Reflections of my Camino

Readers will recall we featured stories throughout August and September on retired Naas teacher Donal Corcoran who was about to set off on the second leg of his Camino pilgrimage.

Readers will recall we featured stories throughout August and September on retired Naas teacher Donal Corcoran who was about to set off on the second leg of his Camino pilgrimage.

The sprightly and youthful looking 72 year old is originally from Bishopstown in Co. Cork.

He taught engineering at the VEC school in Naas since 1964 until his retirement in 2005.

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a network of historical pilgrimage routes stretching across mainland Europe, which all lead to the city of Santiago in northwest Spain. While all pilgrims end their trip in Santiago, the starting point is a matter of choice. Donal chose to walk the longest version of the trip, from Le Puy, France, a total of 1,000 miles oR 1,600 kilometres.

Donal’s wife Doreen died from cancer and he did the Camino “in solidarity with all those who have suffered from cancer and for those who are still suffering from this disease.

“In doing this pilgrimage I am trying to raise money for the Research and Treatment of cancer in St. Jame’s Hospital under Dr. John Kennedy,” he said at the time.

We asked Donal to record a reflection of his trip to share with readers of the Leinster Leader. Here are his thoughts on his epic journey.

When I started my own personal pilgrimage on September 2010, I had only a vague idea of the adventures, the pain and the pleasure that lay ahead of me.

Now that I have completed the journey of over 1,000 miles I have to ask myself, did I really do it?

To do this in one’s seventies, to some people and sometimes even to me, seems a super human task. But when one thinks of this as a spiritual journey as well as a mere physical challenge it is understandable.

On this pilgrimage there are fewer Rosaries said - in my case, none - but every step was a prayer, thinking of cancer suffers, and others in need of my prayers.

Candles were lit in all the great cathedrals and abbeys on the way. I walked the way that millions of pilgrims had walked before me for over a 1,000 years.

I walked alone, but was never alone.

Sometimes I walked for hours without seeing or talking to anyone else. But even at those times I wasn’t alone, physically alone maybe, but spiritually alone? No...

As I was walking in solidarity with cancer sufferers, which included my late wife Doreen, their mental and physical pain was never far from my mind.

One also felt the spirits of the pilgrims who had walked before me were ever present and kept me company. Indeed it was not unusual to hear pilgrims walking behind you and when you looked around, there was nobody there.

I have mentioned three things about my pilgrimage that before I started had only a vague idea about.

Adventures: Meeting up with people from 28 different nationalities and walking, and talking with them and while we came from different cultures, and shaped by my cultures and our individual histories, realising that we are all very alike as regards our hopes and aspirations.

There were many times of great joy and laughter, and even a few songs in their company and indeed tears when we had to part. Personally I was made to feel special because I was from Ireland.

 Pain: There is no denying that I found the Camino walking difficult. When I say difficult I mean that it was no “walk in the park” The terrain was often rough, hilly, and very uneven and sometimes muddy.

It was unlike any walking that I ever did, and every day I walked, on average from 15 miles to 18 miles.

And blisters were a problem for me. While I had these, walking was very painful.

Also in Lectoure in France, I suffered a herniated disc and had to be repatriated home for an operation on my spine.

I also suffer from arthritis in my neck and wrists, although these were not a problem when I was so active walking. I also have degenerative disc disease so have to be very careful when walking on difficult terrain.

 Pleasure: But having said all of above, walking the Camino of St James was most enjoyable from start to the 1,000 mile finish. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity and the ability to do it. Walking through France and Spain, witnessing the cultural, historical, and architectural differences was immensely educating.

Talking with people from 28 different nations, highlighted how alike we all are rather how different we are.

Walking the Camino is now an important part of my life. I will give some talks on walking the Camino and give others the benefit of my experience. So if any groups, schools or organisations want to hear about the Camino of St. James, they are welcome to contact me.

To support Donal’s fundraising drive go to To read more about his trip, read Donal’s his entertaining and insightful blog

- Donal Corcoran