Holy Island Paddle.

A few stolen hours out of the house this morning. The forecast was terrible (it’s Ireland in July) and so I decided to paddle rather than ride or walk – I’d be wet anyway…

Lough Derg forms the eastern border of County Clare, with counties Tipperary and Galway also sharing the shoreline. It’s the third largest lake on the island of Ireland, and since we moved house at the start of July, is just 20 minutes away from home.
Regular readers may recall my misguided circumnavigation of the Lough by bicycle. It was a dull drag of a ride, the main problem being that I was nowhere near the lake. On this visit I’d be a whole lot closer.

My plan was to make the short crossing from Knockaphort to Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) and have a poke around with my camera. I parked up, got into character and headed out onto the massive lake.


I crossed from the mainland to the shelter of the island and rather than using the jetty that faces my starting point, decided to go the long way around the island to what was marked as a pier on the map. The wind that was blowing in the afternoon rain was also whipping up some decent sized waves, particularly on the southern shore of the island.
I had to keep a careful eye out for submerged rocks as the waves were lifting and dropping my little sit-on-top like a cork, and coming down on one of these rocks can be a recipe for a roll.

After a fun twenty minutes, I’d stayed upright and made it to the crude rock and aggregate jetty. Given the 1600 year history of the island, I thought about the people that had arrived at the island at this very same spot in that period.



I was the only person daft enough to be on the island and so didn’t have to worry too much about leaving my gear close to the water, so I dragged my boat ashore and hid it from the wind before setting off to explore.

The island has the ruins of four churches, several graveyards, a round tower and a Cillín – it certainly lives up to the name Holy Island.
Ireland is full of this stuff. Around us, it’s impossible to travel more than a few hundred meters without coming across a burial site, and abandoned abbey or a high cross. But even by these standards, the long history of religious dedication on this island and the condition that most it remains in make this place pretty special.
I’d read that even the Vikings had visited on a couple of occasions, wiping out the monks each time. It really is a place that allows the imagination to run wild…

The weather added to the atmosphere of the island; the grey clouds matching the exposed stone. I wandered around and snapped pictures, keeping an eye on the increasing size of the waves rolling up the lake.

Some of these stones are already completely covered over by moss and grass, others are still braving the elements. The oldest are more than 1100 years old!
The Saint’s Graveyard



At the highest point of the island, away from the other buildings is the cillín. A cillín is a burial site, primarily used for stillborn and unbaptized infants. The site of the burials was marked with plain stones. These burial areas were also used for the recently deceased who were not allowed in consecrated churchyards, including the mentally disabled, suicides, beggars, executed criminals, and shipwreck victims.


St. Brigid’s church and the Roundtower. The Round Tower was built around 1000AD(!) and surveyed by Dr. Liam de Paor and restoration was carried out between 1970 and 1980. The tower’s cone-cap was not found implying that the tower was never finished. This fits in with the legend that a beautiful witch distracted the stonemason.
A bullaun stone, used as a bowl for mixing herbs. Megalithic tupperware!
St. Caimin’s Church is the only roofed building, part of it dating back to the 10th century. In the 12th century a Romanesque doorway was created in the western wall. In 1879 it was reconstructed as an arch of three orders. In 1978 that doorway was taken down. In 1981 it was rebuilt in an arch of four rather than three orders. Inside the church there are crosses, monuments, gravestones and a sundial.


Back to the boat and back on the water and things were getting really lively. I had a near-miss as a wave caught me side on before a stop at the northern end of the island. I could see my car from here, and as I was being watched by the Spanish tourists on the mainland, I tried to keep my paddling smooth despite the buffeting I was getting on the final crossing.

Leica M Monochrom (CCD) with a Lomography MinitarArt lens (the 32mm f/2.8 one from an LC-A). I also shot the same stuff with my Yashica-Mat 124G on Ilford FP4+ film – those pictures will follow sometime…

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