The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, have begun a three-day joint walk from St Columba’s birthplace at Gartan, in Donegal, to St Augustine’s Church in Derry-Londonderry (which is believed to be the site of a sixth century monastery founded by Saint Columba).
The bishops say the 34-mile walk will promote reconciliation in the community and highlight their shared Christian witness and heritage. The pilgrimage began with breakfast at the Gartan home of Church of Ireland parishioner Mrs Fanny Russell. The two church leaders then set off for Gartan National School, where they prayed with pupils and listened to a number of musical performances by the children.
Staff and pupils from the school accompanied the clergymen on the walk to St Columba’s Church of Ireland in Churchhill. They were joined along the route by pupils from Stramore School. Canon Brian Smeaton and Father Michael McKeever led the congregation in an act of worship, thanking Bishop Good and Bishop McKeown for their Christian leadership. Both men were presented with Columban icons to acknowledge their visit.
The bishops’ initiative will resume on Friday with a joint walk from St Eunan’s Cathedral, Letterkenny to St Aengus’ Roman Catholic Church, Burt and finish on Saturday when the clergymen will walk from Burt to Saint Augustine’s Church in Londonderry. As they proceed, the bishops will meet people and visit places along the route, and pray with parishioners in local churches.
Saint Columba’s last recorded words to his community on Iona – ‘Preserve with each other sincere charity and peace’ – are inscribed on the large cross marking his birthplace in Gartan, which the bishops visited on Thursday morning. They have chosen the inscription as the guiding theme for their pilgrimages, which will also include a trip to Iona in June and a couple of joint walks in Counties Derry and Tyrone in September.
(NOTE: additional photos provided by Michele Sheridan, Pamela Russell and Mary Gamble).