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Britain > N.Ireland > Co.Fermanagh > Devenish Island

A small island that was once the most important religious site in the Irish north

Highlights

The Oratory of St. Molaise
Round Tower
St. Mary's Priory
Devenish Island is hidden among the scattered lumps of land at the thinner end of Lower Lough Erne. There are dozens of islands, but this one in particular was an important destination for Christian worshippers, for a period of many centuries. It's a small place; just over a mile long and just less than a mile wide. That made it perfect for monks wanting to enjoy a quieter existence, where they could devote their time fully to God.

Devenish Island.
Photo L_J
The first monastery was established in the 6th century by a man called Molaise, who would later become Devenish's patron saint. One of the buildings built for him, Molaise's House, is the oldest of several churches crammed onto the island.
Another is called the Oratory of Saint Molaise. The interior and doors no longer exist, but the walls and main shape are still there, many hundreds of years after their construction.

Oratory of Saint Molaise.
Photo √úberraschungsbilder
The most noticeable structure is the 12th century Round Tower, because it's a full 30 metres tall. Surprisingly, people are allowed to climb up to the top. The ascent is made via a series of internal ladders that are quite awkward, but perfectly safe. If you put in the effort, you're rewarded with fine views across the lake. In the past, monks used this vantage point to look out for approaching attackers. Unfortunately there were quite a few to look out for. Worse still was the fact that, on such a tiny island, there was nowhere to run. All the monks could do was hide their precious valuables as safely as possible. The monastery suffered Viking raids several times, and was once set on fire.. It sprung back from the ashes each time, to become an even bigger, more popular retreat for the most devout Christians.

The Round Tower.
Photo √úberraschungsbilder
The best example of this success is St. Mary's Augustinian Priory, a 15th century church on top of the hill. Its symbol and standard is an intricately detailed high cross, still standing within the surrounding graveyard. This is where you'll find the tombs of the religious leaders that supported the monastery through its years of prosperity. St. Mary's cemented Devenish's place as not just an important part of County Fermanagh, but as one of the most significant religious sites in all of Ireland. Altogether, it maintained that position for more than a thousand years.

St Mary's Augustinian Priory.
Photo Jule_Berlin

Devenish High Cross.
Photo Jule_Berlin
None of the churches have been left untouched by the ravages of time, but their remains still display the fine details that made them so beautiful. Some people prefer to view the island from afar, but by doing so you miss out on the calm atmosphere that the monks spent years enjoying.
Another reward for Devenish visitors is a small, but informative museum. It elaborates on the island's long history, so you can really appreciate what it is you're seeing.
There are boats from the nearby city of Enniskillen, or ferries from Trory. Most of the transport stops during the winter months, when Devenish once again becomes the lonely retreat it used to be.
Visitor Information
Lough Erne Boat Tours - Contact the Fermanaugh Tourist Information Centre for more information. Tel: 028 6632 3110

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