The Cooley Camino
Anyone who has walked the Camino will recall presenting their pilgrim's passport in the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago. One of the questions asked there is "Where did you start your Camino?" For myself the answer was "St James Gate, Dublin", listening to that title being read out at the Pilgrim’s noon Mass the following day, brought an additional smile to my features. It also started a stream of thought about where else in Ireland, I might have started or where others did start from in the past and have since learned of a few but especially one.
I happen to live in the beautiful Cooley Peninsula, where there are substantial connections with St James. The first such is, that besides being the patron saint of Spain, St James is also the patron saint of all who live in Cooley. This arose from a local legend, that St James appeared one night in medieval times, to pray for the souls of all in Cooley, with some evidence of this to be found at the holy well named in his honour.
Nearby is Templetown, which received its name from the presence of the Knights Templar, this monastic-warrior brotherhood, most famous for their activity during the Crusades. They discouraged pilgrims from carrying valuables and the Templars developed a system, whereby these could be deposited in their nearest Templar Church and the funds could be accessed along the route using an encrypted document for identification. Could this be the origin of the pilgrim’s passport?
Right in the middle of Templetown, lie the ruins of the Templar Church, Coill Mhuire, standing in sight of Ballug Castle, built by them on lands granted in 1180. From the walls of Coill Mhuire, looking west along the Iron Age “Wolf’s Path”, your line of sight is led to St James’ Church, Grange, one of the oldest Catholic Churches in Ireland created in 1762 and following the same line brings your eye up to Bearnavave, ‘Maeve’s Gap’ from the legend ‘Tain Bo Cuailngne’. Dramatic scenery. The port of Carlingford is nearby, a major port in medieval Ireland.
I am currently researching my contention, that in this area, in earlier times, a pilgrim of Anglo-Norman descent could securely travel the coastal route to Templetown, while those pilgrims from Gaelic Ulster had to take the more scenic but for them, a more secure route leading from the Gap of the North, then across the higher ridge paths of the Cooley’s, onto Bearnavave and the Grange/Templetown area, before continuing along to St James’ Well and Carlingford.
There is great potential here for would be pilgrims, to practice a half day’s moderate walking, testing their stamina and gear, listening to some great stories, in the context of an ancient Irish contribution to walking the Camino and maybe/hopefully, in the future we can get a sella stamping ‘Cooley’ on the pilgrim’s passport.