The Irish Two Saints Way Connection

I have always had a hunch that in the Middle Ages there may have been Irish pilgrims walking along what is now the Two Saints Way. My reasons for suspecting
this were twofold…

Firstly, the Irish were known to be keen on pilgrimage and Chester was the most
important trading port between England and Ireland in that period. Surely if they
wanted to travel to Canterbury or even as far as Rome and Jerusalem, the most
obvious route connecting up significant shrines would include Chester, Lichfield,
Coventry, St Albans and London?

Secondly I knew that monks from Chester had spread the cult of St Werburgh into Ireland. In 1178 the Church of St Werburgh was built in Dublin and in 1183 Benedictine monks were sent to assist at Downpatrick Cathedral. There is also a St Werburgh’s Well pictured here near Dublin. The shrine of St Werburgh at
Chester would have provided an added impetus for pilgrims contemplating longer pilgrim journeys.

In May I stumbled across a fascinating blog by Edel Mulcachy about Medieval Irish pilgrimage see https://edelmulcahy.wordpress.com/about/ I emailed Edel and she soon supplied me with some concrete evidence of an actual pilgrimage journey in 1323 by a friar with the not very Irish sounding name of Symon Semeonis! In the account of his pilgrimage called Itinerarium Symonis Semeonis ab Hybernia ad Terram Sanctam he describes starting off from Clonmel and then journeying across the Irish Sea from Dublin to Chester where he celebrated Easter before journeying on via Stafford and Lichfield to London, Canterbury, Rome, across to North Africa and via Alexandria to Jerusalem!

What an extraordinary journey that was! I had previously thought that maybe Irish
pilgrims from the northern half of the island would have come via Chester, but
Clonmel is in the south west so it seems Dublin to Chester was the preferred sea
route for pilgrims.

Through my initial connection with Edel Mulcachy, I have also connected with
another Irish person Louise Nugent who also has a blog on pilgrimage at http://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/ I had the pleasure of meeting her in person
recently when I was over in Ireland for a conference. She is particularly interested
in holy wells and it was she who told me about St Werburgh’s Well.

I very much hope that through these connections, we will hopefully unearth more
discoveries about Irish pilgrims of the past but also I very much hope there will soon
be another flow of Irish pilgrims following in Symon’s footsteps on the Two Saints
Way! May they find a warm and hospitable welcome. And in return, if you haven’t
explored some of the Irish pilgrimage sites, I can highly recommend them. My
favourites are the Skellig Islands, several sites on the amazing Dingle Peninsula
and Glendalough.

  1. The “Great Irish Road” was apparently from Bath and Bristol to Chester (and its port, Parkgate, which received packet ships from Ireland) and Holyhead. See: Geoffrey W. Place’s book “The rise and fall of Parkgate: passenger port for Ireland, 1686-1815”, which can currently be picked up for a fiver on Amazon UK.

    The key place on the 17th/18th c. route, inland and south from Chester, was Kinver near Birmingham, so it seems the likely main trade route ran on the opposite side of Birmingham from Lichfield. Samuel Johnson traversed the route and went via Kinver. Of course, at an earlier medieval period the route into the Midlands and on to London might have been different. Also, I imagine that trade and religious routes may have differed at times.

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