Pilgrimage …………in search of Reason or Unreason

I listened to one of our congregation give a Sunday address on the subject of pilgrimage a few weeks ago. In it she referred to members of the congregation who had recently “bucked the trend” and embarked on personal pilgrimages, I was one of those people, together with Sinead and Pauline. We made a journey to Boston, Concord, Walden Pond and other places in New England closely associated with Unitarian thinkers and activists.

Pilgrimage is not usually a term one might associate with Unitarians. One hardly thinks of us outside of the realms of reason and logic. Yet Michael Servitus may have been on a form of pilgrimage in search of personal freedom as he walked from Spain into France and onward.

For me this is a word resonant with life, with meaning, with purpose, with freedom. I am constantly in a state of pilgrimage. A dictionary would refer to pilgrimage as “a long journey or search of great moral significance.” I want to explain explore what those few words mean to me.

I have written and spoken before of the experience of walking the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail and how it resonated with me as I explored that sacred landscape.

However it is important for me to make clear that that trail is only one of many that animate me with the possibility of the spiritual. I am constantly returning to places, more often long trails where in the words of TS Eliot:

“We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”


I believe that herein lies the secret of a spiritual life or as near as one can get to that ideal. Exploring the lonely roads of Mayo as Raiftery an file did in the 18th century, I wander along lost in personal reverie. This is but a metaphor for a personal search for meaning.

Recently I walked from Bellacorick [there was a peat burning power station there from 1956 till a year or so ago] to Ballycastle on the North Mayo coast, to Buntrahir bay where the ancient peoples who lived at Ceide Fields may well have come ashore, after their long journey from what we now call Brittany in Northern France.
This was a hike through Ireland’s “Big sky Country” over 26 kilometres of lonely forestry tracks and over open bogland, by Sheskin Lodge where once the Jameson Whiskey family held summer parties for huntsmen and family friends. Today it sprawls in semi ruin, like Shelly’s Ozymandias, and I am “the Traveler from an antique land” who relates it’s tale to himself.

There is reason there is no reason, like a demented Beckett character I mull over many rational and irrational ideas as I traipse along free from all human connection, from responsibility, from all responsibility, from reason, from freedom, from tolerance. From a time I am at one with myself, with nature, with the immediacy of my small universe, I am Unitarian manifested. Do I arrive at any great resolution? No! but the process is all. For me it is my Unitarianism.

This is the closest I will ever get to epiphany, to considering, to accepting that there may be something beyond good and evil, beyond this existence. My agnosticism wavers for a moment and I experience the delight of the instant, the possibility of god….. The possibility that I……….. or more correctly that we …….. are god.

This occurs, where I can walk unhindered, my thoughts unfettered, free to go where they will. This is my pilgrimage.


About the Author:

Joe is an author, poet, historian, and guided walks consultant. He lives in Newport, Co. Mayo. Scriptwriter and presenter of “Old Port to Newport”, Joe McDermott is the author of a number of fiction and non-fiction books including Sheegorey (historical fiction), the History of St. Mary’s Hospital, Castlebar, as well as hiking guide books such as The Western Way, The Bangor Trail, and The Foxford Way.