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Illaunloughan Monastic Settlement
 

County

Kerry

Coordinates

N 51° 53' 11.58"   W 010° 22' 24.66"

Nearest town

Portmagee

Grid Ref.

V 36620 73150

Map No.

83

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

3

Date of visit

Wednesday 15 June 2016

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The small island where the monastery is.


We weren't sure of being able to get on this tiny island, we were in the area and we were so lucky to have a chance to take a boat to it.
On this island there are the remains of an early monastic settlement that radiocarbon dates to the mid-7th century. It remained in use until the end of the 8th century. In its first period it had an oratory and three domestic huts. The presence of more than one dwelling indicates that the place was a small monastery rather than a hermitage.
All constructions were made using blocks of turf buttressed with parallel lines of upright stone slabs. In the 8th century the sod oratory was replaced by a new construction built with the dry-stone technique. A gable-shrine was also built in the northeast part of the small island. This shrine was built on a low mound, with a square stone-paved area around it, thus suggesting that the area around the gable-shrine had to be used as a part of rituals during processions or other ceremonies. It was also kerbed with a dry-stone wall and upright stones, and decorated with white round stones.
Excavations of the shrine discovered two cists in the core of the structure. Both cists contained gravel, quartz pebbles, half-scallop shells and human bones. The bones of three individuals were found in the two cists, one of them was a child. Under the structure of the shrine three rock-cut burials were found, one of the three burials was much smaller than the other two, so it is likely that the three individuals were originally interred in these three burials and then their remains were relocated to the two cists. The shrine is thought to be built to keep the relics of more than one saint.
To the east of the shrine the remains of seven individuals were found, revealing that the custom of burying people very close to the saints in order to gain the salvation of the souls was active in those times. Other burials were found in the area around the oratory, southeast from the shrine, for a total of 25 burials scattered on the island. Many of them were very young children. It seems that at that time many children of local families were sent to the monastery to be raised and educated by the monks.
The oratory is a rectangular enclosure measuring 3.20 metres x 1.90 metres internally, with walls 1.20 metres thick. It has a passage in the west (260°) wall.
On the opposite side of the island, on a higher level, is a well-kept circular enclosure with an inner diameter of 4.15 metres and walls 1.30 metres thick. The entrance is aligned to the northeast (65°) side.
Another semi-circular enclosure is southeast of this, nearly adjacent, but it seems partly eroded by the sea.
A third smaller circular enclosure is to the north of the first one, but it's incomplete and has lower walls, though the interior is paved.
It seems that we have a bad luck with monuments and like it happened in the past, we found the gable-shrine destroyed. The news we had from a local was that a violent storm at the beginning of this year had the structure to collapse. It might be restored in the future.
A wonderful place indeed!


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