Filmed during the summer of 2018, three-part series Oilithreacht (Pilgrimage) documents a 12-week season on the sacred site of Lough Derg, Co Donegal.
Made by DoubleBand Films with support from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund, Oilithreacht will be broadcast on Monday, March 25, 10pm, BBC Two Northern Ireland. The documentary follows people young and old, as they undertake the challenging three-day pilgrimage of fasting, vigil and prayer.
The series explores what motivates people to take part in this centuries-old mission to an island which dates from the fifth century and where, it is said, Jesus showed St Patrick a cave that was an entrance to purgatory.
For some, it is a way of attempting to deal with a personal issue or strengthen their faith.
For others, going on the pilgrimage is a long-standing family tradition, or an opportunity to ‘detox’ from the modern world.
Oilithreacht captures the physical challenges that the pilgrims grapple with as they maintain a 24-hour prayer vigil and go barefoot and without food – with the exception of dry toast – throughout their three day stay on the island.
It also reflects on how the pilgrimage to Lough Derg has seen reduced numbers in recent years yet still manages to reach out to young people, often those seeking a form of release from the stresses and pressures of contemporary living.
As well as pilgrims, the series introduces us to the staff who work on the island and the clerics who explain that while the island has traditionally been seen as a place of purgatory and penance, it is also very much a place of reconciliation, healing and for some, a new beginning.
Capturing the pilgrims' joy and sorrow, their camaraderie and the suffering, the series delivers an insight into what a pilgrimage still means to people today and the various reasons that compel them to visit Lough Derg.