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The Round Tower on Scattery Island on a beautiful August day.

Standing 120 feet high, the Round Tower on Scattery Island is among the tallest in Ireland. To the monks of ancient Ireland, the height of the Round Tower advertised the importance and stature, so to speak, of the monastery it represented. Apparently the monks at St. Senan’s Monastery had a lot to be proud of!

When Kate came to Kilkee in early August to stay for a week, I made arrangements for the three of us to take a ferry from Kilrush to Scattery Island in the nearby Shannon Estuary. I figured, since Kate was moving to L.A. she would have lots of opportunities to enjoy the Pacific coastline, however while she was in Ireland, I could treat her to something she won’t find on the Pacific Coast – the ancient ruins of St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement! Scattery Island has a long history that includes Viking Raids and  a community of seafaring residents who once numbered up to 141 and lived in the now deserted cottages. But it is the austere and ancient St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement that really makes this a destination worth visiting during any trip to the Loop Head area. St. Senan, a County Clare native, established his monastery on Scattery Island in the 6th century. Aside from the very impressive Round Tower, the site also includes the ruins of a stone cathedral; a small church called Teampall Senain (Church of St. Senan), also known as St. Senan’s Bed – believed to be the site of the saint’s tomb; the church of Ard na nAingeal (The Hill of the Angel); and St. Senan’s Holy Well.  These ancient ruins exist within a beautiful, wild landscape of natural grasslands and wildflowers, which together, serve to transport visitors into the past.

Legend has it that upon his arrival to the island, St. Senan had a vision of the Archangel Michael, who led him to the highest hill where he could spot “The Cathach”, a sea-monster that was terrorizing the people of the area. The saint faced the monster and banished it, never to return. Once safe, St. Senan set about establishing his settlement and abbey, of which he was the first bishop. Along with banishing the sea-monster, it is believed St. Senan also banished women from setting foot on the island! This history, along with the Round Tower dominating the scene, lends a very patriarchal vibe to the site! Interestingly enough, it is said that the saint died on March 8th of 544, while paying a visit to one of the two local nunneries, which he had established on the mainland. Senan apparently liked women well enough, as long as they were not invading his island!

Teampall Senain, with the Round Tower in the background.

The day we arrived on Scattery Island was one of the mildest and sunniest of my entire stay in Kilkee. Kate, Eoin and I, along with a handful of other visitors, rode a small ferry from the dock in Kilrush to the island. During the tour we were delighted to learn that the ferry captain happened to be one of the last people born on the island, uninhabited since 1978! Except for an embarrassing disruption caused at the onset of the tour by my cell phone ringing several times with calls from Declan  – until I figured out how to turn the unfamiliar phone off – our tour of this historical island was peaceful, quiet and pleasurable. We listened attentively to our guide as we walked among ancient ruins, surrounded by wildflowers and tall, natural grass blowing in a fresh breeze with the warm sun shining upon it all. We were very impressed with the natural setting where only unobtrusive stone paths have been added and briar and nettles removed from the pathways and buildings, for convenience sake. There is no visitor’s center, except for a tiny information shop housed in one of the cottages, and all the historic buildings remain respectfully in their rough condition. To Kate and me, the monastic site was perfectly presented in its natural state surrounded by an unspoiled landscape. However, a 30-something Irishwoman who came along for the tour was not as pleased and let our guide know as much in no uncertain terms. She declared that she thought it was disgraceful that the island was “let go the way it is and allowed to fill with weeds” and stated that she believed it should be “put to better use”. When the guide asked her what she would prefer they do with Scattery Island, the woman responded that it would be a great place for weddings and could be developed and rented out for functions!

Perhaps St. Senan had this woman, with her ideas for improvement, in mind when he decided to banish all women from the island so long ago!

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