We Now All Own Holy Island


The “Jewel of The Lough Derg”, Holy Island, is now owned by the Irish people.


Lough Derg, as seen from above Holy Island. Pic: Niall Culligan

The stunning and historic Holy Island was, before now, only part-owned by the OPW. But now, the entire island is, for the first time, in public ownership. Clare County Council grabbed 41 acres of the island recently, making this into a tourism paradise that anyone can visit.

No one lives on the island, but it was once a monastic settlement buzzing with monks. It has an Irish round tower, and the ruins of several small churches, as well as part of 4 high crosses and a holy well. The cemetery on this island is still in use. Yep, coffins and mourners are transported across the short distance from County Clare in small boats.

The island has the mystical feel of ancient Ireland: This is the stuff of Instagram dreams. An Irish “selfie” haven— an “Irishie”— if you will.

Around 520 CE, St. Colum founded a monastery on Inis Cealtra. It formerly belonged to the Cenél Donnghaile in the territory of the Ó Gradys. The second monastery, a famous school of learning, was founded by St. Caimin, who was Bishop-Abbot of Inis Cealtra and possibly the first Bishop of Killaloe.

Those ever-pesky Vikings visited the island in 836; led by Turgesius, they killed many of the monks. A further Viking attack led by Tomran took place in 922. So if it is wild and interesting history you want, this is the place.

The Council recently called in some professional experts to work out how to best flog it as a tourist attraction. Let’s face it the Americans are gonna love it. The Council also has to work out how to protect the cultural heritage and natural assets before someone comes in and wrecks the joint. Griffiti artists, move along.

Cllr. John Crowe, the Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council said “Holy Island is one of the most important historical and ecclesiastical sites in Ireland, and it has important links to Brian Ború. It is on the UNESCO world heritage site tentative list for Ireland as an early medieval monastic site. It is the jewel in the crown for East Clare.”

So come on over Americans, and take your Irishies at Holy island. We know no one is actually holy anymore, but this stuff looks pretty damn good on Tumblr.


You can reach the island from the harbour at Mountshannon.

Buy the 2019 Old Moore’s Almanac

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