Hiking the Celtic Camino in Ireland
Many people know about the Camino de Santiago in Spain, but did you know that you can start the Camino in Ireland and your distance “counts” for your overall mileage on the Camino? In this post, we explain how to find the nine caminos in Ireland, how to get your stamps, how to record your distance, how to get your Celtic Compostela, and how to use it to count towards your overall distance on the Spanish Camino de Compostela.
History of the Celtic Camino
The Irish have a long history of hiking to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in pilgrimage. The Irish National Gallery of Archeology acknowledges this with a special section in the museum, including some original artifacts from pilgrims of the 15th century. We stumbled upon this antique shell in the museum, and it prompted us to wonder about the history of walking the Camino in Ireland.
Hiking the Camino in Ireland has been happening for hundreds of years. Historically, pilgrims would hike to Dublin, sail to A Coruña, Spain, and then continue their pilgrimage by foot to Santiago de Compostela. There, they sought a Compostela from the church to prove their pilgrimage. But in 1990, the folks in charge decided that in order to get a Compostela signifying the completion of your journey, a pilgrim had to complete 100 km or 62 miles to get the certificate. The distance from A Coruña to Santiago is only 74 km or 46 miles.
Thus, those pilgrims arriving from Ireland were falling short of their distance. So, some folks met with some folks, and the church acknowledged that it would honor the distance walked in Ireland before arriving to Santiago, allowing pilgrims to count their distance in the home country.
Falling Short of Camino Distance
Although the routes in Ireland already existed through time, they are now organized by the Celtic Society of Ireland as the Celtic Camino. There are nine official routes, all of which have some wayfinding and stamping. When you bring your stamped passport to St James Church in Dublin to the Celtic Society Office, you can receive your Celtic Compostela. With that Compostela, if you so chose, you can continue to Spain, walk at least the balance of your distance, and show your Spanish-stamped passport and the Celtic Compostela. Together, you can use the two items to receive your Compostela in Santiago if you’ve completed a combine distance of 100 km or 62 miles.
The Celtic Caminos
There are nine identified Celtic Camino routes. You can click on the route name to download the brochure for the route in the table below. Unlike the Santiago Caminos, there is a lot of variety in how the trails are marked, if there are trail markers, and the availability of resources along the way. Some routes are through fields and hills while others are strictly urban on sidewalks. Waymarking is not consistent, and only a few have the traditional shell and yellow arrow markings. You’ll need the brochures and notes in most cases to actually be able to follow the routes. See our experience below in hiking the Bray Camino.
|Route & Information Links||Location||Distance||Start point||Finish point|
|Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail||Mayo||61km||Balla||Murrisk|
|Tóchar Phádraig||Mayo||35km||Ballintubber Abbey||Murrisk|
|Bray Coastal Route||Wicklow/Dublin||32km||Bray Sea Front||St James Church|
|Boyne Valley Camino||Louth||25km||Drogheda||Drogheda|
|St Kevin’s Way||Wicklow||30km||Hollywood||Glendalough|
|St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path||Cork||37km||Drimoleague||Gougane Barra|
|St Declans Way||Waterford/Tipp||111km||Ardmore(Waterford)||Cashel(Tipperary)|
|Slí ár Sinsear -The Way of our Ancestors||Kerry||29km||Glenbeigh||Cahersiveen|
Hiking the Bray Camino
After reviewing all of the choices of which route to hike for the Celtic Camino, we decided to hike the Bray Camino since it was easiest from Dublin. Since we still had our Compostela passports from Spain, we didn’t go to St James to buy a Celtic passport to get started. We just used the extra space in our Spanish one to get our stamps. But if you need a passport, you can get one from the Camino office at St James for €10. Watch their hours, as they’re only open Thursday through Saturday. You can also purchase the passport online and have it sent to you.
Train to Bray for First Day on Bray Camino
The DART zips to Bray every ten minutes or so from the Pearce Station in Dublin. It costs us about €2.50. If you have a LEAP card, it’s cheaper. The ride took about 30 minutes. We got off the train and walked to the first place to get a stamp, Finnbees Coffee. After a quick cuppa, a stamp and a few pictures, we headed north along the Irish Sea on a concrete path that clearly marked, “Come on, walk to the left!”
The first day’s trek took us to our second stamp at The Harbour Bar and then in toward town to pick up our third stamp at St James Crinken Church. At the church, they were entertaining Ukrainian refugees for the day, but allowed us to use the toilet and pointed us to the Camino Box on the side of the church. There, we self-stamped our passports and continued north. Cutting through Shanganagh Park, we returned to the water and stayed along the coast, walking along the sand, beach rocks, and some trail until we arrived at Fred and Nancy’s silver airstream on the beach. Steve had a Rueben and I had a veggie sandwich.
Leaving the beach through a tunnel under Vico Road, we continued north, passing by Bono’s house and the lovely gardens on Vico. The Camino route swings out to Sorrento Point, and it gave us a chance to see the lovely Dalkey Island from a distance. We promised to come back and rent a boat to go across on the next sunny Dublin day. We hoped to get our third stamp at the James Joyce Tower, but it was closed (open Thurs-Sunday.) The nice lads at the lifesaving stand at Sandycove Beach signed our passports for us. Finally, we finished the day at Sandycove train station, returning to Dublin via DART, having walked about 16Km or 10 miles.
Second Day Bray Camino
To finish the Bray Camino, we returned by DART to Sandymount and continued our walk north and then westerly. We trekked along the Dun Laoghaire Harbour enjoying the beachcombers, and the fabulous architecture of the Irish Lights headquarters. The building looks like a Fresnal lense! We then stayed along the Marrion Strand for quite some time. The tide and sun were both out, so many Dubliners walked their dogs along the sand and children giggled walking along the bay’s bottom.
The trail goes along the water, then it juts up through a few parks and then back down to the water. We could see how the system of watch towers worked along the bay, and occasionally we’d see a lighthouse or other navigation device situated along the way.
At the Irishtown Garda Station on Londonbridge Road, we stopped in to ask why Irishtown is named Irishtown. They didn’t know. At this point, although the brochure gives a route to walk along the Liffey, we wanted to see the famous Toners Bar, St Stephen’s Green, and Grafton Street. So we made our own way through Dublin to Christ Church Cathedral to get our fourth stamp. With tired feet, we continued the final slog into St James where we passed the inner and outer workings of Guinness Brewery, the next door neighbor of the church.
Finishing the Bray Camino
After about another 16 km, or 10 miles, we walked into the Celtic Camino office. It’s between Guinness and the entrance to St James. You’ll see many yellow arrows and Camino shells marking the entrance and a sign that says, “The Camino Starts Here.”
Inside, three lovely volunteers and an American intern greeted us heartily. They reviewed our passports and let us fill out our own Compostelas. We talked briefly about our journey and route, and they handed us our Camino pin. In addition, for €10, you can have your name scripted into their official register if you’ve completed the entire 100km of the Camino, which I had and so I paid for the inscription.
Our Next Hike?
We so thoroughly enjoyed walking the Bray Camino and getting stamps that we’re now eyeing the Boyne Valley Camino. The folks said that the Boyne Valley Camino is well marked and a lovely trail through many historical sites telling the story of the Boyne Valley battles. And so, we might just see you there!
If you want more Camino content,
Click here for Gear for the Camino.
Click here for our video about Hiking the Camino, Nomad Style video.
Click here for logistics about the Camino.