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    Some six miles above the town of Killaloe, the Shannon expands into a spacious lake, now known as Lough Derg, but anciently "Loch Deirgheirt". It is a fine sheet of water, ten miles in length and three in its greatest breadth, and studded with many pretty islets. Lying towards the north shore, and at the entrance of that portion of the lake known as the bay of Scarriff, is one of these islets, containing, according to the Ordnance Survey, about forty-five acres of rich grass land, which rises gently from the shore to the centre.
    This is the island of Inishcaltra, commonly called, in the neighbouring country, Holy Island, and the Seven Churches. The most ancient form of the name is Inis-Cealtra, the etymology of which is obvious enough from Inis, an island; Ceall, a church, a cell, a place of retirement; and Tra, a strand; that is, "the island of the churches, or cells on the strand", as the group of ecclesiastical ruins I am about to describe are situated on the eastern shore of the islet. The name has been differently spelled by writers: as Inniskeltair, by Archdall ("Monasticon Hibernicum"); Keltra, by Colgan ("Acta Sanct."); but this is evidently carelessness. It formerly formed a portion of the principality of the O'Gradys, in Thomond, co. Clare, but it is now included, along with a considerable portion of the parish on the mainland, to which it gives name, in the barony of Leitrim and county of Galway; it forms a portion of the estate of Woodpark, the property and seat of Phillip Reade, Esq., and is easily accessible from that gentleman's boat-house, on the mainland.

    Richard R Brash, 1866

    Detail from the Faden map of Ireland, 1798.
    Above: detail from the Faden map of Ireland, 1798.
    Map © Cartography Associates, from the Rumsey Collection.

    Left: detail from satellite photo (click for larger version).

    Charon (MIT Project) 1989, James Coleman ©