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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Kilrush (e)

To this Parish belongs the celebrated island of Inis-Cathaigh now generally called Scattery Island situated in the Shannon about two miles to the south of Kilrush quay. It is said that there were originally eleven Churches on this island but it has not much more than half that number at present. The following are all the ruins now to be seen :-

The Round Tower, called in Irish Clogas Inse Cathaigh. It stands at the distance of seventy seven feet seven inches to the west of the Damliag, with parts of which it seems coeval. It is fifty two feet four inches in circumference at the base (measured on the outside) and according to Archdall, a very bad authority, one hundred and twenty feet in height, but according to the Ordnance Survey only ? feet. The wall is four feet six inches in thickness; its internal diameter is seven feet eleven inches and its entire diameter sixteen feet eleven inches. Its doorway is placed on the east side, and now level with the surface of the field (which is not much raised) and facing the north west corner of the Damhliag. This doorway is certainly not the original one for it could not for a moment be rationally supposed to be coeval with the opposite doorway of the Damhliag. It is very rudely constructed of small rough stones, and inclines to a point. It measures in height four feet eight and half inches and in breadth at top two feet and at bottom two feet three inches. I could not incline my mind to believe that this doorway is more than four or five centuries old, though I could see no place in the side of the tower exhibiting any appearance of a more ancient one built up or destroyed; but it is my opinion that the greater part of this side of the tower was rebuilt, or at least, breaches made in it by lightning, patched up. At present there is a large breach in the north east side apparently made by lightning, and a split (rent) extending from bottom to top [7]; but the original doorway could not have been placed where the present breach is, as is evident from the position of the first window. The first storey over the original doorway (wherever it was placed) was lighted by a small square window placed in the north side; the second, by a rude little window, now much disfigured, placed in the south side; the third, by a small quadrangular window (evidently modern) on the east side nearly over the present doorway; the fourth, by a similar one (but more ancient) on the west side; the fifth by a similar one on the north side; and there are four windows of good size exactly facing the cardinal points under the Bencover or Conical Cap. The cap has suffered considerably from the shock of elements, not enough of it remains for ascertaining its original height.

The tradition in the country is that this Clogas was built by St. Sennaun, the Patron Saint of the Island, and the same tradition existed in the year 1794 before any of the theories of the fire worshippers and Budhists were published. This we learn from Michael O’Brannan’s poem on the Shannon, in which he recites the tradition relating to the Tower of Scattery, and also to those of Inis Cloithrinn in Lough Ree and Inis Cealtra in Lough Deirgdheire.

Is iomdha oileán féarmhar, fairsing,
A gcompás sholasach a réime
Ó Chathair Luimnighe go Ceann Léime.

‘S d’ á n-uimhir oileán Inse Cathaigh
Air ar’ chuir an Naomh ba glórmhar beatha
Seanán aén cheann déag de Theampluibh
A’s Clogás alainn, árd ‘na dteannta.

Many a grassy extensive island
In the bright compass of its course
From Limerick City to Leap (now Loop) Head.

Of the number is the isle of Inis Cathy
On which a Saint of glorious life,
Seanan, placed eleven Churches,
And a beautiful high Clogaus beside them.

Again, in speaking of Lough Ree near Athlone : -

‘S an cúigeadh céad d’éis Críost d’fulaing
Páise, chuir an Naomh gan doghrainn
Diarmaid, seacht dTeampla a’s Clogás
Dá Conbhent riaghalta air bun gan folás
A n-Inis Cloithrinn, oileán álainn
Is maiseach réim ‘s is aerach fearann
A bhfhuil a ndíothúghadh fós le feiceál
Ag gach aen ler’ mion a dtastail.

In the fifth century after Christ had suffered
Passion, Dermot, a Saint without perplexity,
Placed seven Churches and a Clogaus,
With two religious Convents,
On Inis-Cloithrim, a beautiful island of fair
aspect and airy land,
Where their ruins are still to be seen
By anyone who wishes to examine them.

See my letter on Inis Cloithrim, or the Quaker Island on Lough Ree.

An isle on which St. Dorby
Erected seven Churches and a steeple
In which he placed a bell to call the people, etc.

And again, treating of Inis Cealtra in the expansion of the same river called Lough Deirgart, anciently Loch Deirgdeirc.

‘S an seachtmhadh céad do’n achair Chríostamhail
Do chuir Naomh Caimín, triath ba meisneamhail
Seacht dTeampla a’s Clogás árd le coimhneart
A n-Inis Cealtrach a meódhan Loch Deirgeart.

In the seventh century of the Christian era
Saint Caimin, a vigorous Chief, erected
Seven Churches and a high Clogaus with strength
On Inis-Cealtra, in the middle of Lough Deirgart.

Lynch (Gratianus Lucius) writes that it was the constant tradition among the Irish that the Cloigtheachs or Round Towers of Ireland were built by the Danes for watch towers, but it is my opinion that Lynch had but a very limited acquaintaince with the traditions of the Irish and I would now undertake to object to almost every passage in his book, as he did to Cambrensis. The period for true criticism had not arrived when Lynch wrote, and it will be yet made as clear as daylight that he was as great a fool as Giraldus himself. The traditions among the Irish in Lynch’s time were the same as they are at present, but I don’t believe that Lynch ever heard any tradition connected with any Round Tower in Ireland except perhaps with the one at Ros-Cam, near Galway. It appears also from Lynch’s Book that he had but a very imperfect acquaintance with the contents of the historical Irish MSS., though he knew the language well.

It has been the tradition along the Shannon that the Clogaus of Inis Cathy was built by St. Senan from time immemorial, and though the Danes were in possession of the island in the year 975 no one ever heard that it was at any time a tradition that the Clogás was built by them.

According to a wild and unintelligible legend about St. Senan and a woman, the cap of this tower was never finished: -

Clogás go h-aér é a Sheanain! Ol in bhen. Ní clogás níos airde é, ol Senán. Do rinne in bhen mothugadh do’n obair le radh na bhfocal sin; agus is ar an ádhbhar soin nár cheaduigh Noebh Senan, do én mnaí thecht for ind indsi ó shoin ille, más fior.