Accepted Paper:

Protestant pilgrimage in Ireland: reclaiming ancient Christian pathways and exploring new tracks  


Attracta Brownlee (National University of Ireland Maynooth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the conceptual underpinnings of Protestant pilgrimage. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the west of Ireland, the historical, theological, political and sociocultural dimensions of pilgrimage are grounded in analysis of contemporary Irish Protestant identity and spirituality.

Paper long abstract:

While pilgrimage in Ireland is often regarded as a practice strongly connected with the Catholic Church, there is a growing awareness of a trend towards pilgrimage among Protestant denominations. Yet, what are the tensions surrounding the terminology and concept of pilgrimage, and what does the act of walking on pilgrimage mean to Irish Protestants? The multivocal nature of Protestant pilgrimage in the context of travelling to and from places for spiritual purposes requires deeper analysis.

In Ireland, the association of Catholicism with many Irish pilgrimage sites such as wells, mountains and ancient Celtic monastic sites is clearly visible. One cannot ignore, for instance, the abundance of Marian imagery or the votive offerings at many sacred sites. In this paper, the ways in which Protestants negotiate a pilgrimage landscape overlaid with the material culture and symbols of Catholicism, and how ancient sacred sites are re-imagined will be explored. These negotiations and re-framings can range from a desire to reconnect with the Christianity of the ancient Celtic church to an eschewing of pilgrimage in Ireland in favour of a more 'authentic' Protestant pilgrimage to foreign shores.

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Walking back to happiness? Protestant pilgrimage in relation to utopias, realities and heritages