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Inishkeel Monastic Settlement
 

County

Donegal

Coordinates

N 54° 50' 50.94"   W 008° 27' 04.56"

Nearest town

Ardara

Grid Ref.

B 71017 00052

Map No.

10

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

9

Date of visit

Sunday 11 June 2017

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The monastic settlement with the two churches in the rectangular enclosure seen from Narin.


Inishkeel is a tidal island, which means that it can only be reached at the low tide. A sand bank connects the island to Tramore Strand in Narin. The bank is accessible during the low tide and is submerged at the high tide.
We arrived at Tramore Strand when the tide was getting to its low. We set to walk to the island, but we were caught in the middle of a heavy rain and had to wait some minutes.
On the second attempt I went alone. I was aware that as soon as the tide gets to its minimum then it starts rising again, but I thought I had more time. Unfortunately things went differently, and after only 35 minutes since I had reached the island, the tide was high enough to nearly stop me from going back to the strand. When I succeded to reach Tramore Strand, the sea water was almost as high as my knees! The high tide was scheduled at 8:08 pm, but at 2:45 pm the water was already too high.
So if you want to visit the island be quick!

On Inishkeel there are two churches related to a monastery founded on this small island in the 6th century by St. Conall Cael, cousin of St. Columba. Conall was exiled on the island as punishment for killing his father in a moment of rage. He was sentenced to remain on the island until he was softened enough to allow a bird to make a nest in the palm of his hand. This happened seven years later. He then founded the monastery which had much importance for spreading the early Christianity in this part of Ireland. St Conall died between 590 and 596 AD and is buried on the island. His feast day is May 22.

The two churches are inside an almost rectangular stone enclosure on the east side of the island.
The church at the west end of the enclosure is dedicated to St. Conall. It shows additions of elements in different ages, like the windows in the south (170°) wall that date to the 14th century. This church has a nice Gothic doorway and three nice windows in its south wall, and an east slit window. Beneath this window are the remains of the original altar. The east (80°) wall has been rebuilt. The modern mortar among the stones is a clear witness, furthermore many of the stones had been numbered for a proper reconstruction and the numbers are still visible.
The church towards the east is dedicated to St. Mary and date to the 13th century. This church has fragments of a previous or different building in its masonry. The church is aligned to the east (100°). The south wall is the most intact, with a Gothic doorway and a small window. The north wall is a bit of a mess. The east and west gables are almost totally missing.
In one of these two churches an octagonal stone font was found and then brought to Inishkeel Church of Ireland church in Narin.

Further east there is a wonderfully decorated cross slab and the fragment of a cross.

The decorated slab has a carved interlaced cross on each side. It's 1 metre tall, 46 centimetres wide and 9 centimetres thick. The main faces are aligned east-southeast to west-northwest (105°-285°). On the west-northwest side there are two figures above the arms of the cross. The one on the left looks like a kneeling person. The figure on the right is a swan. This is the reason why this cross is known with the name of "swan cross".

The other interesting feature in the graveyard is the shaft of a cross, with its east-southeast (115°) face decorated with interlaced pattern. The opposite face is plain. A small protuberance on the top edge of the southwest minor side could have been a beginning of the ring of a Celtic cross.
This fragment of a cross is 1.21 metres high, 45 centimetres wide and 9 centimetres thick.

There are more interesting slabs among the high grass in the graveyard, but time was running out and the tide was rising...


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