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New Ireland-Wales pilgrimage routes to celebrate history of St David and St Aidan of Ferns

Ireland and Wales will celebrate their shared cultural and religious history with two pilgrimage routes in each country.

The Ancient Connections project will see two routes in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, and Ferns, County Wexford, linked via a ferry service.

Named after St David, the Pembrokeshire city of St Davids has cultural and religious links to Wexford in Ireland

The routes are expected to boost tourism after the pandemic and aim to attract about 5,000 people a year, either keen walkers or pilgrims.

The five-year project is being sponsored by Pembrokeshire and Wexford councils, and is also backed by European funding.

Ireland and Wales are linked by the bond that grew between St David, the patron saint of Wales, and St Aidan of Ferns during the early medieval period.

St David is believed to have been born at the site of St Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire in the 6th Century.

The chapel has a holy well which is said to have healing powers.

Pembrokeshire also boasts many more sites notable for their importance to early Christianity.

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St Aidan is said to have travelled from Wexford to Pembrokeshire to study under St David.

The new routes will recreate the journeys followed by St Aidan and St David.

John G O’Dwyer, chairman of Pilgrim Paths Ireland and author of Irish Pilgrim Paths, said the trails had “absolutely huge” potential.

John said: “We have quite a few pilgrim paths in Ireland but this is the first one that will recognise the fact that for the Irish, in the early medieval period, pilgrimage overseas was a very important thing.

“It will have the added appeal of walking in two countries and at the same time, not having a particularly long walk.

“It’s a Celtic nation and I think the more and more we look at our own identity, the Irish recognise a special affinity with the Scots, with the Welsh, the Cornish and the Bretons.

“I see a huge potential, particularly now as countries like Wales are, in the way we have 100 years ago, expressing their own independence and getting closer to a much more independent Welsh state, I think there will be a lot of interest.”

Iain Tweedale, director of holiday firm Journeying which specialises in running pilgrimages and is a partner in the scheme, said: “It’ll probably be called the Way of St Aidan and David.

“St Aidan was a protégé of St David… and St David would visit Ireland.

“They used the Irish Sea as the M4 of their day. We’re setting up a new pilgrimage route that goes from Ferns in County Wexford, which is the ancient capital of that part of the world, it then heads down the coast to Rosslare.

“People can then jump on the ferry and come over to Fishguard.

“We then walk from Fishguard down to St Davids. It’s about 130km (about 81 miles) in total.

“We’ve got a five-year plan to make this quite a significant path.”

“We expect within five years there’s going to around 4,000-5,000 on the path every year. On the Camino in Spain, there are 250,000 every year.

Guy Hayward, director of the British Pilgrimage Trust, said the new route could provide a welcome boost for tourism businesses in Wexford and Pembrokeshire.

Guy said: “The average daily spend by a pilgrim is €42, which is 2.3 times more than what the average tourist gives to the local community.”


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