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Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland 1845



Inniscattery popularly known as Scathery, and anciently Inniscathal - an island in the barony of Moyarta, co. Clare, Munster. It lies in the Shannon, 1 mile south-south-west of Kilrush, and of a mile south of the nearest part of the mainland. It contains about 100 acres; the soil good, well stocked with cattle, and abounding with rabbits and wild fowl; but though inhabited, its population is not specially returned. It is a low-browed island, remarkable for hardly anything in its configuration or natural structure and produce; yet, when its size and physical insignificance are considered, it figures so prominently in history and archaeology as to be one of the wonders of Ireland. Its sound or roadstead was early ascertained by the Vikings to be one of their most convenient harbours for making descents upon Ireland; and the island, in consequence, was for a long period a bone of contention and a scene of strife between them and the Irish. In 975, Brian Boromh, at the head of 1,200 Dalgais troops, and assisted by Domnhall, king of Toamhuein, recovered the island from the Danes, by defeating their leader Tomhar and his two sons in a pitched battle, and slaying in the strife 800 of the Danes who had fled to the place for protection. Owing to this and other battles, and still more perhaps to its having been for many ages a favourite burying-place, the whole island is strewed some feet deep with human bones; and in some places where the sea has worn down the shore to a mural face or mimic perpendicular cliff, a stratum of human bones is visible 6 or 7 feet from the surface. At a late and more peaceful period, the merchants of Limerick had castles and stone dwelling-houses on the island, "with a provost or warden, who might dispend 100 marks yearly;" in the reign of Henry VIII., Edmund Sexton recommended it as a proper site for a fortress, which, with one ship of 60 guns and two or three galleys, would overawe all the territory which now forms the counties of Clare, Limerick, Kerry, and Cork; and even in our own day, it figures as a strong military ground, or at least as the site of a small fort.

But Inniscattery, after all, owes its main importance to its ecclesiastical antiquities and associations. An alleged bishopric is said to have been established on it by St. Patrick, and to have been governed for a time by himself, and then transferred to St. Senanus; and this supposed bishopric is asserted to have been united in the 12th century to the see of Limerick. St. Senanus, who makes the principal figure in whatever relates to the ecclesiastical associations of the island, is nearly as phantasmagorial a personage as St. Kevin of Glendalough, and forms the subject of probably as many and as wild legendary tales; but, on the whole, he may be described, according to the pictures of him by credulous admirers, as having been so chaste a monk as never to look at a woman or suffer one to be on the island, and so zealous a propagator of monasticism as to found many monasteries in Munster. Not one of the stories, grave or gay, which are narrated respecting him, can be received without enormous abatement and alteration; and the whole of them may be handed over to the poet Moore, with whom they have found favour, or to any similar writer of imagination, as incomparably a fitter person to deal with them than a plodding matter-of-fact topographist. Eleven churches are asserted to have been built on the island by Senanus; but the remains of only seven ecclesiastical structures-including under that name hermitage, sanctuary, oratory, tomb, or whatever else comes under the comprehensive old category of "kill" or "cella"can now be traced, and three of these evince themselves, at a glance, to have been built long after the time when Senanus is said to have flourished. The cathedral, St. Mary’s church, and another of the seven structures, are in the pointed style of architecture, but possess no particular attraction; the four other structures, one of them called Senon’s Own, and another Teampul-an-Eird, measure only from 12 to 24 feet in length, and were lighted each with only one or two very small windows, little superior to loopholes; and such other objects of local note as are pointed out in connection with St. Senan or his followers, have no interest for any eye but that of a vulgar and fanatical devotee. But proudly over all the ruins and all the surface of the island soars one of the finest pillar-towers in the kingdom, springing from a base of 22 feet in circumference, shooting aloft to an altitude of 120 feet, wearing still its barrad or conical cap, and, though very long ago split by lightning almost from top to bottom, still retaining its integrity and its vertical position. This turraghan at once forms an useful landmark to mariners, and combines with the surface of the island and the surrounding objects to constitute a fine landscape as seen from Revenue-Hill in the vicinity of Kilrush. Inniscattery is, of course, a favorite place of devoteeism and pilgrimage. "A holy well in the island," says Mr. Hely Dutton, "is resorted to by great numbers of devotees, who, as they term it, take their rounds about it annually on their bare knees; and it is a frequent practice for those who cannot conveniently perform this penance, to pay at this and other holy wells a trifling gratuity to some persons to perform this ceremony for them; I have known a woman to make a trade of this mummery. The common people have a great veneration for this island and its ruins; they carry pebbles taken from it as preservatives against shipwreck, and the boatmen will not navigate a boat that has not taken a round about Scattery in a course opposite the sun." The island gives an alias name to the Roman Catholic parish of Kilrush, which is in the dio. of Killaloe, and has chapels at Kilrush, Killimey, and Meagh.

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1845
Courtesy of Clare Local Studies Project

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