Each year, CIÉ continues to play an important role in our pilgrimage
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate from Inchicore in Dublin have a very long tradition of going on pilgrimage to Lourdes. It was the very first organised Irish pilgrimage from Ireland when it set out in 1883, a mere 25 years after the apparitions to St Bernadette. While each pilgrimage that travels to Lourdes has its own story and its own history, the Oblate pilgrimage has always had a very important link with the railway workers of CIÉ, Córas Iompair Éireann (Irish Rail), and its predecessor organisations.
To this day, the link continues and each year, the pilgrimage counts former members of the railway or their families and relatives among its numbers.
In recent years, and through the generosity of CIÉ Welfare, we have arranged to bring the sick out for a half-day that includes lunch and a visit to some of the sights and places to be seen outside Lourdes. 2018 was no different and this year, on Thursday September 20, we set out for the Hotel Le Vieux Logis, in an area called Lestelle-Bétharram. To bring all of our sick required us to hire five coaches. However, as many of our sick have serious mobility problems, two of these were special coaches, configured to accommodate ten wheelchairs each. This is especially important for those who must remain in their own wheelchair all of the time. One of these is Pat Bradley, a former CIÉ railway work from Collooney in County Sligo who comes to Lourdes with the Oblates year after year, along with his wife, Mary.
Because of the generous donation of CIÉ Welfare, the pilgrimage can bring Pat, and all of the other CIÉ retirees, in a modern, comfortable coach, specially adapted to make everything about the trip something to be enjoyed.
For those who have been to Lourdes, then the reference to Lestelle-Bétharram might ring some bells? And so it should, as it would be hard to visit Lourdes for a few days without seeing the many signs for trips to the Grottes de Bétharram. No doubt many have visited these famous caves. These caves or grottos allow visitors to explore to go deep into the mountainside. On this occasion, we did not bring our group of sick to the grottos or caves, but as there are plans to make it accessible, who knows, perhaps it will be something that we can do another year.
Our destination in 2018 was the Hotel Le Vieux Logis, a beautiful vacation spot set in the countryside about 20km west of the small town of Lourdes. Making plans for an afternoon out in Lourdes during September has its risks as regards the weather but in 2018, we probably selected the very best day of the month. The day dawn bright, with few clouds in the sky. Our pilgrimage started out with Mass at the Grotto of Lourdes, a place that is at the heart of what Lourdes is about. Once Mass was over, we made our way back to the Accueil (or hospital / residence where our sick stay while in Lourdes), and on up to the transit level where we boarded the coaches for our afternoon excursion and lunch.
The hotel was ready for the guests and as we arrived, everyone made their way into the dining room and enjoyed a magnificent meal. The hotel staff could not do more, and everyone enjoyed it very much. Afterwards, there was time to explore the grounds, or just sit and chat with old friends and new in the sunshine and take in the wonderful scenery. Although only a short 20km from Lourdes, this could have been on an idyllic holiday island somewhere and not so close to the bustling town that is Lourdes itself!
But, as they say, all good things must come to and end. The evening wore on and the time came to once more board our gleaming coaches and make our way back to Lourdes, once more having stored away great memories and stories to be told to friends and relatives when our pilgrimage departed Lourdes after another successful year and returned to Dublin on the following Saturday.
– Gerard T Bennett, Chief Brancardier for the Oblate Lourdes Pilgrimage