The Columban Way – this new Irish camino could become a 6,000km European hiking trail

You know the Camino, but have you heard of Ireland’s Columban Way?

It’s a new pilgrim-inspired trail that emerged about 1,500 years ago. Last week football legend Paul McGrath launched an early stage – a 45km culture and heritage trail that follows the footsteps of St Columbanus through Carlow.

St Columbanus was a monk born at the foot of Mount Leinster in the 6th Century and the newly signposted route winds from the Nine Stones there to Myshall Village, Bagnelstown, Leighlinbridge, Carlow and the Kildare border.

Two feeder routes from Bunclody and St Mullins are also signposted. Future hopes are to continue through eight boroughs and follow a 530km route to Bangor, Co Down (a 32km route here is already marked from Comber).

“It’s not about where you’re going, it’s about the journey itself,” said McGrath, an avid hiker and mental health advocate, at the launch.

That was true for me. As we emerge from the pandemic, people will be walking for many reasons – for well-being, to settle in, for Covid-safe breaks, or for slower, more sustainable travel.


Paul McGrath with members of the local community in Co. Carlow. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

Hiking is a gentle adventure that can appeal to all ages and abilities, whether it’s a hike up Carrauntoohil or a short walk in the woods.

Treks also appeal to individuals and groups, and interest in trekking holidays is growing as travel recovers. When Intrepid Travel recently tried to expand into North America, I found it interesting that they bought Wildland Trekking, a US company that specializes in small-group hiking tours.

The theming of a trail also makes sense. It offers a hook, captures the imagination, and is easier to market.

In our ultra-connected age, one might think that holy men and pilgrimage traditions would die out, but it feels like the opposite is the case – think of the evergreen Way of St. Jamesthe Via Francigena or Ireland is refreshed St Declan’s Waya 115km route from Cashel to Ardmore.

There is even a pilgrimage week (20th-24th December)., with hikes from Tóchar Phádraig to Inis Cealtra.

But really, any theme will do. Newcomers include the Empire State Trail in New York, the 168km Red Sea Mountain Trail in Egypt, the 36km Coast-to-Coast Trail in Singapore or plans for a Transcaucasian Trail linking the Black and Caspian Seas .

They all feel like exciting, compelling reasons to travel. Even short, well guided walks like the coastal paths in cahoreKilkee or ardmore however, may tempt visitors to extend their stay.

Many hotels now offer walking packages and as we saw with Ireland’s Greenways, inspiring walking trails can also encourage local businesses to thrive along the way.

The Columban Way will not end in Bangor. This saint traveled extensively during his lifetime and was apparently the first to coin the phrase “Totius Europa” (all of Europe). In the future, a 6,000 km network could extend from Carlow across several countries to Bobbio in northern Italy – it is already being dubbed the “European Columban Way”.

See The Columban Way – this new Irish camino could become a 6,000km European hiking trail

Fry Electronics Team

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