A WELL-known Dromore man set off yesterday (Monday) on a six-week trek along the Pilgrim’s Way, from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
A retired health service director and leading figure in the campaign to stave off the closure of Dromore’s Skeagh House, Louis Boyle’s very own pilgrimage in continental Europe is helping raise funds for Northern Ireland’s Corrymeela Community and the Rombo Development Project in Africa.
Louis, a founder member of Dromore Walking Club, can regularly be found afoot in the Mournes and has on a number of occasions walked in the Pyrenees.
Ahead of his departure yesterday, he explained, “Pilgrims have been walking this route for 1000 years.
“Santiago de Compostela is the reputed burial place of the apostle St James. Every year tens of thousands of pilgrims, mainly from Europe but also from many other parts of the world, arrive in Santiago de Compostela.
“The most popular route, the Camino Frances, starts at the small French border town of St Jean Pied de Port and the first and most difficult section crosses into Spain over the Pyrenees.
“The route then goes through a large part of the Basque region of Northern Spain right through to Santiago.”
The total distance Louis must travel to complete the pilgrimage is 500 miles, or 800km, divided into 33 stages.
“The aim,” he said, “is do at least one stage each day, which involves a walk of between 20 to 30 kilometres or 16 to 18 miles.
“Accommodation is available to pilgrims in albergues of which there are a range in each stopping point.
“Pilgrims carry a Pilgrim’s Passport which can be stamped at each stage of the route. On arrival at Compostela those who have completed all or a reasonable part of the route receive a certificate of completion, a Compostela.”
Louis, who unsuccessfully contested the 2011 local government elections for the SDLP in Dromore, is also actively involved with a number of organisations in neighbouring Banbridge, where he chairs the Board of Governors of Donard School and the Board of Directors of Banbridge CAB and was recently elected Vice-Chair of Banbridge District’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership.
But it was his membership of Banbridge Rotary Club that provided one of the two charitable causes for which he is raising money during his pilgrimage.
“As part of my pilgrimage on the Camino,” he said, “I have been raising funds for two projects, one in Northern Ireland, Corrymeela, and a development project in Kenya, the Rombo Project, which is supported by the Rotary District of Ireland.”
The Rotary district of Ireland, District 1160, has for a number of years supported the Light of Maasai Project in rural Kenya.
Money has been raised in recent years to fit out two health clinics, provide two water tanks, five water wells, 650 school desks and two houses for teachers. Further information on the project is available on the website www.lightofmaasai.com.
Corrymeela, meanwhile, was established in 1965 through the inspiration of the late Rev Ray Davey, then Presbyterian chaplain at Queens University.
A centre for peace and reconciliation was opened in Ballycastle and for nearly 50 years and throughout all of the years of the Troubles the centre has provided a residential base for conferences, meetings, engagements and respite for a wide cross section of people.
“While the Troubles are now over,” said Louis, “there is, I believe, a very important ongoing role for Corrymeela in the years ahead.”
The Corrymeela Community Website: www.corrymeela.org provides further background and information on the work of the centre.