Sunday, 18 July 2021

Revisiting Comerford family
houses and sites in Kilkenny

The Langton House in The Butterslip, Kilkenny, was home to at least three generations of the Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

This summer’s ‘road trip’ arrived in Kilkenny earlier this month, and two of us stayed overnight in the River Court Hotel, overlooking the river, and beneath the walls of Kilkenny Castle.

Kilkenny is one of those places you have to peel me out of it, and I get lost easily in its streets and narrow alleys, wallowing in its rich mediaeval heritage, or browsing in the bookshops.

I can never resist revisiting sites in Kilkenny associated with the Comerford. This month, they included the Butterslip, where the Langton House was home to at least three generations of the Comerford family; the Canal beneath the castle ramparts, once the location of the Comerford and Murray enterprise that tried – and failed – to open up Kilkenny to commercial traffic at the end of the 18th century; and the peculiarly named ‘Hole in the Wall,’ now run by the colourful Dr Michael Conway.

The Langton House beside the Tholsel was built by Nicholas Langton in 1616 in Butterslip, which takes its name from the stalls of butter vendors that flanked this narrow lane on market days. The Butterslip ran underneath two houses, with its arched entry and stone steps along a narrow and dark walkway linking High Street and Saint Kieran’s Street, once known as Low Lane.

The dark and cool climate of the Butterslip was ideal for displaying butter in those days. Today, this is the most picturesque of Kilkenny’s many narrow medieval slips or corridors, lined with small shops, including a bookshop, a gift shop and a well-known sports shop, and the delightful Petronella restaurant.

Leading down into Saint Kieran Street, the limestone steps are imbued with a picturesque quality enhanced by inscribed patterns. This flight of 15 tooled cut-limestone steps date from the 1750s, around the time James Comerford and Anne Langton were married. These steps are arranged in groups of five (east), six (central) and four (west), with limestone flagged landings.

Nicholas Langton, Mayor of Kilkenny, built his townhouse in the Butterslip around 1606 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Nicholas Langton (1562-1632), who built the house at the Butterslip as his Kilkenny townhouse, was the Sovereign (Mayor) of Kilkenny in 1606. He was sent to London to renegotiate the terms of Kilkenny’s Charter, resulting in the City Charter of 1609 that made Kilkenny a city with a mayor and aldermen. He was MP for Kilkenny (1613-1615) and Mayor of Kilkenny (1613).

When Nicholas died at his country house in Grenan, near Durrow, in 1632, his body was brought by boat from Thomastown to Kilkenny, and he was buried in the ‘great quire’ of Saint John’s Church, Kilkenny.

Nicholas Langton’s descendant, Silvester Langton (1680-1749), who inherited the Langton House in the Butterslip, married Mary Sexton, widow of Edmund Tobin – and this is where the Comerford family link comes in. Their daughter Anne Langton married James Comerford (1720-1808) in 1754, and the couple moved into the Langton House in the Butterslip.

A restored doorway at Petronella’s restaurant in The Butterslip (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

James Comerford was the son of William Comerford (ca 1692-post 1765), a direct descendant of the Ballybur branch of the family. Barney Comerford says William and his father, Richard Comerford, lived at Coolgreany, Co Kilkenny; however, Prim and other authorities show William lived in Kilkenny City and he moved into the Langton House in the Butterslip soon after his son James married Anne Langton.

William’s grandson, Michael Comerford, later recalled how William took an oaken chest of title deeds with him to the Butterslip, and on sunny days would take them out and unfold them. Family members believed these were the title deeds to Ballybur Castle. After his death, they were inherited by his elder son James Comerford, but are believed to have been destroyed by James Comerford’s wife, Anne.

William Comerford was still living in the Butterslip some years after the birth of his grandson Michael Comerford in 1765. William’s other children included Edmund Comerford (1722-1788), ancestor of the Comerford family of Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford.

James Comerford and Anne Langton were married by the Revd Patrick Molloy, Parish Priest of Saint Mary’s, Kilkenny, on 27 November 1754. After their marriage, James and Anne lived in the Langton House in The Butterslip and continued her father’s business. Until at least 1773, James and Anne Comerford continued to update her father’s pocketbook with details of family births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Other members of the extended family who lived with James and Anne Comerford at The Butterslip, included Anne’s half-sister, Mary Fitzpatrick, and her first cousin, Margaret Langton, who died in the house of a ‘dropsical complaint’ on 15 February 1774, aged 52. Margaret’s brother, John Langton, who died of the smallpox at the age of two in 1717, was a godson of Catherine (Comerford) Nagle, sister of Joseph Comerford, Marquis d’Anglure.

The Canal Walk stretches below the walls of Kilkenny Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

James Comerford also formed the partnership of Comerford and Murray with his brother-in-law, Emmanuel Murray (1734-1802), who had married Anne’s sister, Eleanor Langton (1734-1772). Comerford and Murray loaded the first and only boat to navigate the Kilkenny Canal from the tidewater to the city, and the vessel discharged its cargo at New Quay.

The failure, despite many efforts – including those of Comerford and Murray – to build a canal that would make the city accessible from the sea had an enduring impact on Kilkenny. It led to the development of rival marketplaces, notably Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, on the River Barrow, and Clonmel, Co Tipperary, on the River Suir. By the late 1840s, when the railways arrived, most of Kilkenny’s industries were in decline.

In 1771 or 1772, as ‘Mr James Commerford,’ he subscribed £5.13.9 towards building a new church on the site of the present Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.

On 7 December 1775, James Comerford took the Test Oath along with Walter Butler, de jure 16th Earl of Ormond, the Revd Patrick Molloy of Saint Mary’s, and other leading Roman Catholic citizens at the Tholsel in Kilkenny.

James and Anne were painted by the Kilkenny-born miniaturist, John Comerford (1770-1832), when he was their guest in the Butterslip in 1794, and they were painted by him again in 1797 and 1808.

James died shortly after that third portrait was painted in 1808, and his will, as the will of James Cummerford of Knockanure, near Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, went to probate in Ferns Diocesan Court in 1809.

The disused canal in Kilkenny … Comerford and Murray loaded the first and only boat that navigated the Kilkenny Canal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

James and Anne (Langton) Comerford were the parents of 17 children. Their fifth child, Michael Comerford (1764-1851) of King Street, was seven when he saw the removal of the Market Cross in High Street, Kilkenny. He rented the Langton house in the Butterslip from his mother’s brother, Michael Langton of Danville. Prim records the people around Ballybur ‘always looked upon’ him as ‘the lineal representative’ of the Comerfords of Ballybur Castle.

Michael Comerford died unmarried on 20 April 1851 and was buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Kilkenny. His executor was the Kilkenny writer, Michael Banim (1796-1864). Michael Comerford was also an uncle of Jeremiah Scully of Freshford, who inherited the great Irish seal of Charles I from one of the Ballybur title deeds.

When Michael Comerford died in 1851, the Langton House in the Butterslip and the Comerford family portraits by John Comerford passed to his grand-nephew, Father Edmund Madden, who erected his gravestone.

The ‘Hole in the Wall’ stood on this site in Kilkenny … Judith Madden, the proprietor, was mother of Edmund Madden who married Jane Comerford in 1781 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Jane Comerford, the eldest daughter of James and Anne (Langton) Comerford, was born in 1760, and she married Edmund Madden in Saint Mary’s (Church of Ireland) Church, Kilkenny in 1781. He was the son of Matthew and Judith Madden of High Street, and Judith Madden is said to have been the proprietor of the ‘Hole in the Wall.’

Their son, the Revd Edmund Madden (1818-1865), who was educated at the Sorbonne, Paris, was later a chaplain in Wales to Colonel John Francis Vaughan, father of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (1832-1903), Archbishop of Westminster. Father Madden inherited the family portraits of James and Anne Comerford, and bought the Langton family interest in the Butterslip, Kilkenny. He died on 28 March 1865 and is buried in Kilkenny.

His brother, James Comerford Madden, inherited John Comerford’s portraits of James and Anne Comerford, and later moved to Kogarah, near Sydney.

The Langton house in the Butterslip was sold by the Madden family to the Wall family in 1866. The Langton and Comerford portraits were later inherited by descendants of the Madden family, Monsignor Robert F Hayburn of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, and his brother, Father Edmund Langton Hayburn (1916-2006), of Freemount, California, who presented copies of the Langton and Comerford portraits to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society.

Other descendants of James and Anne Comerford of the Butterslip include Father James Edmund Delany (1843-1901) of Carlow, Parish Priest of Rosenalis, Co Laois; Father Canice Bourke (1890-1969), a Capuchin friar; Elizabeth O’Rourke who married John Buggy, of High Street, who became the first Roman Catholic Mayor of Kilkenny in 1867; and the Manning family who founded Manning’s travel agency in Kilkenny.

The Butterslip retains much of its charm since it was built 400 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Sunday intercessions on
18 July 2021, Trinity VII

‘He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mark 6: 34) … part of the panel over the east porch door in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Let us pray:

‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation’ (Psalm 89: 26):

Lord God of test tube and blueprint,
we pray for the world, for the kingdoms and the nations of the world,
that they may know your peace and your healing.
We pray especially for those nations suffering through war, tyranny, injustice and oppression.

We pray for justice, mercy and peace,
for all prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience,
for all people and families living with addictions.

We pray for the people of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands and Austria,
and all who are suffering in floods and storms.
We pray for Ireland, north and south,
We give thanks for all who are responding
to the pandemic crisis …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things’ (Mark 6: 34):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may be filled with compassion,
reach out in hope
and be a source of healing for those who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’.

We pray for all in leadership in the Church, that they may seek to what is right … even when it is not popular.

We pray for our Bishop Kenneth,
we pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes,
and people of faith everywhere,
that we may be blessed in our variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer,
we pray this week for the Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda,
the Anglican Church in Rwanda,
and Archbishop Laurent Mbanda, Bishop of Shyira.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry,
with which we will be united,
and for Bishop Patrick Rooke.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
the diocese is praying for the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of parishes,
Canon Patrick Comerford, Siobhán Wheeler,
and the congregations of Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,
Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin,
and Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale and Castletown Church.

We too pray for our own parishes and people …
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘The love I have pledged … will I keep for ever’ (Psalm 89: 28):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for one another …

We pray for those we love and those who love us …
we pray for our families, friends and neighbours …
we pray for all on holidays …
and we pray for those we promised to pray for …

We prayer for those preparing for baptism and for marriage.

We pray for those who feel rejected and discouraged …
we pray for all in need and those who seek healing …
in ‘villages or cities or farms … in the market-places.’

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home, in hospital …

Ruby … Ann … Daphne … Sylvia … Ajay … Adam … Pat …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for all who are broken-hearted,
trying to come to terms with the loss of loved ones,
including the Casey and Gilliard families …
We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
giving thanks for the life of Arthur Gilliard …
May their memories be a blessing …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

The Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) holds its annual conference this week. On this, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, USPG invites us to pray:

Almighty God,
We have much to learn.
Teach us your ways of righteousness, your gospel of love.
May we be faithful servants, eager to do your will.
Bless us in all we do.

Merciful Father …

He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’ (Mark 6: 31) … at the end of the beach in Lahinch, Co Clare last weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Hope for the hopeless and
healing for all on the margins
from the physicians of souls

‘When they got out of the boat, people at once recognised him’ (Mark 6: 54) … the Ilen, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships, at Foynes Harbour after sailing from Limerick to Kilrush and across the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 July 2021

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII)


11.30: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II)
Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert ,Co Kerry

The Readings: II Samuel 7: 1-14a; Psalm 89: 20-37; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

There is a link to the readings HERE.

They ‘begged him that they might touch even the fringe his cloak’ (Mark 6: 56) … a choice of prayer shawls with fringes in the synagogue in Chania in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Throughout the current Church year, our Gospel readings are mainly from Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is a very short Gospel, and so occasionally we are also drawing from Saint John’s Gospel.

Saint Mark’s Gospel is so short that he by-passes many of the events the other Gospel writers flesh out, from the Birth of Christ to the post-Resurrection narratives.

Two striking emphases in Saint Mark’s Gospel are the stories of Christ healing those on the margins and assuring those on the margins that they too are called into the Kingdom of God.

Those people on the margins include people who are seen as sinners, foreigners and unclean, especially women and children. The ways they are belittled is symbolised in our Gospel readings in recent weeks by:

● the mustard seed, so easily overlooked because of its size (Mark 4: 26-34, 13 June 2021);
● small boats caught up in great storms (Mark 4: 35-41, 20 June 2021);
● a dying girl only 12 years old and a woman unable to find help from doctors for 12 years (Mark 5: 21-43, 27 June 2021);
● the disciples seeing Christ lay his hands on and curing sick people and then being sent out in all their vulnerability and poverty (Mark 6: 1-13, 4 July);
● and then, last Sunday, Herod’s fears and wicked response when he hears of these healings and miracles (Mark 6: 14-29, 11 July 2021).

This morning, Jesus seems to be trying to get away from all the demands and all the expectations that are being laid on his shoulders. The apostles have come back after being sent out two-by-two, and are telling him all they have done and all that has happened.

Now they need a break, and Jesus takes them on a boat and they head off to a quiet place.

But there is no escaping the crowd, the people and their demands.

And they ‘bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was’. This happens wherever he goes – in villages and cities, farms and market places (Mark 6: 55-56).

It is just enough for them to touch the fringe of his cloak and those who touch it are healed (verse 56).

What did they think they were doing by touching the ‘fringe of his cloak’?

This is not just an act of hope, hoping for healing, but an act of faith, claiming a place in the community of faith, reaching out for love.

Wearing a prayer shawl reminds the wearer and those who see this of all 613 commandments, of the covenant with God.

In touching Christ’s cloak, the sick people are claiming their place at the heart of the community of faith. They are making Jesus ritually unclean, but those who touch him are healed. In touching Christ, they are ‘touched’ by God’s power, and Christ draws them into the Kingdom of God.

A recent report in the Economist (10 July 2021) shows that the increasing number of people in the United States who are alienated from conventional religion also feel marginalised from other aspects of society, including economic, political and social life.

These people, categorised as ‘nothing-in-particular,’ are not atheists or agnostics, but are gripped by apathy and feel left aside by conventional religion. They are sceptical of so many things, from institutional politics and religion to the Covid-19 vaccine. Professor Ryan Burge, a social scientist at Eastern Illinois University and author of The Nones, says, ‘They are left out of society, sort of drifting in space.’

That is how I see those people who follow Jesus around everywhere. He has compassion on them because they are ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ They need healing, not just in mind and body, but in their families and in their society, in political and religious society, in the economy and in the villages, cities, farms and marketplaces where they seek the healing that Christ offers.

Faith and healing come together.

There is a centuries-old tradition in the Church that calls priests ‘physicians of the soul.’ It is a deep concept, and it is related to the word curate, and to the Anglican reference to the priest’s task in a parish or group of parishes as the ‘cure of souls.’

There is a direct connection between the healing of bodies and the healing of souls.

Watching the broad smiles on people who received their second Covid-19 vaccine, I realised they had been vaccinated not just against the physical but also against the psychological fears that come with the virus, and that are a pandemic in themselves.

These connections are made in a prayer or poem in the Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly for my personal prayers and reflections. This poem or prayer ‘Lord God of test tube and blueprint’ is by Norman Corwin (1910-2011):

Lord God of test tube and blueprint,
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer from his father’s colour or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

Norman Lewis Corwin once declared: ‘I believe in promise, just promise … any species that can weigh the very earth he’s standing on, that can receive and analyze light coming from a galaxy a billion light years distant from us, any species that can produce a Beethoven and a Mozart and a Shakespeare, and the extraordinary accomplishments of our species, scientifically and in medicine and in the humanities, there’s illimitable opportunity for promises to be delivered and met.’

In these Covid-19 days, there is hope. It is offered by medical researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses and the cheerful volunteers at vaccination centres. They are working with the ‘Lord God of test tube and blueprint.’

The challenge to the Church is to offer that hope to those Ryan Burge identifies as ‘the Nones,’ those who ‘are left out of society, sort of drifting in space,’ those who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’

When we respond in love, then they shall find hope and faith, and healing.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat’ (Mark 6: 53) … a moored boat in the harbour in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 (NRSVA):

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

‘When they had crossed over, they … moored the boat’ (Mark 6: 53) … a moored boat on the shore of Canon Island, in the Shannon Estuary, near Kildysert, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Liturgical colour: Green

Collect of the Day:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

Hymns:

104, O for a thousand tongues to sing (CD 104)
20, The King of love my shepherd is (CD 1)

‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ (Hymn 104) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
50, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Scattery Island

The ruins of Saint Mary’s Cathedral and the round tower on Scattery island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII), and later this morning (18 July 2021) I am taking part in Morning Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Before the day becomes a busy Sunday, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Last week, my photographs were from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe: Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.

I could have included the ruined cathedral on Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary. Instead, Saint Mary’s Cathedral on Scattery Island introduces this week’s theme of island churches.

The west end of the Cathedral on Scattery island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scattery Island has a ruined cathedral, ruined churches, a round tower and monastic sites. This once-inhabited but now deserted island in the Shannon estuary is about a mile south-west of Kilrush, Co Clare. The island and the tall round tower are clearly visible from the coast, and the longest part of this short boat trip from Kilrush is passing through the lock that allows boats to pass from the Marina into the estuary.

Apart from the monastic site, Inis Cathaigh or Scattery Island is also home to a lighthouse, the remains of an artillery battery, a visitor centre, a ruined castle and the scattered remains of the homes of families who had lived on the island until the 1970s. Most of the island is now owned by the Office of Public Works.

The Irish name Inis Cathaigh later became Iniscathy, Iniscattery and finally Scattery, and means Island of the Battles, or, in legend, the island of the sea monster vanquished by Saint Senan.

The island is closely inked in history and in myth with the story of Saint Senan, who was born at Magh Lacha, east of Kilrush, ca 488. Legend says his birth was foretold by Saint Patrick on a visit to the area. As a boy, Senan was placed under the guidance of an abbot named Cassidan, and he finished his studies with Saint Naul at Kilmanagh, Co Kilkenny.

Saint Senan began his mission work by founding a church near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, ca 510-512. The parish is still known as Templeshannon (Teampail Seanain, or the Church of Senan). He then founded churches at Sennen’s Cove, Cornwall, and at Plouzane (‘Church of Senan’) in Brittany. He is also said to have visited Menevia, Rome, and Tours, before returning to Ireland ca 520.

Having founded more churches back in Ireland, Saint Senan finally settled at Inis Cathaigh or Scattery Island. Legend says Saint Senán vanquished ‘The Cathach,’ a sea monster that lived on the island and killed anyone who stepped ashore. The Angel Raphael led him to Ard na nAingeal, where he faced the monster.

Saint Senan was visited by Saint Ciarán, Saint Brendan and other holy men. But no woman was allowed onto Inis Cathaigh – not even Saint Senan’s sister Saint Cannera was allowed to land there. Legend says she asked to be buried near Saint Senan. When she died, her brother waited until low tide to bury her in an inter-tidal zone, fulfilling her wish without breaking his own rules.

Inis Cathaigh became an abbey and the seat of a bishop, with Saint Senan counted as its first bishop from ca 535-540. He is listed among the ‘12 Apostles of Ireland’ and died on 8 March 544, when he was buried in the abbey church.

The Vikings first raided the island in 815, killing many monks. The monastery was plundered repeatedly until the Vikings came to settle there in the mid-10th century. This, in turn, led to attacks by Irish kings.

Scattery was a part of the Norse Kingdom of Limerick, and with its strategic location at the mouth of the Shannon it effectively controlled all maritime traffic passing up the river to Limerick.

The Annals of Inisfallen record that in the 970s, the Norse kings of Limerick were living on Scattery. Maccus mac Arailt, King of the Isles, captured Ivar of Limerick in 974, but he ‘escaped over sea’ the following year. Ivar of Limerick, the last Norse king of Limerick, and two of his sons, were slain on Scattery by Brian Boru in 977.

At an early period, the abbot-bishop of the monastery tried to exercise authority over what later became parts of the dioceses of Killaloe, Limerick and Ardfert. The Diocese of Inis Cathaigh was recognised at the Synod of Ráth BreasailI in 1111, and included the present Baronies of Moyarta and Clonderalaw in Co Clare, the Barony of Connelo in Limerick, and a small portion of Kerry from the Feal to the Atlantic.

After Bishop Áed Ua Bécháin died in 1188, the diocese was absorbed into the dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert in 1189.

An Irish Franciscan friar, Thomas McMahon, was appointed Bishop of Scattery by Pope Innocent VI in 1360, and tried to take possession of the island and the diocese. But the bishops of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert complained to Rome, and in 1366 Pope Urban V declared the appointment null and void. In 1378, its possessions were divided, and the island remained a portion of the Diocese of Killaloe, being subsequently merged into the parish of Kilrush.

There was a series of titular Bishops of Scattery in the 14th and 15th centuries, but they were absentees and generally served as assistant bishops in York and Canterbury until 1467. They included an English Augustinian, John Grene, who was Bishop of Inis Cathaig in 1452-1467 but lived in England.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the abbey with the churchyard, 24 acres of land, a house, a castle, and three cottages in the island of Inniscattery were granted to the Mayor and citizens of Limerick, together with a church in ruins, 20 acres of wood and stony ground, and all the tithes.

The Keane family built a stone castle on the island in the 1577, a decade before the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was several storeys high in 1681, but today only the vaulted chamber at ground level is all that can be seen of the castle near the pier.

The artillery battery, located on the south of Scattery, was built during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Windsor Castle was salvaged in 1842, Scattery Island was home to Shannon Estuary river pilots and their families. The lighthouse on the island was built in 1872. Today, it is fully automated and powered by solar power.

Scattery Island has the ruins of six churches and one of the highest Round Towers in Ireland.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, he main church on the island, was probably built in the 8th century, and was repeatedly altered and enlarged until the 15th century. It is 20.7 metres long and 8.2 metres wide. The north wall, the lower part of the west gable and parts of the south wall possibly date from the 8th or 9th century.

The east gable was rebuilt at a later date and a large Gothic window was inserted. Gothic windows and a pointed doorway were also inserted into the south wall during that later period and the doorway in the west gable was blocked up.

An effigy of a bishop’s head on the outside of the east window is said to be Saint Senan. Below this are two carved heads of snarling animals, said to represent the monster Saint Senan banished from the island.

To the north the cathedral, a smaller church or ‘oratory’ was probably a private chapel used by the monks and priests of the island community. Excavations of the site revealed the base of a rich Romanesque chancel arch dating from ca 1100, with clustered pillars and chevrons.

To the immediate west of the cathedral, the Round Tower is 26 metres (85.3 ft) high. It is one of the oldest and tallest surviving round towers in Ireland, and one of only two with its door at ground level – a feature shared with the round tower in Castledermot, Co Kildare; most round towers have doorways raised 1.5 to 4.5 metres above the ground.

Saint Senan’s Well or Tobar Senan, to the south of the round tower, is a sunken well entered by steps and still filled with water. It remains a place of pilgrimage associated with a ‘pattern’ on Saint Senan’s Feast Day, 8 March.

To the north of the cathedral site, Saint Senan’s Church is a small 12th century church built in the Romanesque style. Immediately west of this church, ‘Saint Senan’s Bed’ is a small church built over the burial place of Saint Senan. An iron bar blocking the doorway was traditionally used to block women from entering this small church.

Close to Saint Senan’s Church and Saint Senan’s Bed, a mediaeval grave slab is carved with an ornate cross and inscription in mediaeval Irish that reads, Or do Moenach aite Mogroin, ‘Pray for Moenach, the teacher of Mogroin.’ This is probably the burial ground reserved for the island’s monks, priests and bishops.

The highest point on the island is the Hill of the Angel or Cnoc an Aingeal, a ridge to the south-west of the cathedral. The ruins here are from a church built to commemorate Saint Senan’s battle with the island monster and to mark where Saint Senan first set foot on the island.

This is thought to be one of the earliest surviving churches from Saint Senan’s monastery, but only a few sections of the foundations and the south wall of the church remain, including a window and two doorways.

The most recent church on the island is the Church of the Dead or Teampall na Marbh, dating from the late 14th or early 15th century. Inside is a mediaeval carving of a man’s face to the right of the east window.

The graveyard at this church was the traditional burial place for the lay inhabitants of the island. The last burial here took place in 2007.

A ‘Prayer Stone’ was placed close to the Visitor Centre on the shore in the 19th century as marker to guide pilgrims visiting the island. At one time, there were seven prayer stones on Scattery.

The population of Scattery Island peaked at 141 in 1881, and the population continued to thrive into the 20th century, with a post office opening in the 1930s. The school closed in 1948, and the last two islanders, brother and sister Bobby and Patricia McMahon, left Scattery in 1978. Most of the island had been bought on behalf of the Irish State by 1989.

Inis Cathaigh remains the name of a titular see in the Roman Catholic Church, and today the titular Bishop of Inis Cathaigh is Bishop Josef Graf, who was appointed in 2015 as an auxiliary bishop of Regensburg in Germany. In the Church of Ireland, Inniscattery remains the name of a prebendal stall in the United Chapter of the Cathedrals of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert. Canon Charles McCartney was installed as the Prebendary of Inniscattery in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, last month (20 June 2021).

The figure of a mitred bishop above the east window of the Cathedral on Scattery island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 (NRSVA):

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Inside the Round Tower, one of the tallest in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Almighty God,
We have much to learn.
Teach us your ways of righteousness, your gospel of love.
May we be faithful servants, eager to do your will.
Bless us in all we do.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

At the pier on Scattery Island … with views of the Church of the Dead, the Round Tower and the Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Following the monastic trail around Scattery island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)