ll get off track a few times, but I’ve learned some lessons that will serve me well on the rest of my pilgrimage.
Priest, pilgrim, writer, alchemist—living into the mystery, the knowledge, and the practice of sacred alchemy. I've walked across Ireland, almost 400 miles of mountains, valleys, forests, and magic. The pilgrimage was a mirror of my life's journey, coach, president, priest. Traveler of the life's struggles—from failure to re-imagination—still walking.