Scattery Island lies in the Shannon Estuary, in County Clare. The island was inhabited until the late 1970s, and you can still see the fields, boreens and deserted buildings left by the islanders. Today it is quite overgrown, though fortunate visitors might catch a glimpse of the resident hen harriers of the island that prey upon the multitude of rabbits that have made the island their home.
As well as abundant wildlife, the island is rich in historical sites, with an important collection of monastic and church remains associated with St Senán. He was an influential figure in the early Irish church, and is credited with being the tutor of Ciarán of Clonmacnoise. When he was a very young child, he showed wisdom and erudition far beyond his years and so his mother named him Senán, meaning ‘The Old’. He is credited with many miraculous feats, and perhaps the most famous of his stories is the battle with the monster of Scattery Island. In Irish, Scattery Island is called Inis Cathaigh (meaning the Cathach’s Island). This refers to the legend of the Cathach, a large serpent-like monster who made the island its lair. The Cathach was a menace to all that approached the island, and regularly attacked boats to devour the sailors, who were helpless in the face of the monster’s ferocity. Saint Senán was said to have faced the Cathach with his arms spread wide in prayer. He banished the monster to a lake called Dubhloch, near Mount Callan, some believe that it still lurks in the dark depths of the lake to this day.
Scattery was raided and eventually settled by the Vikings, until it was recaptured by Brian Boru in AD 977, when Brian’s forces stormed the island and slew Ímar of Limerick and his sons as part of a campaign to drive the Norse from Limerick. However the island was raided again in 1101 by the famous Magnus ‘Barelegs’, King of Norway. Despite this turmoil, the monastery on Scattery Island continued to develop and grow in importance, through the continued patronage of the Dál Cais Kings.
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