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Group of pilgrims walking 137 miles to reach papal Mass

More than 20 pilgrims are taking part in a gruelling 137-mile (220-kilometre) hike across Ireland to make it to the papal mass this weekend.

The group are half way through their 11-day hike to Dublin which started off in Nenagh in Co Tipperary.

Aged from 18 to 73 years old, the walkers from Aonach ar Siul (Nenagh Walking Club) cover an average of 15.5 miles (25 kilometres) every day, armed with Vatican flags and good walking boots.

The walking group will pass through towns and villages across the country, stopping off at a number of monastic sites, visiting Ireland’s oldest Catholic church and local communities before making their way to Dublin on Sunday morning for the papal mass in Phoenix Park.

Leading the group is Donie Mackey, from Nenagh, who explained the idea behind the pilgrimage.

“This is a way to see our heritage and to meet the local people and to enjoy ourselves along the way,” he said.

“There have been very few challenges along the way. We go in to local communities, have a cup of tea and we join in with the community.

“Each individual walks for themselves, there’s no-one telling them how fast or slow to walk.

“We get a bus back to Nenagh each night which means we are sleeping in our own beds and get a good rest before starting fresh in the morning from where we ended the night before.

“We hope to arrive in Inchicore in Dublin on Saturday evening then head home and come back on Sunday morning and walk the two and a half miles (four kilometres) to Phoenix Park in time for the papal mass.

“The will will carry us there.”

For Patricia Finn, this will be her second time seeing a pope in Ireland after travelling to Limerick for St John Paul II’s visit in 1979.

Explaining her reason for the epic walk, she said: “I wanted to do this for lots of reasons, mostly for myself, then to join in with neighbours and friends who are walking to bring a big failte (welcome) to the pope and for the joy of coming through all the different communities.

“This event is about families and about community.

“We are taking each day as it comes.”

Willie Keane, also from Nenagh, said taking part in the pilgrimage and walking is like “food for the soul”.

He added: “That’s exactly what we have encountered on this journey – we are going back to the simple things.

“The pope is coming and we want to celebrate that, it’s a joyous occasion.

“As we walk along each person can take time to reflect, we are getting away from our mobile phones and touching the earth and connecting with nature. That’s priceless.

“There is no hardship in this. We are seeing the hidden Ireland, it’s magic.

“Every town we go to there’s a different story to tell and while our journey is a simple one, communities are responding.”

Picture: Members of Aonach ar Siul (Nenagh Walking Club) walk the Grand Canal Way, Ballycommon, Offaly, as part of their 220km 11-day hike culminating in the Phoenix Park in Dublin on Sunday to coincide with the Papal mass. (Brian Lawless/PA).

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