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The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost

Part I. Topography of Thomond Chapter 6. West Corcabaskin

Kilrush parish; Scattery Island; Sketch of the Life of St. Senan; Reference made to Iniscathy by the Four Masters, and by other writers; Ancient Mortgages of lands situate in Kilrush parish

In the Irish Calendar of the Four Masters [7] the name of this parish is written Cill Rois under the 28th of January, and the church is placed in the Termon of Iniscathy. The word “Ross” here means wood, without question. Nothing remarkable is found as having belonged to the old church of Kilrush. In the townland of Breaghva, in the parish, is a burial place called Kilkeevan, in which there anciently stood a little church dedicated to St. Caomhan of the great island of Arran, but no vestige of it now remains. A little way on the east side of Kilrush stood a church, shown on the Down survey and called Kilcarroll, with a holy well adjoining dedicated to Cearbhall. Who this saint was cannot be discovered, no such name appearing in the Irish Calendars. At Moylougha, about four miles from Kilrush, are two old churches dedicated to St. Senán, the one a small Damliag, and the other an oratory of remarkably small dimensions, called Seipeal-beg-Senain. Moylougha was the birthplace of that holy man. The extensive burial ground of Shankill, near Kilrush, contains the remains of a church.

Iniscathy. (Scattery Island.)
In this parish is included the island of Iniscathy, celebrated for the number of its churches erected in honour of St. Senán and of other saints, as well as for its beautiful round tower. It is situate in the Shannon, about two miles from the shore, near Kilrush. The island was selected by St. Senán for his principal place of residence, and for several centuries it continued to be a seat of religion.
Scattery Island
Scattery Island

When Iniscathy was originally created a diocese it embraced in its episcopal jurisdiction the existing baronies of Moyarta and Clonderalaw in Thomond; the barony of Connello, in Limerick; and that part of Kerry bordering on the Shannon from the Feal to the Atlantic. In 1188, the diocese was divided between those of Limerick, Killaloe, and Ardfert, the island itself being united to the See of Killaloe. [8] St. Senán was born at Mollougha, near Kilrush, about the year 488. His family was noble, his father being Ercan, descended from Conaire I., monarch of Ireland. St. Patrick being at Cruach Phaudrig on the Limerick side of the Shannon in 488, is said to have foretold his birth and future greatness. After leaving St. Nal’s monastery he is reported to have visited Tours, Rome, etc., and on his way home to have spent some time with St. David, bishop of Menevia, in Wales. The first religious establishment founded by him was at Iniscarra, five miles from the city of Cork. Leaving eight of his disciples at that place, he departed for Inisluinge, and there erected a church and gave the veil to some daughters of Brendan, ruler of Ui Figinte (Kenry barony). Then, setting out by water for Inismore (Deer Island), in the river Fergus, he was driven by adverse winds to an island called Inistuaiscert, now believed to be Low Island, in the same river. There he founded a church. Departing from that place he reached Inismore, and there established a monastery. Quitting that locality, he proceeded to Mutton Island (Iniscaorach), in the Atlantic, near Miltown Malbay, and upon it built an oratory, some remains of which still exist. Finally, about the year 540, he is found settled at Iniscathy and establishing there a religious house, one of the rules of which was, that no woman should set foot upon the island. He died in 544, and was buried in his abbey church, where a fine monument was erected to his memory. [9] His festival is observed on the 1st and 8th of March. [10] His bell is described by St. Odran in his Irish Life of St. Senán. [11] It properly belonged to the ancient church called Ceill Senain situate in the townland of Fuidismaigh, at the north-west of the town of Kilrush. It was anciently known as Clog-na-neal, because it was supposed to have descended from the clouds, but subsequently it was called Clog-an-oir, because of its resemblance to gold in its colour. For centuries it was preserved in the west of Clare, and it is now in the possession of Mr. Marcus Keane of Beechpark, near Ennis. The old life, written by St. Odran, refers to the round tower of Scattery Island in such terms as leaves no doubt of its origin and use. It is to be regretted that the passage did not meet the eye of Dr. Petrie, as it would tend to sustain his views as to the uses made of the Irish round towers. It is as follows, as translated by Professor O’Looney, in a note at foot of the article Iniscathy, in Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum: [12] “St. Senán built seven churches or religious houses in Iniscathy. He had sixty friars in one church, and thirty priests together with seven bishops in another. He also erected a clogás (belfry) in Iniscathy, which was one hundred and fifteen feet high, and a bell being placed in it near the top, its sound was heard over all Corcabaskin, so that sacrifice could be made in every church of that territory at the very time when Senán and his disciples were engaged in offering it at Iniscathy.” St. Odran was the immediate successor of St. Senán [13] in the office of bishop.

Many references are made by the ancient Annalists to Iniscathy, which we here give as follows:

A.D. 538. St. Kieran, called the son of the carpenter, having left the islands of Arran, came hither, and was made providore for the strangers by St. Senán. [14]
A.D. 580. St. Odran, bishop and immediate successor of St. Senan, flourished about this time.
A.D. 651. Aedhan, who was bishop of Iniscathy, died on the 31st of August of this year.[15]
A.D. 792. Olchabhar, son of Flann, Aircheanach of the Abbey of Iniscathy, died. His feast was celebrated on the 27th of October. [16]
A.D. 816. The Danes plundered the Island this year, put the monks to the sword, and defaced the monument of the saint. [17]
A.D. 835. Again they sailed up the Shannon this year, and destroyed the Monastery. [18]
A.D. 861. The abbot Aidan died. [19]
A.D. 908. Cormac MacCuillenain, Archbishop of Cashel and King of Munster, was slain in battle at Magh Ailbhe near Leighlin. Flaithbeartach MacIonmuinein, his relative, was then abbot of Iniscathy, and was the great fomenter of the war. He commanded personally in the battle. In his will Cormac bequeathed to this Abbey three ounces of gold, and to the Abbot his choicest sacred vestments. The Abbot, on account of his scandalous conduct, was closely imprisoned for two years, and then ordered to submit to a severe penance in his Monastery. Afterwards he so far recovered his influence that on the death of Lachtna, who had succeeded Cormac, he was elected to fill the throne of Munster, and continued to reign till his death in 944. [20]
A.D. 950. About this time the Danes made the Island a stronghold. [21]
A.D. 963. Gebhennach, son of Cathal, Abbot of Iniscathy, died. [22]
A.D. 974. Iniscathy was plundered by Maghnus, son of Aralt (Harold); and Imhar, Lord of the Danes of Limerick, was carried off from the island, and the honour due to St. Senán violated thereby. [23]
A.D. 977. Noemhán, of Iniscathy, died. In this year the island was visited by Brian Boroimhe. He seized every thing possessed by the Danes there, as well as in the other islands of the lower Shannon and Fergus. He slew eight hundred of the foreigners, and took prisoner their chief, Imhar, with his two sons, Amlaff and Duvchunn. [24] Among the slain were Maghnus and his two sons. [25]
A.D. 994. Colla, Abbot and doctor of Iniscathy, died.
A.D. 1050. Ui Schula, Aircheanach of this Abbey, died. [26]
A.D. 1057. The Danes of Dublin plundered the Island, but they were defeated by Donogh, son of Brian Boroimhe. [27]
A.D. 1081. The Abbot O’Burgus died. [28]
A.D. 1119. Dermot O’Leanain, Coarb of St. Senán at Iniscathy, a penitential sage, died. [29]
A.D. 1176. The Abbey was again plundered by the Danes of Limerick. [30]
A.D. 1179. William Hoel, an English knight, wasted the Island, not even sparing the churches. [31]

A.D. 1188. Aodh O’Beachain, Bishop of Iniscathy, died. Richard de Loudon was guardian of the abbey after this time;[32] and in 1290 and 1295 Thomas de Chapelin was guardian after Richard.
A.D. 1445. Conor, the son of O’Conor Kerry, was slain by his kinsman Mahone O’Connor, as both were going, in a boat to the island of Iniscathy.[33]
A.D. 1578. April 24, 20th of Queen Elizabeth. This abbey, with the church yard, 24 acres of land, a house, a castle built of stone, and three cottages on the island, and the several customs following:—from every boat of oysters coming to the city of Limerick once a year, 1,000 oysters; and from every herring-boat 500 herrings once a year. Also 10 cottages, one church in ruins, 20 acres of wood and stony ground in the said island called Beachwood, with all the tithes, etc., were granted to the Mayor and citizens of Limerick and their successors for ever, in free soccage, not in capite, at the annual rent of £3 12s. 8d.[34]
A.D. 1581. The Coarb of St. Senán, i.e. Calvagh, the son of Siacus, son of Siacus MacCahane, died.
A.D. 1581. A barbarous and cruel act was committed by MacMahon of East Corcobaskin, on the island.[35]
A.D. 1583. The Lady Honora (O’Brien), wife of O’Connor Kerry, was buried on the island.[36]
A.D. 1591. The Lady Margaret, sister of Lady Honora, and wife of MacMahon, died at Kilmacduane, and was interred on the Island.[37]

A short way to the east side of the round tower stands the Damhliag or cathedral. Part of the building, as it existed about the time of the founder, remains. Its door on the west end and a small portion of the wall appear to be the only parts of it which shows signs of great antiquity. The door is an excellent specimen of the Cyclopean style of masonry, and tapers a little on the jambs, as is usual in early Christian architecture. For ten feet from the ground the western wall likewise appears to be part of the building as originally constructed, but thence upwards the work is of comparatively recent masonry. Several of the other churches on the island show that they were repaired by building upon the lower parts of the walls of the primitive erections. About three hundred yards to the south-west of the round tower is a hill called Ard-na-nangeal, that is the Hill of the Angels, upon which a ruined church stands, called after the name of the hill. A little farther still towards the south is Teampull-na-marbh, so designated because it is the only burial place on the island, but this could not have been the original name of the church. The remains of a castle, consisting of the vaults only, are seen on Scattery Island. In 1580 it was the property of Charles Cahane (Keane), Coarb of St. Senán. The date of its erection is ascertained from an Inquisition held in the 18th year of the reign of Elizabeth, which states that the Coarb “hath in his possession a new castle partly builded, a small stone house, and three cottages: annual value, 10s. 8d.” A little on the west side of the southern point of the island called Rinn Eanaigh, is found a flag, said to be that on which St. Conaire sailed over from Kerry in her unsuccessful attempt to land upon Iniscathy. In the field at the west side of the Damliag is a flag with an ancient cross inscribed, and the following epitaph: “OR DO MOINACH—OR DO MOENACH—AITE MOGROIN.” (Pray for Moinach: Pray for Moenach, tutor of Mogrón). [38]

An Inquisition taken on the 27th of October 1604, sets forth that Senán M‘Girrigine, formerly bishop of Iniscathy, was seized in fee of sixteen quarters of land, three of these lying in Killtylline, in the barony of Clonderalaw; three in Beallantallinge, in the barony of Moyarta; four called Kilrush; one named Kilnagalleagh and Moyasta, in Kilfearagh parish; and another called Kilcredaun. These sixteen quarters were called Termon Senain, and were enjoyed by the successive bishops and canons of Iniscathy while in the service of God and in the administration of holy things. The Inquisition goes on to say that Maurice, then bishop of Killaloe, with the assent of his dean and chapter, granted by deed to John O’Gegynn, of Beallatallinge, the said three quarters in Beallatallinge, for sixty years; that with the like assent, he granted by deed for one hundred years, to Teige MacGilsenán, the three quarters called Kiltelan, the said Teige being then Prior of Iniscathy. The Bishop further granted to Nicholas Cahane (Keane), the four quarters of Kilrush, the said Nicholas being called, as were his ancestors, Coarbs of Termon Senain, that is overseers and keepers of the four quarters of Kilrush. The said lands were forfeited to the king as having been granted in mortmain without licence. [39]
The Castle of Ballyket, which in 1580 belonged to James Cahane (Keane), was situated in the parish of Kilrush.

The following mortgage of lands refers to a place in this parish:

“Mortgage of Land.”
AMEN.—This is the Mortgage due to Conor Oge O’Hurly upon Carrowncalla, viz. forty cows, that is to say, seven in calf cows, and every cow thereof valued at three shillings; and the rest of the cows barren. The said Conor came by the said land thus, viz. by rapine, [40] and Conor paid eighteen cows for said land, i.e. sixteen cows for Gallowglasses, and a noble [41] for Brehon’s judgement of the said rapine; and the said eighteen cows are without any use accruing thereout unto the said Conor upon the said land; and the witnesses present at the said bargain are Slany ny Bryen, Fynnole ny MacGorman, Conor O’Arny, and Senaun O’Leadon. None shall have power to redeem the said land from Conor unless Murrogh or his son redeem the same.”

The following is an abstract of a translation by O’Donovan of an Ancient Irish Deed, now in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, which relates to the lands of Mullougha in this parish. It is a grant of the western moiety of these lands by Turlogh, son of Teige MacMahon, alias Turlogh Roe, of Cluain-adir-da-lá (Clonderalaw), Gentleman, for a term of twenty-one years, to John Gilsinán (spelt Gilinain), son of Teige of Cilltilang, the term to commence from the first of November, 1611. After the twenty-one years Turlogh can get back the possession of the lands by paying to John the sum of Ten pounds of coined English money of “good metal and of pure silver.’ The lands are bounded on the west by Bailemic-Droighnein (Ballymacrinnan); on the east by the other moiety of Mollougha; on the north by Kilcarroll; and on the south by Doon-na-gcorróg: Turlogh names as his Bailiff to give John possession, Criomthan MacCurtain. He promises to protect John in his occupancy, and to make any further deed which might, in accordance with English law, be required for the secure enjoyment of the property demised. It is dated at Clonderalaw, the 19th of July, 1611.

John Gilinain (in English letters.) Seal.

Witnessed by Bryne MacMahon. Christop. Curtyn.