Inis Cealtra - St. Caimin's Church




N 52° 54' 55.92"   W 008° 26' 54.6"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

R 69836 85062

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Monday 22 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

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Approaching Inis Cealtra.

Inis Cealtra, or Holy Island, is an island in Lough Derg. On this island there are many and different interesting remains from an ancient monastic settlement founded by St. Colum, though it's mainly associated with St. Caimin who was abbot on this island. The monastery was attacked at least two times by Vikings.
There are the ruins of six churches, a round tower, a holy well, five bullaun stones, many beautiful grave markers and slabs, remains of high crosses, a cillín and other things.
In 17th century the island had already been abandoned and the monuments were in ruins. Some of the churches were used as cattle sheds or pigsties.
Nonetheless the island has been a site for pilgrimage for over 1,000 years and it still is. Pilgrims do elaborated rounds among its monuments and other spots used as stations.
Many legends and lores that go back to the 10th century are related to this island.
The island is uninhabited and can be reached by boat only.

St. Caimin's Church was built at the beginning of the 10th century by Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. It was built as a single-chambered church. It had antae, projections of the side walls past the gables to support the roof. This section of the church has three windows only. One is very small, high on the west gable, and it's formed of three stones set as a triangle. The other two are in the south wall, one has a trapezoidal shape, the other one has a rounded head.
In the 13th century a chancel and a chancel arch were added at the east end. In the same period a Romanesque doorway was inserted in the west wall. This doorway was recontructed as a three-order doorway in 1879 and in 1981 it was replaced by a four-order Romanesque doorway that we still see today. The jambs of this doorway have carved heads at their capitals. The arches are decorated with 16 human heads and chevron patterns. The nave of this church is the only roofed building of the island. The chancel is mostly destroyed, but it still has the altar.
Inside the nave there are several grave slabs from the 8th century to the 12th century.

The visit to Inis Cealtra wasn't in our plans, but we were in the area early in the morning, the weather was great, we seized the day.

UPDATE: June 20th, 2016 - We had the chance to make a new trip to Holy Island. This time the gate of St. Caimin's church was open so we were able to look at those magnificent crosses and grave slabs. There are 11 slabs and crosses against the north wall of the church, and 13 slabs and crosses against the south wall. Another slab has been clamped against the east wall of the church.
The first 16 photos are from the first visit, the remaining 9 photos are from this last visit.

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