(L-R) Ambassador Jean McDonald, Echternach Mayor Carole Hartmann, Patrick Dondelinger (Culture Ministry), Carlow Co Council Cathaoirleach Andrea Dalton, Cllr John Murphy, Carlow County Museum Curator Dermot Mulligan in front of the Shrine of St Willibrord; Credit: Carlow County Museum

The Embassy of Ireland in Luxembourg welcomed a delegation visiting from County Carlow, Ireland earlier this week to celebrate the historic ties with Saint Willibrord.

The highlight of this visit was the Carlow delegation's participation in the hopping procession (Sprangpressessioun) of Echternach, a UNESCO recognised tradition that attracts several thousand pilgrims and other visitors each year. Held annually on Whit Tuesday, this tradition honours Luxembourg's patron saint Willibrord - the missionary who founded the Abbey of Echternach and was later buried there. However, St Willibrord also has a strong Carlow connection…

On Tuesday evening, the Irish Ambassador to Luxembourg, Jean McDonald, hosted an intimate community reception to celebrate this visit and these historic ties. Speaking to attendees, County Carlow Councillor and Cathaoirleach (chairperson) Andrea Dalton, who was leading the Carlow delegation, highlighted the value of such visits in keeping these historic connections alive. She touched on St Willibrord's successful European mission from Carlow which began in 690AD. He would go on to become the first Bishop of Utrecht before establishing his monastery and scriptorium in Echternach. More recently, a first delegation from Co. Carlow took part in the hopping procession in 2017. Two years later, Co. Carlow and Echternach signed a friendship agreement. Andrea Dalton said she was "delighted" (despite the rain) to have been able to take part in the hopping procession tradition herself this year.

The Cathaoirleach was joined in Luxembourg by fellow councillor John Murphy and his wife, Eileen, as well as Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator at Carlow County Museum. The visit was also an occasion to meet with the Mayor of Echternach, Carole Hartmann, and the town council to discuss bilateral links. At the hopping procession, they were accompanied by the Irish Ambassador and members of the Irish community in Luxembourg, as well as the British Ambassador to Luxembourg, Fleur Thomas, and the non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See, Jean Claude Kugener.

Chronicle.lu had the opportunity to speak with Carlow County Museum Curator Dermot Mulligan, who was visiting Luxembourg for the fifth time, to learn more about the Carlow-Echternach connection. He explained that the museum had begun working on the "Carlow Trails of the Saints" project about sixteen years ago and hoped to raise awareness along these three driving routes of the many ecclesiastical remains and personalities coming either from Co. Carlow or from outside the county who had had a direct impact on the county; others, like St Willibrord, had gone abroad and had "a major connection" with different countries.

Dermot Mulligan explained how St Willibrord and his Co. Carlow connection had been re-discovered when colleagues in Luxembourg found a paper published by Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (NUI Galway) in 1982, and reached out. "It was known he [Willibrord] had come from Ireland" but not exactly where, as the medieval name used was not translatable to a present known place, noted Mr Mulligan. Prof. Ó Cróinín’s publication "pinned it" to Rath Melsigi. In the following years, Carlow-Echternach/Luxembourg ties were re-established.

In 2002, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg paid a state visit to Dublin and in 2009, on her return state visit, then Irish President Mary McAleese visited Echternach. In 2010, Dermot Mulligan and a councillor made a first visit from Carlow to the hopping procession in Echternach. "Everything has kind of mushroomed from there since then," he said, adding that the objective is "to keep building the relationship, not just on the history end but we're open to exploring all sorts of ideas about different exchanges, different projects that link Carlow and Echternach and Luxembourg together". In 2017, nearly 60 people from Carlow became the first known "formal group" of Irish people to take part in the hopping procession. The museum curator added that he and his colleagues had been in talks with various churches in Luxembourg, with Willibrord being "not just a saint for one church or the other", as part of this re-establishment of ties.

All these efforts resulted in bilateral visits and contributed to the creation of a large temporary exhibition and a smaller permanent exhibition in Carlow County Museum, which coordinates the Carlow-Echternach St Willibrord Project on the Irish side. In 2017, when the first Carlow delegation had come over, the town of Echternach presented them with a statue of St Willibrord, featuring a relic of the saint, as a show of gratitude to Co. Carlow "for training and ordaining him". Dermot Mulligan said the gesture "blew us away with such generosity". The Carlow delegation took the relic statue back with them, originally to St Laserian's Cathedral in Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow, which had been the site of a monastery where people were ordained during St Willibrord's time. When the Echternach delegation visited Carlow, they then walked the relic statue 13 km along the river Barrow - another site with a historical connection to St Willibrord - before arriving at its destination in the county: the Cathedral of the Assumption, where it is on permanent display.


(1) Statue of St Willibrord at the Basilica of St Willibrord, Echternach; credit: Carlow County Museum; 2) Andrea Dalton, County Carlow Councillor and Cathaoirleach; Jean McDonald, Ambassador of Ireland to Luxembourg; credit: Jazmin Campbell / Chronicle.lu)