St Senans Miracle Island
Video footage of Scattery Island
Iniscathy Island is now more commonly known as Scattery Island.
It lies at the mouth of the River Shannon one and a half miles from the Clare mainland. It is clearly visible from the seaside town of Kilrush. Scattery is most famous for being the burial place of St. Senan who set up a monastic school here sometime around 534.
The help of an experienced seaperson is recommended when sailing to the island as the currents and the ebb and flow of the tide can sometimes make this journey across the Shannon unpredictable. By boat it takes about twenty-five minutes from Kilrush marina.
The Round tower is the first feature clearly visible on the island’s landscape. The white lighthouse then comes into focus followed by the remains of a little row of stone-washed white cottages.
We start our tour of Scattery at St. Senan’s tomb. There is a small roofless church here. There is an inscribed slab on the tomb along with the carving of an interlaced cross. It has long since been a local tradition to take a relic from his burial place. In the past the islanders swore by the healing properties of the stones they gathered from here. Fishermen made trinklets out of them and wore them to sea to protect them from drowning.
There are numerous legends concerning the miracles that St. Senan performed on the island. The most well known is probably the story of a woman known as Mrs. Corbett. She was paralysed from the neck down. One night she dreamt that she slept on St. Senan’s grave and woke the next morning miraculously cured.
She persuaded some friends to carry her to Scattery island. She told them to bring her into the church and to place her on the Saint’s tomb stone. At nightfall she asked them to leave her alone to pray and meditate until morning.
At sunrise her friends returned and were astonished to see Mrs. Corbett walking and using her limbs quite freely. She was completely cured. She reputedly told her friends that at about midnight a man dressed in bishop type robes appeared before her. He asked her why she had come? She told him about her dream and said she was a true believer in God. Then the saintly figure touched her forehead before disappearing.
We moved on from the tomb but did not follow the conventional route. We went instead towards the round tower. It is an impressive structure approximately one hundred and ten feet high and is said to be the tallest inIreland. The position of its door is a unique feature, the entry is at ground level, normally the entrance would have been raised about ten feet from the ground to prevent invader’s from having free access to it. It was damaged by a storm during the nineteenth century but was repaired about seventy years ago.
During penal times mass was prohibited on the mainland but on Scattery they still tolled the bell for Sunday Service from this tower. It gave encouragement to the people of Kerry and Clare to attend mass.
We moved on to the cathedral beside the round tower. Many renovations have been carried out to it over the years and it has become difficult to ascertain its original character. The western door is an example of megalithic masonry. Large flagstones, some of them five feet by two feet were used in the construction of the cathedral. If you examine the arches of the structure very closely you can see the remains of the intricate carvings of animals.
We move on towards St.Senan’s well which is about seventy feet west of the round tower. Legend has it that during a great drought an angel showed St. Senan where to find water using a holly, elder or hazel branch as a water diviner. This branch was then planted and became a sacred tree. A leaf from this tree was believed to have protective powers.
The most striking feature we notice as we wade through the shorn grass is that Scattery is now a haven of a different kind. Everywhere we look we see white fluffy tails descending behind bushes. The most treacherous feature of our journey was stumbling over the many holes dug out in the fields and cliffs. Without human interference a large colony of rabbits have established themselves as Scattery’s main inhabitants.
We climb up the hill towards ‘Ard an Aingeal,’ but there isn’t much of historical value left to see here. But it’s definitely worth the effort as this is the prime vantage point from which to view the whole island. We admire the emerald fields which are scattered with golden ragweed, I spot the white lighthouse far off in the distance it is surrounded by the Shannon which is illuminated by the afternoon sun. At this point it is easy to understand why St. Senan decided this island would be a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
It is said that when St. Senan first arrived on the island the Arch Angel Michael led him to this high vantage point and from here they could clearly see far beneath them the monster known as, ‘The Cathach.’ The old Irish name for Scattery was ‘Inis Cathaigh,’ or translated to English Cathach Island. The Cathach was described as being a nondescript creature with a spiked back, scales, fishtail, a nose curled up spirally and clawed feet.
St. Senan demanded in the name of the Holy Trinity the monster leave the island immediately. The story varies from this point with some saying that the Cathach then left and ‘neither stopped nor stayed’, until he reached Doolough Lake at the foot of Mount Callan. Another version of the story says that just as the Cathach prepared to attack the Saint made the sign of the cross which caused the creature to collapse and then he was bound and deposited intoDooloughLake. We decided to walk on towards the shore. The remains of a military battery is still visible at the south-end of the island. Nearby is the lighthouse and the remains of the river pilot’s house or station. The lighthouse is unmanned now and was converted to solar power in 2002.
After this we turn around and head back towards the pier. We pass the building that used to be the school-house. The school was originally established in 1869, at this time there were twenty-seven pupils, it was closed in June 1948 with only six pupils remaining. They were then transferred to the mainland school in Kilrush and could only return home at the weekend.
We continue on through what was once a thriving community. The cottages are crumbling now some having been derelict for thirty years. Most of the houses were built in the 18th century with a smaller number being built in the 19th century. I walked down through the remains of the once bustling village green and felt a sense of loss that it was now deserted. At high tide the waves lap against the deserted whitewashed cottages, that were all built facing towards Kilrush to shade them from the onslaught of the prevailing winds.
We are now at the church known as Teampall na Marbh (the church of the dead). This was built in the 14th or 15th Century. This church was of particular significance on the island as in many areas of Clare it was believed that anyone who was buried within this church would have a speedy journey to the after life.
We are back at the pier with two renovated cottages on our left. These have been restored and work has started on another. The first cottage which has been restored to it’s original appearance is used as a visitor stores the second cottage is open to the public and contains a visitor’s book and details of the rich history ofScatteryIsland.
Just before we walk down the pier we see the remains of an Elizabethan castle which was abandoned in an incomplete state.
Our journey is now nearing its end and we pause for a moment and sit on the grass. The sun is beginning to submerge into the distant horizon, I think of how the islanders must have felt making their final journey to the mainland leaving behind the tranquillity of their serene, picturesque home behind them for the last time.
In 1881 there were 141 people living on Scattery (including military based at the battery), by 1978 only two people remained on the island and they then left the island to live on the mainland. Now the island is uninhabited except for a thriving rabbit and wildlife population.