St. Declan’s Way is a modern walking route linking the ancient ecclesiastical centres of Ardmore in County Waterford and Cashel in County Tipperary. The route most commonly associated with St. Declan’s Way is 56 miles (96 kilometres) long and crosses the Knockmealdown Mountains at Bearna Cloch an Buideal (Bottleneck Pass), an elevation of 537m. The waymarked route, due to height restrictions on National Walking Trails, does not cross the pass, and is slightly longer at 104km. Apart from this mountainous stretch, the route passes mainly through the undulating farmland of south Tipperary and west Waterford.
St Declan’s Way Walk utilises the route of a number of ancient and medieval pilgrimage and trading routes such as the Rian Bo Phadraig (Track of St. Patrick’s Cow), Bothar na Naomh (Road of the Saints), Casan na Naomh (Path of the Saints) and St. Declan’s Road. The current route is based on a route mapped out and developed by Ardmore Enterprise Cooperative in the mid-1990s and tries to remain faithful to the ancient highways insofar as is possible.
St. Declan was a fifth century saint who brought Christianity to the southern part of Ireland and was particularly associated with the Deise tribe in Waterford and south Tipperary. He established his monastery in Ardmore and his grave there remains an important place of pilgrimage. Cashel was the seat of the Kings of Munster in Declan’s lifetime and St. Declan’s Way follows the route he would have taken from Ardmore to Cashel.
As with most saints there is reputed to be a relic of St. Declan believed to have curative properties. In St. Declan’s case the relic disappeared from his grave many years ago, it’s current whereabouts unknown. St. Declan’s Relic, known as the Duibhín Déaglán (Declan’s Black Relic) is pictured right and also in the site header. You can find a fuller account of the relic here on the Ardmore Waterford site.
St Declan’s Way has been the subject of two books: ‘Along St. Declan’s Way‘ by the late Siobhán Lincoln of Ardmore. Siobhán’s son, Dick Lincoln, remains quite active in the redevelopment of the route.
More recently ‘Castle, Follies and Four-Leaved Clovers’ by Rosamund Burton, a native of Lismore now living in Australia.
The Genesis of the most recent upsurge in walking of this route, all the way from Cashel to Ardmore, was in a special Gathering St. Declan’s Way walk from July 24th to 28th 2013 organised by local activity group, Knockmealdown Active. The group has walked some portion of the route every year since (check the News section and our Facebook page for details of upcoming events). This initial event was attended by 110 walkers in total from right across the globe with participants from Australia, the USA, Canada, the UK and the Cayman Islands. The event was supported by the Gathering, South Tipperary Development Company and Knockmealdown Forum in Waterford.
St. Declan’s Way is also undertaken by a number of Transition Year students from schools around Tipperary and Waterford. In this instance it is normally completed over three stages rather than five.
For the 2013 event large sections of the path were badly overgrown and needed significant work to get them to a walkable state. Since this time the regeneration of the path has gained considerable traction. With the constant work and dedication of Knockmealdown Active in Tipperary and the Knockmealdown Forum in Waterford, along with the support of the Pilgrim Paths of Ireland group, the Development Companies in both Tipperary and Waterford were brought on board. This resulted in the formation of a cross-county forum to further the aims of regenerating the route.
This group is chaired by Conor Ryan who, along with Terry Cunningham, has been responsible for mapping much of the route. This forum along with the development companies and local councils raised grant funding for the regeneration and waymarking of the route in its entirety, a project started in late 2017.
The route was re-opened to the stage where it was possible to walk it all in 2018. To celebrate this Knockmealdown Active compled all 5 stages on the last Saturday of each month from March to July 2108. The event was a huge success, attracting over 1,500 walkers from all over the world. Waymarking was to complete in 2020, but COVID prevented this from happening. It did eventually complete in the summer of 2021. The route was inspected by Sport Ireland in June 2021, with the expectation that it will be cleared for full opening in July 2021.
Knockmealdown Active has organised a full five-stage event on the route every year, except for 2020, when COVID caused its cancellation.
Following full waymarking, St. Declan’s Way becomes the sixth, and most recent, addition to the official Pilgrim Paths of Ireland. As such it will soon be included on the Pilgrim Paths of Ireland ‘Pilgrim Passport‘. It is also now the longest official Pilgrim Path in Ireland.
For details of upcoming events on St. Declan’s Way keep an eye on this website and our Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/stdeclansway.