Driving down a road in Ireland, you are likely to encounter ruins of a historic monastery or a castle with sheep casually grazing nearby. The frequent juxtaposition of the ancient with daily life in Ireland illustrates the close connection between the Emerald Isle and its past. Faith-based groups with a love of history, nature and pilgrimage sites will revel in Ireland’s bountiful supply of each.
Ireland’s inhabitants converted to Christianity after St. Patrick and other missionaries came to spread the faith during the fifth century. Today, church groups can follow the footsteps of St. Patrick across Ireland, examine medieval bibles, climb a holy mountain and stand where villagers reported religious apparitions in 1879.
Ireland’s long history with Anglican and Catholic worshipers led to the construction of many revered churches over the years, with Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral among the most visited. The western coast’s charming towns and breathtaking scenery encourage many tourists to explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way to admire some of the route’s most celebrated views. Ancient monasteries and churches line the popular Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula.
Even without the religious sites, visitors often feel the power of God simply by gazing at the country’s dramatic rocky coastlines and verdant green landscapes.
Top Attractions for Church Groups
• Legend of St. Patrick — Known as the Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Churches, the Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Patrick lived a fascinating life. According to legend, Irish pirates captured him at 16 years old. After his eventual escape, he returned to Ireland as a celebrated missionary.
• Trinity College Dublin and the Book of Kells — Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin boasts several famed Irish authors, including Jonathan Swift, as former students. The college also contains a display area for the Book of Kells and other ancient texts. Celtic monks transcribed the Book of Kells’ illuminated manuscripts of the four Gospels around A.D. 800.
• Glendalough Monastic Site — St. Kevin, a hermit priest, founded a medieval monastic settlement in Glendalough in the sixth century. Today, groups can learn about the site’s reputation as a haven for scholars and see the haunting beauty of the monastery’s architectural remain
• Knock Shrine — A small parish church community in northwest Ireland changed forever in 1879 when a group of people, whose ages ranged from 5 to 75, claimed to have seen apparitions of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. More than 1.5 million pilgrims visit the shrine annually.
• Clonmacnoise — An ancient monastic site in central Ireland, Clonmacnoise paints a picture of early Christian life in Ireland with the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers and a large collections of early Christian gravestone slabs. A visitors center offers exhibits on the history of the site and how it changed through the centuries.
• Croagh Patrick — Though its religious significance dates to the pagans, Croagh Patrick became a Christian holy site when St. Patrick fasted at the peak of the mountain for 40 days in A.D. 441. Groups can drive to the visitor’s center before joining the 1 million annual pilgrims who follow a footpath to the summit.
Must-Have Experiences Around Ireland
Must-Do: Listen to live music in a traditional Irish pub. Visitors not only come for the toe-tapping tunes but also delight in sipping a pint of beer, dining on fish and chips, and chatting with friendly locals.
Must-Taste: Start each day with a traditional Irish breakfast consisting of tea, bacon, pork sausages, fried eggs, black pudding, toast and fried tomatoes.
Bring it Home: Purchase a traditional Aran sweater, a pair of gloves or a scarf. These knitted souvenirs are sold in shops across Ireland as a stylish way to stay warm.
Photo Op: With dark rocks jetting 700 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs of Moher earn their place as one of the most spectacular views in all of Ireland.