Pilgrimage to tiny Irish island keeps local fishermen safe

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Pilgramage St. MacDara's Island
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Pilgramage St. MacDara's Island
A currach boat (L) waits to bring a family to their Galway Hooker boat, which dips its sails in reverence to MacDara's Island, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, sells baskets of his catch from his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Fergus O'Cualain is seen with his Galway Hooker boat, which dips its sails in reverence to MacDara's Island off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne ? 
Seafarers and other members of the Carna community attend an annual pilgrimage mass on MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, in reverence to St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Galway Hooker are seen near MacDara's Island off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
People wait on a rock to be brought back to Carna by local fishermen off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "CARNA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Aongus O'Cualain holds his daughter Seodin Ni Cualain in his traditional Galway Hooker boat, which dips its sails in reverence to MacDara's Island, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen, off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Ronan O'Cualain is seen on his family's Galway Hooker boat, which dips its sails in reverence to MacDara's Island off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed holds a Spider Crab on his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, measures a lobster to see if it meets minimum regulation size requirements on his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, pulls a basket of lobsters onto his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, takes his catch out of a lobster pot on his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, is seen in his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, ties his currach boat to a pier in Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne 
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ST MACDARA'S ISLAND, Ireland, July 21 (Reuters) - It is said that people don't come home for Christmas to the small western Irish village of Carna, they come back for St. MacDara's Day.

On that day, every July 16, hundreds make a pilgrimage off the coast of Gaelic-speaking Carna to tiny, uninhabited St. MacDara's Island, to a celebration of mass and blessing of boats. It will keep them safe throughout the year, locals believe.

St. MacDara, the patron saint of seafarers, is believed to have built the small church on the island in the sixth century. After mass, the locally crafted boats, known as Galway Hookers, bow their sails in the direction of the church three times to bless the year ahead.

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"It is like a second Christmas half way through the year," said Cliona Ni Chualain, the organizer of MacDara's festival. Her family own a Galway Hooker built in 1895 called 'Blath na hOige', meaning 'Flower of Youth'.

"I've done it since I was a baby and for us it's a family gathering, a community gathering. It's pretty special. And when you're on the island there is this feeling of calmness. I wouldn't be a practicing Catholic but there is something very, very spiritual about it."

Local fisherman Johnny Cloherty reckons the pilgrimage, one of the few remaining snapshots of Irish yesteryear, has kept him safe for the last 40 years in the Atlantic Ocean, where he harvests seaweed and fishes for lobster and crab.

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"It does yeah, definitely," said Cloherty, 58, from nearby Mweenish Island. "I'd be out there in the winter and keep near that island (MacDara's). It's a good thing."

But like many in small rural parts of the country, Cloherty, who starts working at 5 a.m. each day and doesn't finish until 10 p.m., has seen young people leave the area in increasing numbers in search of jobs and a different lifestyle.

There are now only about 30 Galway Hookers left and the days of all 30 trawling the western Irish coastline together are fading with fewer and fewer crew to go around.

"I don't think the young people will be going out fishing. It's sad. Say another 10 years, who will be out there? Nobody knows," Cloherty said.

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