Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Island Life | Part III | Devenish Island

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Approach to the site from the jetty
Welcome to this, the concluding part of the Chapple family’s 2013 summer adventures in Fermanagh. One weekend in August we were pondering what to do and where to go. My lovely and very patient wife remarked that I have a tendency, when caring for our children on my own, to take them to Fermanagh for days out. I suggested that, if she felt left out, I’d happily take the lot of us to Fermanagh … but that I was thinking of completing our trio of island adventures. She enquired as to the island I had in mind and when I said ‘Devenish’ she was sold! Early one Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed west. As documented in a recent post [here] we made a brief stop in the village of Clogher to see the High Crosses in the Church of Ireland graveyard, but the journey was otherwise uneventful.

Chapples Minor explore 'The Canon's House'
Exterior of 13th century window in An Teampull Mór
Interior of 13th century window in An Teampull Mór
Interior of An Teampull Mór
Bullaun (grinding) stone said to have been used by St Molaise to cross the sea
Medieval coffin, once part of 'Molaise's Bed'.
Lying in it is reputed to cure sickness
'Molaise's Bed' in operation by Chapples Minor
Probably the best way to get out to the Island is to go to Trory Point and wait for the ferry (see map at end). From our experience at White Island, I’d presumed that the ferry would be the same form of gently-chugging affair that we’d seen before. As we waited on the jetty at Trory Point, I couldn’t see anything out on the lake that fitted the description … and started to become anxious. Had we driven all this way for nothing? Just as I was really beginning to fret, a small off-white speck detached from the shore of Devenish and started towards us at speed. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a speed boat. Once close enough to be heard, I was informed that this was the ferry. Once safely on-board, we were treated to a short, but white-knuckle ride across the gently rippling lake and deposited safe, but slightly shaken and thoroughly wind-blown, on the Devenish side.

'Molaise's House' 12th century Romanesque oratory with projecting antae
Today the site is regarded as one of the finest monastic sites in Ireland – North and South – and is believed to have been founded by St Molaise in the 6th century. Among the many fine examples of Early Christian and medieval carving and building are remains of a small church or oratory (or possibly a tomb shrine), known as ‘St Molaise's House’, and a Round Tower. References in the Irish Annals and stylistic comparisons to other Romanesque decorated indicate that both are of 12th century date. This makes the Round Tower one of the latest in the sequence, and one of the very best preserved. The ‘Great/Big Church’ (An Teampull Mór), on the left as you get off the ferry, dates to the first quarter of the 13th century and was dedicated to St Molaise. It was extended to the east around 1300, and later additions include ‘The Canon’s House’ residential block to the north, and the ‘Maguire Chapel’ to the south. On the highest point of the island lie the (mostly 15th century) remains of St Mary’s Priory, an Augustinian monastery founded in the 12th century. Apparently, both the older monastery and the new continental order functioned side by side throughout the medieval period. On this trip my Nikon camera, which had been quite temperamental all summer, finally gave up the ghost. For this reason, the majority of the photos here were taken on my iPhone. I have also uploaded a complimentary collection of images scanned from slides taken in 2000, when I was there as part of an Historic Monuments Council tour of west Ulster. These are available here.

View of the Round Tower from inside 'Molaise's House'
Foundation of the other Round Tower, possibly collapsed or abandoned before the 12th century
A young Chapple at play on Devenish
As always, I would say – enjoy the photos, but when you’re planning your next holiday/vacation/day out, think about coming to Northern Ireland … then thing about coming to see Fermanagh for yourself!

St Mary's Priory, mostly constructed in the 15th century

15th century doorway at St Mary's Priory
For anyone going to the Devenish with young children, the NIEA have produced an activity booklet for Key Stage 2 pupils (ages 7-11). It’s available for free download: here.

Only a small portion of the island is open for tourists to tramp about on. However, a little time spent looking at the aerial photographs of the island will reveal a host of interesting potential earthwork … though I have no doubt that enough time looking will induce madness. Have a look for yourself: here.

The most famous and important treasure associated with the site is the 8th to 9th-century portable chasse that, in the 11th century, was converted into a book-shrine. It is known as the Soiscéal Molaise is on display at the National Museum of Ireland [Website | Facebook | Twitter] in Dublin - also well worth a visit! Illustrations of the shrine, along with research notes by Françoise Henry, and correspondence from Joseph Raftery are available: here.

While on the island I overheard three incredible statements:
1) At St Mary’s Priory: ‘This place must have looked amazing when King Billy visited here in 1690!’
I’m no expert on the life of King William of Orange, nor on the Williamite War in Ireland, but as far as I can see Billy never came as far as Fermanagh, nor did he take a scenic day trip to Devenish. Although, I can’t find a definite date for the closure of the monastery, it appears to have gone by 1609, quite some time before Billy came to Ireland in the 1690s.

2) In the Round Tower: ‘I can’t believe they’ve not installed a lift in this thing’
I’m not even going to say a word …

3) In the Round Tower: ‘I was reading on the internet that some idiot thinks that the monks got into these towers by pole vaulting in’
I think I may be the idiot to whom they’re referring!

Medieval coffin lid set upright.
Probably of late 13th or early 14th century date.
15th century doorway with replica head-finial.
Probably depicting Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven
Unique 15th century High Cross,with the Round Tower in the background
Unusual cross-slab at St. Mary's Priory,
probably of medieval date
18th century gravestone of David Greanger (d. 1778)
Suggested Reading
Anon. 1856 ‘The round towers of UlsterUlster Journal of Archaeology 4, 1st Series, 173-191.

Geoghegan, A. G. 1863 ‘Proceedings and PapersJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 7.2, 304-306.

Griffith, A. E. 1979 ‘Appendix II: Lithography of quernstones from DevenishUlster Journal of Archaeology 42, 3rd Series, 50.

Hamlin, A. 1976 ‘Some further documentary evidence for the round tower at Devenish, County Fermanagh’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 39, 3rd Series, 73-74.

Hamlin, A. 1988 ‘Why dig at a site in State Care?: Devenish, Co. Fermanagh’, in Hamlin, A. & Lynn, C. Pieces of the past: archaeological excavations by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland 1970 -1986. Belfast, 52-54.

Hamlin, A. & Stalley, R. 2002 ‘A newly discovered Romanesque church on Devenish, County FermanaghUlster Journal of Archaeology 61, 3rd Series, 83-97.

Hickey, H. 1976, 1985 Images of stone: figure sculpture of the Lough Erne Basin. Enniskillen.

O'Keeffe, C. M. 1856 ‘Antiquarian notes and queries: round towersUlster Journal of Archaeology 4, 1st Series, 271-272.

"Orientalis" 1857 ‘Antiquarian notes and queries: Exclusion of women’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 5, 1st Series, 155.

Pearson, G. W. 1979 ‘Appendix I: Radiocarbon dating of the destruction layer (10)Ulster Journal of Archaeology 42, 3rd Series, 49-50.

Ralegh Radford, C. A. 1970 ‘DevenishUlster Journal of Archaeology 33, 3rd Series, 55-62.

Wakeman, W. F. 1874 ‘The Antiquities of DevenishJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 13.1, 59-94.

Wakeman, W. F. 1889 ‘On an ancient sculptured cross, and monumental slab, Devenish Island, Lough Erne, County FermanaghJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 19.4, 295-299.

Waterman, D. M. 1973-1974 ‘A second round tower at Devenish, Co. FermanaghUlster Journal of Archaeology 36 & 37, 3rd Series, 100-102.

Waterman, D. M. 1979 ‘St Mary's Priory, Devenish: Excavation of the east range, 1972-4Ulster Journal of Archaeology 42, 3rd Series, 34-50.

Wilson, R. A. 1979 ‘Appendix III: Report on analysis of metal sample from pit 30Ulster Journal of Archaeology 42, 3rd Series, 50.

Get the boat from Trory Point (red square) to the Devenish jetty (red dot).
Probable crannogs are shown in red circles
< Part I | Part II | Additional Photographs


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