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The Irish Pilgrimage Trust is an Irish charity with headquarters in Clarenbridge, Co. Galway. The Irish Pilgrimage Trust emerged from an English charity called HCPT. HCPT was founded in the 1950’s by an English doctor called Dr Michael Strode. Dr. Strode worked in a hospital with a number of long term residents who were children with disabilities. At the time, these children had very few opportunities for any holidays or time away from the hospital, and Dr Strode had the idea to get a group of volunteers together to take a few of the children to Lourdes in order to give them this opportunity. The concept was so successful that it grew rapidly over the next number of years, and in the early 1970’s some volunteers happened to move to Ireland and set up the Irish branch of the HCPT, which is now known as the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. While times have changed a lot since the 1970’s, the aims of the Trust have not changed much since then in ensuring that we provide all of our guests with a week of love, laughter, fun, compassion and joy!
A pilgrimage is essentially a journey to a place of religious significance. To some people it is simply a holiday with like-minded people, to others it is a deeply religious experience, and many people fall somewhere between these two poles
No, even among our volunteers we have people of all religions and none. There is no need whatsoever to be religious in order to apply.
The core activity of the pilgrimage is to spend Easter Week (Easter Sunday to the following Saturday) in Lourdes.
The Irish Pilgrimage Trust is divided into groups of less than 30 people. Each group has a group leader, a number of volunteers and a number of young people who are our guests. The Trust arranges transport, accommodation and activities in Lourdes for our groups. There are numerous activities that groups can choose from in Lourdes, including trips to the mountains, visiting the historical sights in Lourdes, participating in relevant liturgies, as well as playing football (purely for fun!), and trips to the zoo, aquarium or similar such attractions.
The Trust typically does not allow parents and guardians to accompany the guests. This is for a variety of reasons, the main being that we have found that the groups knit together really well if all guests are ‘in the same boat’ and do not have their parents nearby. Secondly, we have heard from so many parents over the years about how much confidence their children gained from going somewhere without their parents as part of our pilgrimage that we feel that it is worthwhile being pretty strict on this point. That being said, the Trust does operate special groups for families with children who are seriously ill. In these groups, members of the family are encouraged to travel with us.
While most pilgrimages to Lourdes cater for an older demographic, our week in Lourdes is entirely focused towards young people. All of our guests are young people, and we ensure that our activities are relevant and enjoyable for young people.
The trip is free for our guests: volunteers with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust fundraise year-round to ensure this.
The Irish Pilgrimage Trust has two main age groups that it caters for: most of our groups are for young people between the ages of 12 and 18, while other groups take guests who are slightly older: between 18 and 30 or so. While these are our guidelines, we do occasionally make exceptions depending on the circumstances of the applicant in question.
We accept applications on behalf of a very wide variety of young people. We accept applicants with a variety of additional needs (both physical and intellectual), as well as applicants who may be going through a challenging time for other reasons, such as family bereavement, illness in the family, a challenging home situation and so on. If you think that someone in your family could benefit from the pilgrimage then please apply, the worst thing that will happen is that we say no!
The Trust receives both online and paper-based applications. For online applications, parents and guardians can apply on behalf of applicants at https://www.irishpilgrimagetrust.com/apply. For more traditional, paper-based applications the Trust will go to schools, clubs and other bodies to seek people who may be suitable to apply for the pilgrimage. Each of these candidates is given a form to be filled out by their parents or guardians. The forms are then returned to the Trust and groups are selected by each of the Group Leaders from all submitted applicants, both digital and paper-based. In general, groups are selected in a manner so that the balance of guests is right to that particular group.
Your child will be traveling as part of a group made of of adult volunteers and fellow guests. We tend to organise groups along geographical lines, so your child would most likely be traveling with other young people from the same or neighboring counties. Our volunteers are drawn from all walks of life and are all trained in safeguarding prior to travel. Each group typically also contains a nurse, and each group is assigned a medical doctor as well. Our groups also typically contain a chaplain, who may be a priest or a lay person. Each group is led by a group leader, who typically is an experienced volunteer who has chosen to take on this important role. The group leader is the primary liaison person that you will be dealing with should your child’s application be successful.
The guests stay in various hotels around Lourdes. Lourdes is not a particularly large town, so we all are pretty close together as the crow flies.
The Trust takes safeguarding extremely seriously, and has invested significant time and effort in ensuring that we operate to the highest safeguarding standards. All of our volunteers are Garda vetted, must complete safeguarding training, and we run ongoing refresher courses in safeguarding for our senior leaders. Additionally, the Trust has a safeguarding officer and a designated liaison person (DLP) who ensure that any safeguarding concerns are dealt with appropriately and effectively.
The pilgrimage lasts for 6 days; we leave on Easter Sunday and come back the following Saturday.
All told our pilgrimage consists of roughly eleven hundred people from across the island of Ireland. We take four hundred guests with the balance being carers. However, with Easter week in Lourdes being dedicated to the children’s pilgrimage, the town is full of colour and fun! There are approximately 6,000 people as part of the wider HCPT family, with groups from the UK, USA, Australia, Poland, Slovakia and even Barbados!
The volunteers within the group take care of the guests. Many of our volunteers have been traveling with the Trust to Lourdes for many years and have significant experience in caring for guests with a variety of needs.
Yes, all volunteer carers pay their own way on the trip and fundraise solely to pay the costs for the young people whom we serve.
Yes, all carers are Garda vetted.
The trip is free for our guests. Our volunteers pay their own way for the trip and they fundraise in order to cover the costs for all of our guests.
Almost all of those who travel with us to Lourdes on pilgrimage travel to Lourdes on charter flights that the Trust organises. We typically arrange for about six separate flights on Easter Sunday (from Dublin, Belfast, Shannon and Cork airports) to bring us all on the pilgrimage. We return the same way and to the same airports the following Saturday. Each year we have a small number of people who for whatever reason cannot travel on the charter flights, and these people typically travel commercially to and from airports near Lourdes.
You can apply at www.irishpilgrimagetrust.com/apply