Church Island

Early Christian Monastic site

This was the first of three island sites we planned to visit during our short visit to Kerry. An early christian monastery is said to have been here by St Finán Cam in the 6th century. As we sailed across the lake, the gorgeous evening sunlight lit up the walls of St Finán's 12th century Romanesque church. The church is entered through a round-headed doorway in the west gable. All four orders of the sandstone jambs are richly decorated in the Romanesque style. Sadly these carvings, some of which are shown below, are badly weathered.

St. Fínán Cam (aka St Finnian, Fionain) was reputedly born in Kerry in the 6th century. It is believed he studied under St Brendan of Clonfert before establishing a monastery at Kinnity in County Offaly. Fionain (fair-haired) returned to Kerry and founded the small monastic settlement here on Church Island, Lough Currane. It is almost impossible to drive around the Iveragh Peninsula (The Ring of Kerry) without coming across some reference to St Finan, the Holy Well, and Killemlagh Church at St Finian's Bay are a few of the sites associated with him. He probably established the early christian site at Innisfallen on Loch Leane, where it is wrongly accredited to St Finian Lobhar on the information board.

Cross slabs

In total 11 decorated slabs are known on the island, some of which are pictured above. Two of the slabs bear inscriptions. The cross slab, extreme right above, features a ringed double outline cross with a tapering shaft. An inscription inside the shaft and under the left arm reads: BENNACHT FOR ANMAIN ANMCHADA translation- A blessing on the soul of Anmchada Macalister 1949. IHS and XPS are inscribed on the arms. This stone now stands outside the north wall of the chancel, it is believed it was moved to here, in 1883, from the leacht at the north west of the church. See middle foreground in the top image. This leacht is said to cover the grave of St Finán.

A damaged trapezoidal shaped cross slab, not pictured, bears an inscribed cross and a barely visible inscription. Macalister 1949 read it as: + BENNACHT F[OR] ANMAIN GILLE IN CHOMDED I BUICINE ADBUR RI CIARRAIDI.

A number of the slabs are now mounted on the north wall inside the church. A rectangular block of sandstone bears a 12th century carving of a musician playing a bowed lyre. Locally it is known as "the fiddle stone" It is thought that bowed lyres came to Europe in the 11th century. This is the only known depiction of this instrument in Ireland.

Also present in the graveyard, that surrounds the church, are three leachta. Two of them have large pillar stones at the centre. The largest of these two pillar stones is pictured left. A third pillar stone stands beside the south jamb of the romanesque doorway. The third leacht is a low rectangular stepped mound, lined with stone slabs. Reputed to mark St Finán's grave this leacht is situated to the north west of the church. From here we walked along a causeway, that runs along the north side of the island. The causeway leads to St Finán's cell, a large drystone structure, known as a clochán. The remains of another drystone hut, that was latterly used as a sheepfold is situated at the centre of the island between St Finán's cell and the graveyard. There are the remains of two rectangular huts at the southern edge of the island.

St Finan's Cell

St Fináns Cell is rectangular drystone structure with rounded external corners, giving it the more common profile of a beehive hut. Internally it is roughly 5.25 long x 5 metres wide. The walls corbel inwards, see image below left. There is a lintelled doorway at the north east of the structure. José pointed out two lintelled opes above the doorway, one on either side. These opes are visible in the images below. I would strongly recommend a visit to Church Island, it is a really beautiful location.

Interior

Entrance

Lough Currane landscape

Situated: We stayed at Lough Currane Lodge on the north shore of the lough. They will organise a boat trip for you. From Waterville follow the signs for the B&B.

Discovery Map 83: V 5324 6687. Last visit June 2018.

Longitude: 10° 7' 46" W

Latitude: 51° 50' 6" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey.

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