At 10.10 am on a beautiful sunny morning in December last fourteen members of the Athenry Archaeological and Historical Society left Athenry for the beautiful island of Scattery in the Shannon Estuary. Our guide for that day was Professor Etienne Rynne. On our way through Galway and Clare he pointed out to us many interesting landmarks. I had not known of the windmill in Millpark near Derrydonnell or that the tallest round tower in Ireland was in Kilmacduagh. All this was seen from the great vantage point of a large coach.
On this wonderful day we saw many strange and interesting things but the best by far were on the Scattery Island. We reached Kilrush at 1.00 pm and joined up with our companions for the day, the budding archaeologists of the diploma class from University College Galway and fellow archaeologists from the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. After a quick lunch we set sail for the Island of Scattery which we reached after twenty minutes as the waters of the Shannon were calm. Once there the Professor gave us our bearings and a brief history of the island, telling us how the island was once an important early Christian settlement which attracted male students of religion from all over Europe. It was founded in 532 AD. by local Saint Senan on his return from the continent.
Over its long history Scattery, or Inis Cathaigh as Gaeilge) was listed as part of many different dioceses including Ardfert, Limerick, Killaloe and was even once listed as Kells. Originally there were seven churches on the island. That day we saw the remains of Kilnamarve Church, The Cathedral, Temple Senan, Tobar Senan and the round tower which was split by lightning and repaired by a local farmer with a grant of £40. We also saw the castle which was built in 1577 and now only the lower vault remains. We also learned some of the local folklore and how a monster had once plagued the island before being cast away by local hero and religious figure of the area, Saint Senan, and that women were not allowed on the island until 1000 AD and “Rightly so”, said the Professor.
The island had a population of twenty five inhabitants before it was evacuated. A preserving order was placed on the island in 1971. The last people to leave, in 1971, were the McMahons. While on the island we examined the fact and fiction of its 1,500 year history. We even made our own archaeological discovery. Bob Reilly and ourselves unearthed half a quern stone, the other half had already been found and was in the care of the O.P.W. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit the Napoleonic battery or the lighthouse on Rineanna point. After four interesting hours we left the island. On the way back we hadn’t the luxury of our own coach but shared a coach with the diploma class from University College Galway.
Tired but joyful we made our journey home learning as we went about things like the “Egg – Flip” made in “Fanny O’Dea’s” and “what it was good for”.
After stopping in Ennis for light refreshment we arrived home at 7.00 pm having had a most interesting, enjoyable and educative day thanks to our teacher Finbarr and guide Professor Etienne Rynne.
Written by Patrick Browne and Michael O’Regan
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published April 1996
Scattery Island, County Clare, Ireland
The Story of my Life by Tom Kiernan
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