800 years of the Irish in Santiago

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Hundreds of scallop shells, each hung there by a passing pilgrim and each one with a personal message. So many stories…

Since at least the year 1220 there have been Irish people leaving St James Gate – home, now, to Guinness – and heading by sea and land to Santiago de Compostela. Of course St James is the English name for San Tiago. I’d left St James’ Hospital a little dejected at having been told that post concussion dizziness and fatigue take on average 43 days to pass if you completely rest the brain or, on average, 100 days if you use your brain (that’s me, I fear, as I don’t know how to switch my brain off), when I saw the sign, pictured below, outside St James’ Church on St James’ Street.

There is an office, there, in the church, staffed by volunteers, giving information and documentation for those intending to walk the Camino de Santiago. I decided to drop in and see if any of them wanted to come to the book launch next month (date to be confirmed). A friendly chap there told me that, when excavating to build the Dublin City Council head office on the banks of the River Liffey they found thousands of scallop shells, such as those above that I photographed on the Portuguese way while researching Pins and Needles. According to the guy, it was customary for pilgrims arriving back in Dublin by boat from their Camino to Santiago to throw the shell that they’d carried for the entire trip overboard and this is what led to the huge number of them on what would have been the riverbed. I’d been surprised, when first arriving in Santiago, to find that Galicia is a Celtic culture and that the people there see themselves as being connected to us here in Ireland. It seems that our connection does, indeed, go back through the centuries.

St James Church

To the left hand side of this church front on James Street is the Camino Ireland Office, staffed by volunteers and providing a wealth of information for anyone considering walking the Camino.

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Four key packing points for the Camino

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On the Camino your material world often comes down to what you’ve decided to carry on your back.

I’m immersed in writing a guide on walking the Camino De Santiago that I plan to make available for people who are considering following the footsteps of my “Pins and Needles” characters along the last 100km or so of the Portuguese route. I’m on the bit about ‘what to bring’. When it comes to packing – and I get asked about that a lot – I realise that there are two areas of advice – general and specific. The specific deals with what type of backpack works best, what footwear to go for and what to avoid et cetera. The general, though, comes down to these four points which I thought I’d share here:

  1. Make sure that clothing is light and fast-drying. You can layer up for warmth but a thick, soggy article of clothing is something you want to avoid.
  2. Be prepared for cold rain and hot sun. Either can happen – and quite possible on the same day. But don’t overdo it. Remember that your raincoat could remain unused and your sun cream might come home unopened. Ten day weather forecasts are pretty accurate so consult them.
  3. Don’t bring a large bag. You’ll end up filling it. A smaller backpack forces you to be economical with what you bring.
  4. There are shops in towns along the route. If you forget something or find you need it you can buy it. On the other hand, if you bring something you don’t need you’ll be stuck carrying it.

Well, I’d better get back to writing the guide…