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  • Kilchreest
    Kilchreest
    Photography © aughty.org 2006
    Knockbeha Mountain
    Knockbeha Mountain
     

    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. p. 7

    "Inishcaltra and its Remains" (The Gentleman's Magazine, 1866)
    Richard R. Brash, Archt., M.R.I.A.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    In front of the little bay of Skariff, which lies at the upper extremity of Loughderg (one of the many lake-like expansions of the Shannon) is a group of three small islets the principal of which, Iniscealtra, or Holy Island, contains twenty acres. It has been famous from very early ages for its reputed sanctity: it possesses structures belonging to the Pagan as well as Christian periods; a round tower and seven small churches, or rather cells or oratories. The round tower is about seventy feet high, and in good preservation. The principal church is called Teampol Camin, or the Chapel of Saint Camin, because that saint was either the founder, or patron. From the little delivered to us by the old hagiologists, we collect that Camin flourished in the first half of the seventh century; that he was of the princely house of Hy Kinselagh (in Leinster), and half-brother of Guare, the generous King of Connaught. Betaking himself to the seclusion of Iniscealtra, he there led a life of contemplation and great austerity, the fame of which attracted to its shores numbers desirous of imitating his virtues and receiving instruction. The concourse of these disciples became at length so great, that the holy man was compelled to found a place for their reception and shelter, and thus originated a monastery, which in after times enjoyed a far-spread reputation, and was deemed one of the asylums of Ireland. Camin died somewhat about the year 658. [1] p. 193-4.

    [1]. That Camin was not, however, the first Christian ecclesiastic who dwelt in Cealtra, we have the authority of the venerable Bede, who informs us that, in 548, there was a great mortality in Ireland, and that, amongst others, there died St. Columba of Inis Kealtra. We further learn from Colgan, that Stellanus, Abbot of Inis Kealtra, flourished about 650, and died 24th of May; this would indicate an establishment distinct from that of Camin. The latter, probably, was bishop of this island, with the jurisdiction belonging to that office, distinct from that of the abbacy. Such a division of functions did certainly exist there, for we have, at 951, the death of Dermot MacCahir, bishop of Inis Kealtra. About the year 660, Coelin, a monk of Inis Kealtra, wrote a metrical life of St. Brigid. p. 339-40

    "Ireland, its Scenery, Character and History" (Vol. 6, 1911)
    Mr. & Mrs. S.C. Hall

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Lough Derg is the lower of the two great lake-like expansions of the Shannon, the other, Lough Ree, lying further up the river. Save at its southern end, where the lake is embosomed in hills of Silurian slate, the winding shores are formed of low-lying limestones, and the numerous islands are composed of the same rock. Botanical interest centres on the low, uncultivated islets and reefs, and on the sloping, stony shores. Here a peculiar flora is developed, as the following list of abundant plants will show:

    Rhamnus catharticus
    Hypericum perforatum
    Geranium sanguineum
    Rubus cæsius
    Rosa spinosissima
    Parnassia palustris
    Viburnum Opulus
    Galium boreale
    Eupatorium cannabinum    
    Solidago Virgaurea
    Antennaria dioica
    Carlina vulgaris
    Cnicus pratensis
    Hieracium umbellatum
    Lysimachia vulgaris
    Samolus Valerandi
    Erythraea Centaureum
    Chlora perfoliata
    Gentiana Amarella
    Lycopus europæus
    Teucrium Scordium
    Juniperus communis
    Schcenus nigricans
    Sesleria coerulea
    Selaginella selaginoides

    The rarest plant of the lake shores is Inula salicina, which occurs in many places. Although this species ranges widely in Europe and Asia, it is unknown elsewhere in the British Isles. And other rare plants are the American Sisyrinchium angustifolium, which grow in several places, being abundant along the Woodford river. p. 88-90

    "The Provinces of Ireland: Munster" (1921)
    Edited by George Fletcher, F.G.S., M.R.I.A.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Clare is on one side of it, and county Galway on the other. On the Clare side, the nearer banks are finely cultivated and well wooded; and more than one ruined castle is seen rising from the water's edge. One of these castles was some time ago held in forcible possession by illicit distillers, against all the civil force that attempted, from time to time, to dislodge them; and it was at length found necessary to batter down the sheltering walls with canon ball. On the Galway side, the scenery is diversified by several fine country seats, and by the prettily situated village called Mount Shannon. Several islands also adorn this reach; particularly Holy Island, covered with beautiful green pasturage, on which there is an extensive grazing; and where also is one of the ancient round towers, besides some lesser and more imperfect ruins. The other islands are no way remarkable. With the exception of Bushy island, which is what it professes to be, they are destitute of wood. p. 325

    "Ireland in 1834: A Journey Throughout Ireland during the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1834" (Vol. I, 1835)
    Henry D Inglis

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    The day was at its height, and a bright sun and dead calm had set all to rest; so we took advantage of the idle hour, and steered for the opposite coast, where, being sheltered by the Galway mountains from the westerly winds which prevail in Ireland, and the natural flies being at the same time wafted off the shore, the fish are most abundant. p.95

    Standing out from the bay of Scariff lay Holy Island, clothed in the hoary garb of centuries, the varied ruins of its seven churches presenting the picturesque in one of its most attractive forms. It was in ages past a place of considerable importance as a monastic and literary institution, and is still held in high estimation by the peasantry. Penances are still performed here; and from the particular tenacity with which the lowest cling to their old usages and localities, funerals here are frequent: these are of course managed by means of boats - the corpse being towed in one by itself - as from the strange inconsistency, which it would seem forms a part of the character of these certainly singular people, their treatment of their own dead (however regardless of taking life they unfortunately are) is romantic, nay frantically tender. p.96

    ...a four o'clock May sun was shedding its radiance on the purple heath of the Galway mountains, which was as it were thrown back and reflected on the old ruins. The wind had totally lulled, and there was an utter stillness around... It seemed as if the old Sanctuary were enjoying a day-dream of its pristine and peaceful glories in the repose of nature; for though the air elsewhere had been teeming with them, even the pleasant sounds of bird and bee were here wanting. It was solitude the most uninterrupted, but divested of all its terrors. p.97

    "A Quartogenarian" (1833)
    Sporting Magazine, Vol. VII, Second Series

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    The surrounding country was for a mile or two wooded and undulating, with here and there cottages, looking picturesque enough, but many of which to my knowledge were squalid and wretched habitations. In the distance rose hills covered with purple heather, where, before Land League hunts came into vogue, grouse abounded. These moorland summits were our barometer when the wind was north-westerly, for a collection of cloud around them was a sure sign of the sharp squall which would shortly come dashing down on to the lake. p. 44

    Looking up the lake we could see on Holy Island an elevated round tower, one of the finest specimens of its kind remaining. Under its shadow are the ruins of an old monastic establishment and a little graveyard, which is still used. To be buried there is considered by the superstitious peasantry a long step towards eternal happiness, and at the time we were cruising about the lake there was a man living on its shores, who having had a limb taken off in an operation had it buried on Holy Island in advance of his body, "for", said he, "what would I do in Paradise wid only one arm?"

    The island, with which we were fated to become better acquainted the following day, is of no great extent, but the soil, enriched by the interments of centuries, grows a grass which fattens cattle with such rapidity that the farmers willingly give as high rent for it as for any grazing land in Ireland. In the spring time the white narcissus blooms freely all over it, and here and there one comes upon clumps of golden daffodils. Whether in consequence of its profitable pasture, lovely spring flowers, ancient monuments, or passport to Paradise, I cannot say, but for some reason or another the peasants have made up their minds that it is inhabited by the "good people", as they term the fairies. p. 157-8.

    "Wild Sports in Ireland" (1897)
    John Bickerdyke

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    This place has been visited from the earliest times by foot-sore pilgrims, who, remote from intrusion, in the midst of the broad bay of Scariff, some five or six miles from the Tipperary shore of the Shannon, and some three miles, at least, from our intended point of departure at the Clare side, pursued their devotions without interruption. The island was called the Island of Pilgrimage. The island is in the barony of Leitrim, county Galway. I should have stated that the view of the Holy Island from the shore imparted the most lively excitement; it was as if one were regarding some darling object which we had longed for years to behold, and which, at length, was well nigh within our anxious reach: there it lay, calm, green, filled with the storied remnants of antiquity, remarkable, above all, for the noble Round Tower of other days, which, towering upwards to the sky, is a thing of perennial, unfading sublimity, venerable in its mystic habit of a remote antiquity, and associated with myriads of legends, in the minds of the people holy, too, tranquil we may add, majestic, in those broad blue waters from which the island rises. p. 162

    "A Visit to Iniscaltra" (The journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. IX. Part III, 1889)
    Maurice Lenihan, J.P., M.R.I. A.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    The island known as Inis Cealtra, though in modern times often spoken of as "Holy Island," lies in Scariff Bay, an inlet of Loch Derg. It is about eight miles, as the crow flies, north of Killaloe, and about seventeen chains from the nearest point of the mainland. p. 93

    Now in the day of the arrival of holy Colum at Inis Cealtra, the Lord made for him a supper. For there was in that island a tree by name tilia, [1] whose juice distilling filled a vessel; and that liquor had the flavour of honey and the headiness of wine. And with that best of liquors were holy Colum and his followers filled (saturati).

    Now Colum lived in Inis Cealtra for a long time, and the birds of heaven were wont to have friendly intercourse with him, and to sport, fluttering about his face. Then Nadcuimius [Nadchaoimhe], his pupil, said to him: 'Master, wherefore do the birds not flee from thee, whereas us they avoid?' To him Colum answered, 'Wherefore should birds flee from a bird ? For as a bird flieth, my mind never ceaseth to fly up to heaven.'

    [1] A glossator has inserted the words "scilicet leman." p. 95.

    "The History and Antiquities of Inis Cealtra" (Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. XXXIII, 1916)
    R. A. S. Macalister, D.Litt., F.S.A.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    From the Shannon, where the hills are dark above the waters of the Red Lake, came Bove Derg, endlessly grieving for his grand-children, the cruelly transformed. They indeed came not, for the cold waters of the Moyle detained them, where they wandered swanlike Æd and Fiechra and comely Conn, and Finoola, their sister maternal, though so young. They themselves came not, but from the north out of the sea, proceeded slow, sweet fairy music, most heart-piercing, most beautiful. p. 265

    "History of Ireland (The Heroic Period)" (Vol. 1, 1878)
    Standish O'Grady

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    There is also a lake in that country which the natives call Loycha. In that lake there is what appears to be a little floating island; for it floats about in the lake, here and there approaching the shore sometimes so near that one may step out upon it; and this occurs most frequently on Sundays. And such is the property of this islet that if one who is ill steps out upon it and partakes of the herbs that grow there, he is healed at once, no matter what his ailment may be. Another singular fact is this, that never more than one can come upon it at one time, though many may wish to do so; for as soon as one has landed, the island immediately floats away. It also has this peculiarity that it floats constantly about in the lake for seven winters; but as soon as the seventh winter is past, it floats to the shore somewhere and unites with the other land, as if it had always been joined to it. But when that moment has come, a crash like a peal of thunder is heard, and, when the din is past, another island can be seen in the lake of the same size and character as the earlier one. Thus it happens regularly every seventh year that, as soon as the one island has joined the mainland, another appears, though no one knows whence it comes.[1] p. 107-8

    [1] See Ériu, IV, 6. Kuno Meyer knows of no such story in Irish folklore, but refers to similar tales told of floating islands in Wales and Scotland.

    "The King's Mirror (Speculum Regale Kunungs Skuggsjá)" (1917)
    Translated from the Old Norwegian by Laurence Marcellus Larson

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    To any one consulting a gazetteer, the two questions to be answered about any place are, first, "Where is it?" and second, "What about it?" -preface.

    Killaloe. town and par. with ry. sta., G. S. & W. R., E. co. Clare, on river Shannon, 17 miles NE. of Limerick par., 9978 ac. , pop. 1781; town, pop. 885; P.O., T.O. Market day, Tuesday. The station is at Ballina, on the opposite side of the river, which is here crossed by a bridge of 13 arches. The town has little or no trade; but it derives some advantage from the marble and slate quarries in the vicinity. There is a small pier for the Shannon steamers. The angling on the Shannon and Lough Derg (1 mile distant) attracts a number of visitors. The see of K. was founded in the 6th century by St. Dalua; the cathedral of St. Flannan (1160) is a venerable structure. "Kincora", the palace, of King Brian Boru, written of by Moore, stood at Killaloe. p. 442

    "The Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles, Topographical, Statistical and Commercial." (1904)
    J. G. Bartholomew

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    "Queen of the Irish Lakes" is the proud title borne by Lough Derg... It lies along the course of the Shannon for twenty-five miles, its extended banks forming a vast reservoir in which is gathered an immense volume of water.

    The steamer started at 8 a.m. to carry its few passengers across the lake and on up the river as far as Banagher. I was soon conscious of the impress of wondrously impressive conditions. The Emerald hills of Clare, Tipperary, and Galway stood around like Maids of Honor to the Queen. Bordered with rich and varied foliage, the far reaching Lough seemed all the more majestic beneath heavy skies. Storm clouds, like black steeds in rampage, chased across the heavens and down over the Galway horizon, followed by lighter formations through which the sun sifted his fire, streaking clouds, hills and lake with lines of glowing color. And so it continued through the morning, a soul moving vision in black, white, green and gold, - a scenic rhapsody of rare magnificence. How futile are the ordinary figures of speech as interpretations of nature's grander moods! I ventured as much in a casual remark to a stranger standing near by, and he readily agreed. It proved to be the opening of a conversation that lasted until he left the steamer at Portumna. p. 69-70

    "Around The Emerald Isle: A Record of Impressions" (1910)
    William Charles O'Donnell, Jr. Ph.D.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Beyond Bird Hill we soon run alongside the Shannon, and see, on an island in it, the ancient Church of St. Molua, who was the first bishop of Killaloe. Killaloe Station is on the E. side of the river, in the hamlet of Ballina, which is connected by a long bridge with Killaloe. (Shannnon View; Lake View; Royal). The situation of this episcopal village (pop. 1,000) is eminently beautiful, being at the foot of Lough Derg, which on its western side is dominated by the Slieve Bernagh range. The fishing both for trout and salmon is excellent, and though the latter is preserved the owners are exceedingly liberal. The Cathedral (re-opened after restoration, May 1887) is an interesting 12th cent, cruciform church. Notice externally the fine E. window of 3 lights. Inside, at the S.W. of the nave, is a fine Romanesque doorway. The old Font is also preserved. The ancient church of St. Flannan, 2nd bishop, A.D. 639, is in the graveyard to the N. of the cathedral, and has a remarkable steep stone roof. This building, and that of St. Molua's, above, are apparently contemporary with the bishops whose names they bear.

    Lough Derg is about 24 m. long from the inflow of the Shannon at Portumua to its outflow at Killaloe. The scenery at the S. end, and of the W. arm (Scarriff Bay) is very beautiful, and a boat can be had at Killaloe for 10s. a day, including men. p. 155

    "Ireland (Part II) East, West and South including Dublin and Howth" (1906)
    C. S. Ward, M.A.

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Like all Irish lakes, with the exception of the great Lough Neagh, Lough Derg is of a very irregular form, with a multitude of bays and creeks, and side branches. Its southern part narrows to a point, and at last ends abruptly in a little cul-de-sac. The mountains nearest the lake, Slievh Bernagh, Knockermaun, &c., are very beautiful, and covered with grass, trees, and houses. Somewhat farther off, towards the right, Mount Inchiquin, and to the left the Keeper, which is about 25,000 feet high, tower above them; while among these mountains the traveller perceives the famous Devil's Bite, a very strange and deep cut in the ridge of a mountain, the origin of which the Irish can explain in no other way than by a somewhat humorous attack made by the devil, who probably mistook the ridges for the back of a fat Irish pig. He, however, spat out the bite again, for there is to be found, somewhere in Ireland, a piece of a rock that exactly fits the aforesaid cut. At the very end of the cul-de-sac lies the little town of Killaloe. p. 69

    "Travels in Ireland" (1844)
    Johann Georg Kohl

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Killaloe has a poetic name, a romantic and beautiful location, and many legendary reminiscences of Irish valor and magnificence. It was the central residence of Brian Boroihme, the great hero and monarch of Irish patriotism.

    It has little else to boast of. The quays along the river, and the new pier at which the steamboats land, show some signs of life and business; but every thing else bears the stamp of time, neglect, and poverty. p. 305-6

    The scenery in this region is very fine. The beautiful valley through which the Shannon hurries its winding way, with broad plains on either side, with here and there a wooded hill, and the far off ranges in the distance, bounded by Slieve Pheling, Devil's Bit, Gottymore, and others of equal grandeur on the north, by the lofty mountains which approach to the very shores of the lake, just at its outlet; then the calm, clear waters spreading off to the north, with sinuosities penetrating far into the sides of the rugged mountains which border its shores - every thing is pleasing, varied, and romantic. p. 307

    "Ireland as I Saw It: The Condition, Character and Prospects of the People" (1850)
    Wm. S. Balch

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    Killaloe, Bourke's house across the river among rather ragged woods. "City" (I think with some high old church towers) standing high at the other end of the bridge, in dry trim country, at the foot of the long lough, was pleasant enough from the outside; one small skirt of it was all we travelled over. Lough now, with complex wooden and other apparatus for dispersing water; part of the questionable "Navigation of the Shannon". Questionable; indeed everywhere in Ireland one finds that the "Government", far from stinginess in public money towards Ireland, has erred rather on the other side; making, in all seasons, extensive hives for which the bees are not yet found. West side of Lough Derg: pleasant smooth-dry winding road. Clare hills stretching up, black-fretted, and with spots of culture, all treeless to perhaps 1500 or 2000 feet, gradually enough, on the left. Greener high hills on the other side of lake with extensive slate quarries, chief trade hereabouts. p. 23

    "Reminiscences of my Irish Journey in 1849" (1882)
    Thomas Carlyle

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    It would seem as if nature intended Ireland for a continent, and not for an island, by giving it lakes so entirely disproportioned to its size.

    Loch Derg, anciently called Deirgdheirc, and at present pronounced Dharrig by the peasantry, would be the most beautiful of all the great lakes of Ireland if its islands were as numerous as those of Loch Erne, or even of Loch Ree.

    The charms of Loch Derg are its semi-mountainous shores. It would be incorrect to call the bold hills on either side of the lake mountains, for very few of them reach an altitude of more than a thousand feet; but they are most graceful in their outlines, and are, for the most part, covered with luxuriant grass up to their very summits. The lake is by no means straight; its shores are tortuous and full of indentations, so that there is a good deal of change of scene when sailing on it. p. 231-2.

    "Beauties and Antiquities of Ireland: A Tourist's Guide to its most beautiful scenery & an Archaeologist's manual for its most interesting ruins." (1897)
    T. O. Russell

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    In the province of Mounster are three remarkable islands -

    On (1) no woman, and no animal of the female sex, can remain alive - a fact tested daily by strangers arriving at this place, with dogs, cats, &c., and found to be true.

    On (2) no human being can die, whence it is called Insula Vitae, or Angelorum, the island of the Living. For, although people become ill there, they do not die so long as they stay on the island.

    No. (3) has the special peculiarity that all birds flying there lose their power of flight in such a manner that they fall from the air on to the ground; so that every year a large number of birds are taken thus on this island.

    Here also is a spring from which it is quite impossible to draw, nor can its water be disturbed in the slightest degree: when that happens, there follows a tremendous rain, which floods the whole country. p. 396

    "A German View of Ireland, 1720"
    Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (Vol. XVI, Fifth Series, 1906)

    Source: Internet Archive

     

    A ship's company were on that expedition to Dún na mbarc [1]: Ceasair, and her ships lading, came to land there; namely, fifty women and three men, i.e. Bioth and Fionntain, and Ladhra, as we have said. It was that Ladhra, as we have said, who was the first dead person of Ireland, according to the folk who say that no people at all occupied Ireland before the deluge, but Ceasair and those who came with her. And from him is named Ard Ladhrann [2]. From Bioth Sliabh Beatha [3] is named; and from Fionntain is named Feart Fionntain over Tultuinne [4] in Duthaigh Aradh [5], near to Loch Deirgdheirc [6]. p. 145

    Know, O reader, that it is not as genuine history I set down this occupation, nor any occupation of which we have treated up to this; but because I have found them written in old books. And, moreover, I do not understand how the antiquaries obtained tidings of the people whom they assert to have come into Ireland before the deluge, except it be the aerial demons gave them to them, who were their fairy lovers during the time of their being pagans; or unless it be on flags of stones they found them graven after the subsiding of the deluge, if the story be true: for it is not to be said that it is that Fionntain who was before the deluge who would live after it... p. 147.

    [1] Probably Dúnnamark near Bantry (Joyce).

    [2] Probably Ardamine, Co. Wexford.

    [3] Near Monaghan.

    [4] Tultuinne, a hill near Killaloe.

    [5] The barony of Ara, Co. Tipperary.

    [6] Lough Derg.

    "The History of Ireland. The Introduction and The First Book of The History." (Volume I, 1902)
    Geoffrey Keating, D.D. (Edited with Translation and Notes by David Comyn M.R.I.A.)

    Source: Internet Archive