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A brief sketch of Inishmurray island.

Inishmurray: Land of Gale , Stone and Fire

Fulmars nesting on Inishmurray

Sceilg Michael, Inisheer, Inishmaan, Tory: these are all enchanted places that call to mind visions of offshore islands shrouded in romance and mystery, repositories of culture and customs lost and gone forever on the more accessible mainland.

The remote and mystical Inishmurray Island four miles from the coast of Sligo rivals all of these for its state of preservation as an early Christian site, for its wild scenery and as a wildlife sanctuary. St Molaise founded a Christian Monastery here in the 6 th century, the remains of which are remarkably intact to this day.

Battle of the Books

Drumcliffe on the mainland was founded by St. Colmcille in 574 AD. St. Molaise of Inishmurray was confessor to St. Colmcille and it was to him this holy man went in great remorse after the Battle of the Books at Cooldruman in north Sligo. The battle came about when Colmcille copied a book while a guest of St. Finian. requested that the copy be returned to him and Colmcille refused. When the problem was brought before the High King of Ireland his inspired decision of: ‘To every cow its calf and to every book its copy’, was rejected by Colmcille. In A.D. 561 the two men, mustering their armies, fought a pitched battle on the slopes of Benbulben mountain. Aided by an angel, Colmcille won the battle, thousands of men were slain, and the king had to award the copy of the psalter to Colmcille.

Stricken by remorse Colmcille went to Inishmurray to confess his sins to Molaise. As a result of this meeting Colmcille was banished to Iona, Scotland, in 563 A.D. His penance was to convert more people to Christ than had fallen in the Battle of Culdreimhne. Leaving Ireland he was one of a wave of Irish missionaries that colonised a barbaric Europe, bringing learning, culture and religion with them. Scots, Picts, Irish, Britons and Anglo-Saxons poured into Iona to learn at Colmcille’s feet.

Inishmurray island still captures the imagination. Here we may still view Molaise’s monastic settlement with it’s many curious artefacts many of which may well have their origins in pagan beliefs:

The most remarkable feature of Teac na Teine (House of the Fire) inside the main enclosure is the Leac na Teine or Stone of the Fire which is located in the centre of the floor. Tradition holds that if all the fires went out on the island a sod placed on Teac na Teine would ignite spontaneously. A visitor to the island, having heard of the magical properties of the stone, proceeded to urinate thereon so as to disprove the legend.

A Miraculous Occurence

According to an account given to W.F. Wakeman, the 19 th century antiquarian, ‘a miracle was the immediate result. The fire which up to that fatal moment had been scarcely visible, at once flared up, and swiftly assumed the strength and appearance of a burning fiery furnace, its flames lapping and enveloping the wretched victim, so that he could neither struggle against them or fly, and stood melting, as it were, into nothingness, so that after a moment little remained but fragmentary bones, cracked and distorted’. Until recent times visitors to the island were shown fragments of fire-blackened human bones stored in a niche of the wall of Teach na Teine as proof that the incident actually happened.

Cursing Stones

The largest of the altars inside the compound is the Clocha Breacha commonly known as the Cursing or Speckled Stones. The power of the stones was said to have been invoked at the Clocha Breacha by the

Bernard McDonagh at "Cursing Stones"
islanders in the early 1800’s against some men connected with the coast guard who had aroused the wrath of the Inishmurray people. The men in question ‘all perished at sea a short time after’. In more recent times it was used by a woman from the mainland who travelled to the island to invoke the dark powers against Hitler. Proof indeed of the efficacy of the stones!

The moss covered stones of Cashel keep their counsel now, but we know that long ago they resounded, not always to the caress of prayer and hymns of praise but, on occasion, to the screams of dying men martyred by marauding Danes:

‘Wasting fire and dying groan,
And priests slain on the altar stone.’

Red marks on a flagstone near the doorway of Teach Molaise (Molaise’s House) are claimed to be the blood of the last reigning Abbot murdered there by the Norsemen in 807 A.D.

Islanders Mr. & Mrs. D. Harte

For more on Inishmurray see “Inishmurray: Island Voices” in “Books” section and information on trips to Inishmurray in “Island Tours”.


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