The Irish Pilgrimage Trust is an organisation that brings children with special needs to Lourdes every Easter explains Nuala King
The Pilgrimage Trust, formed in 1972 by a Deed of Trust, to bring children with special needs to Lourdes. Special needs include physical illness or disability, learning difficulties and emotional trauma. This pilgrimage is just for young people and combines a holiday and pilgrimage experience. The Lourdes programme for the week is geared towards the needs of these special young people.
The pilgrimage is organised in groups of about 24 children and voluntary adult carers. Each group has a leader, a nurse and a chaplain. The needs of the young people in the group will determine the number of carers, usually between 10 and 12. Each group has a doctor on call at all times who is fully familiar with the medical needs of the children.
All carers, including nurses, chaplains and doctors pay their own fares. All fares and expenses of the young people are paid through voluntary fundraising. Groups stay in hotels to give a holiday environment because staying in a hospital is all too familiar to many of our young guests.
The Pilgrimage Trust is divided into seven regions, the western region covering Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and part of Clare. Over forty Irish groups, with a total of 500 children travel each Easter and join with similar groups from England and Scotland.
What is a pilgrimage? There are many valid answers. For the Trust, a pilgrimage is a journey in search of wholeness of mind, body and spirit, allowing the footsteps of St. Bernadette to Our Lady of Lourdes.
Exclusion is a real concern for people with disability. Conversations with children in Lourdes over many years clearly indicated that, because of their special needs, they generally felt excluded from summer camps and other holiday activities that were readily available for their brothers and sisters.
The western region organised summer holiday camps called friendship weeks” to renew old friendships and give parents some respite from the constant demands of caring. Finding suitable accommodation was always difficult and a search went on for years to find a “home of our own”.
In 1998 that “home of our own” became a reality when the Trust opened a holiday house and respite centre – Kilcuan, in Clarinbridge. The 30-bed house was specially designed to provide facilities for people with special needs. It was built through voluntary fundraising, on a site kindly donated by the Brothers of Charity.
The name Kilcuan reflects the ancient Irish word for church – Cill and also reflects the wooded setting. Cuan is a harbour or safe haven. Kilcuan is a place of peace and tranquillity, a haven of rest, where all are encouraged to contribute according to their abilities and receive according to their needs.
If the services of Kilcuan or a Lourdes pilgrimage is of interest to anyone you know, please contact Kilcuan at 091 796330.
The Pilgrimage Trust has many voluntary carers from the Athenry area, all very appreciative of the extraordinary generosity of some people in our midst to the Trust and Kilcuan.
Nuala King works for Teagasc and has just completed 4 years as Regional Chairperson of IHCPT Western Region.
Written by Nuala King
Published here 28 Jul 2023 and originally published Winter 2002