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Life of St Senan, Bishop, Patron Saint of West Clare

The Reformation

Protestantism came to Thomond when Conor O'Brien, king of Thomond, forced by threats and tempted by bribes, acknowledged Henry VIII, as supreme head in spiritual as well as in temporal matters. This far reaching heresy did not come as far as Iniscathaigh, at least in all its stern reality, until the reign of Henry's daughter, Elizabeth. Then another O'Brien, now as English overlord, made application to the Queen for possession of Iniscathaigh. Her majesty's deputies, not trusting O'Brien, granted the island to the Mayor of Limerick.

And so, in 1576, an inquisition was taken in Limerick whereby it was found, that ‘in the island of Innescatty (sic) there were twenty four acres, four of which of arable land is occupied by the Couverbe or Master of Innescatty; that the said Couverbe has a new castle, partly built, a small stone house, three cottages, that he has for customs 1000 oysters from every boat load of oysters given to Limerick every year, also 500 herrings yearly, that there are in the occupation of the said prior four small cottages, and of the sexten (sic) two cottages . . . .of Nicholas Mahowney three small cottages . . . . that there are in the island two ruinous chapels without cover . . . a religious Howse (sic) called the Howse of Synnan under roof . . . a small churchyard, 24 acres of beach and stoney ground . . . that there belongs to the said Couverbe . . . from tithes, alterages, and other emoluments that all the premises came and ought to come to her Majesty by reason of the dissolution of the said Howse’ . . . But these were not all ‘pickings’. The tithes and revenues had yet to be discovered and grabbed. In 1604 another inquisition found that ‘the former bishop of Iniskaha, or Iniscathay, was found seized as of fee of sixteen quarters of land, of which three lay in Killyline in Clanderla Bar, three in Boalamtellinge, four called Kilrusheene, a quarter in Kilygillaghe and Moyhassy and two quarters called Kilcorridan . . . which sixteen quarters were . . . known as Tarremon Shinon, or the lands granted in free gift . . .to hold to the church to pious uses . . . The said bishop . . .granted to Nicholas Cahan and his heirs the four quarters of Kilrushe, which Nicholas and his ancestors were commonly called ‘Gorubne deTearmon Shynan that is the overseers of Sinanus church lands’.

These sworn inquiries were made in order to discover the value of the island, as well as the amounts which could later be extracted in rents and tithes from the helpless and hapless people.

Since the inquisitors were English and witnesses were native Irish the phonetic spelling of local places and names is interesting. The Irish word, comharba, which once signified the abbot who claimed succession to the founder of the monastery, came eventually to mean a cleric of even a layman who held the office of manager or overseer of the monastery and its possessions. Nicholas O'Cahane was coarb of Iniscathaigh in 1576. It must have been about that time he ‘jumped’ to become one of the Queen's loyal men. Soon afterwards he was Coroner for Clare. When seven ships of the ill-fated Spanish Armada came up the Shannon and two of them dropped anchor off Iniscathaigh, O'Cahane boarded one of the vessels. The crews were dying of thirst and pleaded for a supply of fresh water. The Queen's deputy had issued orders, no help was to be given to Spaniards. They pleaded in vain.

Not many years later the island and its revenues became the possession of the Protestant bishop of Limerick. The Bollandists, quoting from the works of Albert le Grand, tell us that about that time the Bishop sent two of his clergy with a company of soldiers to proclaim to the islanders the extraordinary news that the daughter of Henry VIII was to be held supreme in all spiritual matters. These poor people were forced to assemble in St. Mary's church to listen to the proclamation. How they must have prayed to Our Lady and to their patron saint! The following night, while the ministers had retired to rest the senior minister was visited by an apparition of a bishop who struck him so severely that he died a few days later in Limerick.

In the annals of the Dominican Order the following crime is recorded: In 1602, when their monasteries were destroyed or confiscated, forty two religious of different Orders, Dominicans, Benedictines and others, petitioned Queen Elizabeth for a safe conduct out of Ireland. In the ‘safe conduct’ they were directed to assemble at the island of Inniscatha fourteen leagues from Limerick. An English warship came and they were taken aboard. When the vessel reached the open sea they were seized and flung overboard.


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Iniscathaigh after the Danish Invasions
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The Island and its Ruined Churches