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

The Island and its Ruined Churches

The island is reached from Kilrush or from Cappa within twenty minutes. Quite close to the landing place are the remains of O'Cahane's castle. It was mentioned in the inquisition of 1576 as being constructed: when finished, it was a lofty tower. Today, all that remains of Cahane's ambition is an unsightly gaping vault.

Nearby a narrow lane leads to the Daimhliag, (The ancient Irish word signifies a stone edifice). It was also called the Cathedral, and the Church of St. Mary. Here as in the other churches on the island, a difference can be noticed between the lower and upper parts of the walls. The lower parts to a height of eight or ten feet are built of heavy, roughly-hammered stones. These parts are said to belong to the seventh and eighth centuries, when the Daimhlaig was a monastery church and bishop's cathedral. The upper parts of the walls show later restorations; and these, most likely belong to the period after the Danish invasions, when the collegiate church had been established.

A doorway in the north wall of the church leads into an ancient building, the Iardom or sacristy. This appears to have been a later edition to the edifice. Over the east window, on the outside, is a mitred head, neatly sculptured. On the northern side of the church, separated from it by a few feet, is an ancient building, the Urnaidhe (oratory). These buildings were enclosed by a wall built of heavy stones.

The Round Tower, one of the best preserved of its kind in Ireland, is over a hundred feet in height. It has four storeys, each storey lighted by a window, except the top story which has four openings which face the cardinal points. A single door at ground level faces the door of the Daimhliag. Usually, the entrance to such a tower as this was much higher, and this may have been so of this one. It had been struck by lightning which rent it from top to base, but restored early in the last century.

Tobar Seanain, St. Senan's well, is a few paces from the tower. Because of its association with the saint it is held in great respect, and indeed in veneration by pilgrims to the island.

A large slab, once placed as a tombstone over a grave, was placed near the well many years ago. The inscriptions in old Irish are: ‘Or do Moinach’ (a Prayer for Moinach) and ‘Or do Moenach aite Mogroin’ (A prayer for Moenach, tutor of Mogron).

North of the tower, on higher ground stands the church, Teampall Seanain. This, like the cathedral, is very ancient. It shows that it was restored and patched at various times. A few feet from this building is another, much smaller, which, according to tradition, contained the mortal remains of St. Senan. It is considered very unlucky for women to enter this building.

On a hill about two hundred yards south west of the tower is the church named Ard na n-Aingeal, (the Church of the Angels). It is so called because of the tradition that an angel led the saint to this particular hill before be encountered the ‘Cathach’.

The church is now so ruined as to be almost featureless. On the south wall two gaping holes are all that remain of two windows. Another building, adjoining this is also nearly destroyed.

This hill commands a splendid view of the northern shore of the Shannon, and the mountains of Kerry as far as Brandon to the west.

Returning from this hill towards the ruined and deserted cottages on the eastern shore, the visitor comes to another ruin. It is called Teampall na Marbh, the church of the dead. If it is the building referred to in the inquisition of 1576 as ‘a religious Howse, called the Howse of Synan, under roof, and a small churchyard’, it raises the question as to what kind of edifice, church or ‘House’ this might have been. It is the only church in Iniscathaigh where people bury their dead. This church also bears the heavy marks of time. The south wall has been considerably damaged, and the interior of the ruined church is piled with graves and tombstones lying at all angles.

In the year 1680, an Englishman, Thomas Dineley sketched the island as seen from ‘Cappagh Hill’. The rough sketch shows what appears to be a group of four roofless churches and one roofed building by the eastern shore as well as the castle and tower
















Round Tower

















Thomas Dineley Sketch

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