Five of our pilgrims walked the 14 miles from Shillalagh to Clonegal on sheer will. They were determined to finish the last leg of the Wicklow Way. Motivated by the year they had spent in preparation, the money it cost to go on pilgrimage, and their personal desire to drink deeply from the spirits of transformation, they walked despite being in severe pain. They also wanted to taste the best Guinness ever. No beer tastes better than one drank in celebration of the completion of the Wicklow Way at Osbourne's Pub. The pub has been in existence since the mid-1700's, right next to the public hanging stone. At Osbourne's, once you purchase your first pint of course, they will print an official certification of completion. As fine as the certificate is, however, the pictures in front of the Wicklow Way sign in Clonegal are the best.
My first complete Wicklow, which was in 2012, I finished alone. Then the next day I started the South Leinster Way and another 250 miles in my walk of Ireland coast-to-coast. My feelings that day were mixed. Yes, I had completed the famous Wicklow Way, but my journey still had 16 walking days ahead. While I was tired, I would not know what being fully spent was to mean.
Finishing the walk today was an unexpectedly emotional experience. For one, Cathy finished the walk that seemed near impossible. In the last few months she endured diverticulitis, then a broken toe. On this day she woke barely able to walk. Her knee buckled at every step. Somehow within the next few hours she gained enough strength to decide to walk the day's 14 miles. She finished in jubilation just yards behind the rest of our pilgrims. Our daughter and son-in-law became her full support team, telling her stories, jokes, and singing songs to distract her. I am deeply grateful for their love and caring spirit.
The other emotional part of the finish for me was to watch the delightful glee on the faces of our other pilgrims. Each carried their own burdens, heavy packs, blisters, painful feet that would have stopped most others, and damaged knees that would make the strong flinch, none of these obstacles was enough to deter these courageous souls. They walked their personal pilgrimage with steady determination. At the finish, they shouted in jubilation, gave each other bear hugs, high-fives, did push-ups in full pack, took pictures, and shed tears of joy. My tears felt good.
The Wicklow Way is a mighty test of endurance, strength, and will. The mystic trail lures many but few take the challenge. The unpredictable weather and the grueling hills are not to be taken lightly. To my fellow pilgrims, I love you, one and all. Be well. Travel home safe. Know that the work continues. The pilgrimage is not over. Keep walking.