Scattery Island is located in southwest County Clare, at the mouth of the River Shannon.
Historical records indicate that the islands original inhabitants were members of a monastery, founded by St. Senan in the 6th century.
Legend says he first banished a sea serpent from the island, and that he forbade the presence of women on the island. One of his famous pupils was St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.
The buildings of the monastic settlement were attacked and raided repeatedly by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries. Despite centuries of pillaging, a round tower and cathedral survive, relatively intact among the ruins.
During the 10th century, the island is believed to have been the site of a Viking colony.
Other buildings in the island include four churches, a castle, the last village, which was abandoned in 1978, a gun battery and fort, a holy well, and a lighthouse.
Today, Scattery Island is owned by the Duchas, the Irish Heritage Service, and conservation and renovation work continues.
Scattery Island’s Interpretative Centre is actually located on the mainland. The island is accessible by ferry from the area near the Centre. Visitors there learn about the history of the island and the following sites:
Teampall na Marbh
Of the four churches on the island, this appears to have been the only one with an adjoining graveyard. There are gravestones everywhere, mostly because burial custom dictated that relatives of the decease not visit the cemetery once the internment ritual was completed.
This ritual included the funeral, which traditionally required six pallbearers, and traditional prayers and blessing at the gravesite. After the coffin was buried, the gravediggers placed their shovels on top in the form of a cross.
No one visited the grave for a month afterward. Then, on the one-month anniversary, mourners returned for a ritual known as Flagging Day. Gravediggers then removed the shovels, while family members sprinkled holy water on the grave and broke a glass bottle. Then they turned over two stones, said the rosary, and broke a glass kept from the wake, all actions that the symbolized the soul’s departure from purgatory.
The remains of this tower house date back to the Elizabethan period. The structure belonged to Siacus O’Cahane, and two of its original vaults remain.
The abbey church sits to the east of the castle tower, and contains portions from the 7th or 8th century, as well as the 13th, 14th and 16th centuries. The oldest portions are known as a Damliag, an ancient Irish word for stone building.
The east wall features a gothic window topped with the stone carved head of a bishop, thought to be St.Senan.
An oratory, located near the cathedral, includes a small choir, and is also constructed from ancient foundations with additions from more recent times.
On the hill north of the main cluster of churches, this roofless building also appears to have been constructed over several centuries. This probably indicates the frequency with which the island was attacked, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries.
St Senan’s Bed
This site is widely believed to be the saint’s burial place. He died on March 8th 544 at Kylenagallger.
A metal bar crosses the entrance to this small oratory. Local lore says that it was placed there to keep young women from entering, those that did were rendered childless. A large stone slab nearby contains a carved cross and words in Irish that translate — “a prayer for Moinach, tutor of Mogron”.
Located on the southern tip of the island, its purpose was to guard the area where ships anchored. It is a D shaped structure that once held 24 pounder guns, aimed to fire upon the estuary. There is also a blockhouse in the rear that contains barracks and additional guns on its roof. A drawbridge once spanned the dry moat that extends around the perimeter of the battery.
This actually refers to the town, originally set up in 1841. Families of the Kilbah river pilots once lived here, but it is now abandoned.
Guides ships from the sea into Scattery Roads and up into the River Shannon. It was built in 1868 with a house for the light keeper and a stand for the lantern, after a storm destroyed the metal frame that was used previously. Over the years, as technology changed, an attendant who periodically checks on lighthouse operations replaced the keeper who actually lived at the lighthouse.