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Inis Cealtra - St. Mary's Church
 

County

Clare

Coordinates

N 52° 54' 51.18"   W 008° 26' 57.9"

Nearest town

Mountshannon

Grid Ref.

R 69774 84915

Map No.

58

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

43

Date of visit

Monday 22 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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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. Mary's Church was built in the early 13th century and should have been the parish church of the village today known as Mountshannon. The building is rather intact apart from the missing roof and the partly collapsed east gable. It has a slightly pointed doorway in the west gable. At the east end there's an altar which was actually a tomb for the O'Brien family. This tomb was removed and brought to the old Whitegate Church in the 17th century, but when a new church was built the tomb was returned to St. Mary's church on Inis Cealtra. They believed it was an altar and placed it under the east window where it still is. The front panel of this altar tomb show a crucifixion with two female figures at the foot of the cross.
This tomb had also a structure above it, with a triangular panel and three finials. This part of the burial monument is still in its original place, on the south wall of the church. Apart from the traces of a three-light east window and a slit window in the southeast corner, no other windows are seen in this church, but there's a walled up doorway in the south wall. The church is inside a stone rectangular enclosure an is aligned to the east (85°).

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.


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