Scattery Island: The Cathedral
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The Cathedral is also known as the Monastery or Abbey Church. In some records it is referred to as the Damliag, an ancient Irish word signifying a stone edifice. The more ancient parts of this church are built of heavy, roughly-hammered stones; the entire north wall, the west gable and part of the south wall date from the seventh or eighth century. The antae, rectangular pillars projecting from the west gable, are an architectural carry-over from the old wooden churches first built by the early Christians in Ireland. The upper parts of the walls; the doorway and two high narrow windows in the south wall; the east gable with its high Gothic window closed at the top with the stone head of a bishop
with mitre; and the now-closed original door in the west gable date from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. The doorway in the north wall of the church probably dates from the sixteenth century. This doorway leads into the sacristy which was built against the north wall of the Damliag.

John O'Donovan has left a thorough description in his Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838:
'The Cathedral or Damliag lies to the east of the tower at the distance of seventy seven and a half feet. In its present form it is not divided into nave and choir, but by comparing it with other Cathedrals of the primitive Irish Church, one may come to the conclusion that it was originally so divided. It measures on the inside sixty eight feet four inches and in breadth twenty seven feet seven inches. Its original doorway remains in the west gable and is a beautiful specimen of the semi-cyclopean style. The ground is considerably raised on the outside so that its height there could not be easily ascertained, but on the inside its original height and characteristics appear. It is six feet six inches in height and in breadth two feet ten and a half inches at top, and three feet one and a half inches at bottom. Its lintel is five feet eight inches in length and twelve inches in thickness and extends the entire thickness of the wall, that is, three feet five inches. It projects on the inside four inches, and in this projecting part there are two square mortices, one at each side of the doorway, to fasten the door, and a part of the iron gudgeon on which the door hung exists on the north side.

The south wall contains a pointed doorway placed at the distance of twelve feet one inch from the west gable, but it is so broken that its dimensions cannot be given. It measures three feet three inches in width at the spring of the arch. This doorway was inserted about five centuries since, when the primitive doorway in the west gable was, as usual, stopped up. At the distance of twelve feet six inches from the east side of this doorway there is a high narrow window, and ten feet ten inches farther to the east there is another high, narrow, shamrock-headed window, and ten feet one inch east of this, there is a narrow, curvilineally pointed window - all modern and inserted into the original wall, as the character of the masonry immediately around will prove to a demonstration.

West wall with door of round tower
West wall with door of round tower

The east gable, which was all re-built except a few feet of the lower part, contains a high Gothic window measuring on the outside three feet five inches in width and about twelve feet in height. In the stone which closes the top of this window on the outside is the head of a Bishop with his mitre, boldly executed and in very good preservation, but not older than the period of rebuilding this gable. This head is held in high estimation by the islanders as being the supposed effigy or representation of their great Patron Senán.

The north wall of this Church contains a modern pointed fresh looking doorway, daubed with fresh looking mortar and constructed of small rude stones. It is placed opposite the doorway in the south wall already described and perhaps about three centuries old. The same wall has a square doorway placed at the distance of ten feet five inches from the east gable. This doorway leads into an Iardom or Sacristy which measures twenty six feet six inches from east to west and ten feet from north to south. The north wall of this Iardom contains two modern windows not worth description, and its east wall a neat pointed window measuring on the outside seven feet one inch in height and one foot in breadth. This Iardom is built up against the north wall of the Damliag, but its stones are not dove-tailed or inserted into it, which proves that it is a posterior erection.

I shall now point out the parts of this Church which are ancient, as apparent on the outside. The entire of the north wall, to the height of ten feet six inches, is built of very large stones not laid in regular courses nor hammered nor even quarried which is the surest criterion of primitive style of masonry in Ireland.

The west gable to the height of ten feet six inches is exactly in the same style, but from that height upwards is decidedly more modern, that part having been erected when the Gothic windows were inserted. The resemblance which this west gable bears to that of the Cathedral of Glendalough is striking, having at each corner a rectangular pillar projecting two feet and measuring in breadth three feet five inches.

Doorway in south wall
Doorway in south wall


The south wall is also of the primitive style to the height of about ten feet, excepting the breaches which were made in it when the pointed windows were inserted. These breaches are built up with stones which appear remarkably small in comparison with those in the primitive part of the work outside them. This Church affords a very satisfactory elucidation of the manner in which the primitive Irish Damliags were remodelled after the introduction of the pointed style by the Anglo-Normans, and is, therefore, worthy of the attention of the architectural antiquarian.

Cathedral showing West gable, 1939
Cathedral showing West gable, 1939
Fr. Browne Collection

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