Devenish Island Monastic Site

Map Reference: H224469 (2224, 3469)

The origins of the settlement on the island can be traced back to St Molaise who founded a monastery here in the 6th century. He died about 570. By the 10th century the monastery had been taken over by the reforming anchorite sect of the Culdees. They were joined in 1130 by the Augustinians who founded the Priory of St Mary with monks from the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul in Armagh. Both communities remained on the island until the early 17th century. Devenish was raided several times by Norsemen in the 9th century and the churches were burned in 1157 and in 1360. By 1622 they were described as 'almost ruined'. The east window of the priory church was re-erected at Monea on the mainland. The remains of the settlements consist of three churches, a Round Tower and a High Cross.

St Mary's Abbey, which occupies the higher ground, was built in the middle of the 15th century. It consists of a long church, about 28m by 7m internally, with a central tower. The tower and the north wall of the choir are complete but the other walls are only a few feet high. The cloister stood to the north of the church but only low walls represent the buildings surrounding the cloister garth. In the north wall of the choir is a doorway which led to the sacristy. It is decorated with pinnacles and foliage.

To the south of the abbey stands a late 15th century flamboyant cross. It is 2.25m high and was discovered during clearance by the Board of Works in 1874. The head of the cross is made of four intersecting half-circles with an open diamond shape in between and the half-circles cusped like a fragment of reticulated tracery. There is a Crucifixion on the east face.

To the east of St Mary's is complete Round Tower. It is 25m high and contains five storeys plus the basement. The round-headed doorway is 2.6m above ground level. There is an angle-headed window at the second storey and square-headed windows at the third and fourth storeys. At the top level there are four square-headed windows. At the cornice level there are four finely carved faces set in an enriched band with beards and moustaches flowing in elaborate interlace patterns. The tower may date from the first half of the 12th century and probably replaced an earlier tower, the base of which was discovered nearby.

A short distance to the SE is St Molaise's House, a small Romanesque oratory, 6m by 3.5m internally, which was still covered by a high-pitched stone roof until about 1830. Only low walls now remain. The west gable has antae with finely carved bases.

A short distance away is Teampul Mor or St Molaise's Church, a long rectangular structure, 24.5m by 5.4m. It has a round-headed lancet in the south wall with wide splay on the inside and moulding both inside and outside. It may date from the 12th century. In the NW corner is a stone coffin known as St Molaise's Bed.

For details of other Round Towers click on the links below

Antrim, Co Antrim Armoy, Co Antrim St Mullin’s, Co Carlow Drumlane, Co Cavan Drumcliff, Co Clare Dysert O’Dea, Co Clare Cloyne, Co Cork Kinneigh, Co Cork Tory Island, Co Donegal Drumbo, Co Down Maghera, Co Down Nendrum, Co Down Lusk, Co Dublin Swords, Co Dublin Kilbennan, Co Galway Kilmacduagh, Co Galway Roscam, Co Galway Aghadoe, Co Kerry Ratoo, Co Kerry Castledermott, Co Kildare Kildare, Co Kildare Kilcullen, C Kildare Oughterard, Co Kildare Taghadoe, Co Kildare Aghaviller, Co Kilkenny Grangefertagh, Co Kilkenny Kilkenny, Co Kilkenny Kilree, Co Kilkenny Tullaherin, Co Kilkenny Timahoe, Co Laois Kilmallock, Co Limerick Dromiskin, Co Louth Monasterboice, Co Louth Aghagower, Co Mayo Balla, Co Mayo Killala, Co Mayo Meelick, Co Mayo Turlough, Co Mayo Donaghmore, Co Meath Kells, Co Meath Clones, Co Monaghan Clonmacnois, Co Offaly Boyle, Co Roscommon Oran, Co Roscommon Drumcliffe, Co Sligo Cashel, Co Tipperary Roscrea, Co Tipperary Ardmore, Co Waterford Glendalough, Co Wicklow

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