A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré

Monaincha in North Co Tipperary was one of medieval Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. It’s a site I have visited many times and have a great fondness for. Located  a few miles from the historic town of Roscrea it is a wonderful place to visit.   I am delighted to present a guest blog post  by historian and organiser of the wonderful Roscrea Conference  George Cunningham about the history of Monaincha.  George has carried out much research on the site over the years.  This post provides an over view of the pilgrimage history  of what was at one time one of Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré by George Cunningham Monaincha also know as the 31st Wonder of the World, the Island of the Living, was once Munster’s most famous place of pilgrimage.

View of  of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

View of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

Yes, indeed, there is an island of the living in the heart of Ireland a little more than three kms east of the town of Roscrea on the provincial borders between Munster and Leinster. This now drained Holy Island (in fact there were two islands as Giraldus Cambrensis attested in the 12th century) sits surrounded by cutaway bog. Its noble ruins consist of a beautiful 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque nave and chancel church with a later transept, and a twelfth century high cross placed on an earlier base.

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Romanesque Doorway of the surviving church at Monaincha.

The cross was re-erected in the late 1940s (using a cement shaft!) and features the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy. Similar features may be seen at nearby Roscrea and at Cashel.

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High Cross at Monaincha depicting the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy.

The island was the retreat of neighbouring saints, Canice of Aghaboe and Cronan of Roscrea, both of whom used the place as a sanctuary of personal peace. It became a main centre for the Céli Dé and pilgrims were attracted to it from all over Ireland and from abroad. The Augustinian Canons continued the pilgrimage tradition in the 12th century and the prior of the Island – usually an O Meachair from the ruling clan of the area – figures prominently in the Papal letters during medieval times. A huge revival of pilgrimage at the beginning of the 17th century saw thousands flock to the site to do the ‘rounds’. A diary of a German pilgrim Ludolf von Munchhausen, who travelled from northern Germany, as a curious tourist rather than as a pilgrim, in Spring 1590/91, has been recently translated. The martyred bishop of Down and Conor, Conor O’Devany was here shortly before he was executed. Monaincha received the same plenary indulgences remission as famous continental sites such as Santiago de Compostella.

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View of Monaincha on a frosty day.

In the 18th century the new landlords, the Birches reserved the place for their own burials and its fame faded into folk memory, albeit always known as ‘the Holy Island’ although it was drained over 200 years ago. Its exquisite Romanesque architecture in its remote bog setting always attracted the aficionado but it wasn’t until the early seventies that its history and international importance began to be appreciated locally and the pilgrimage to the island revived. The Cistercians of Roscrea held vespers there during the millennium conference in 2000 the first time in centuries that the psalms rang out across the great red bog of Éile. An app guided tour from Roscrea to Monaincha narrated by George Cunningham may be sourced from the site  http://www.roscreathroughtheages.org

References and Links

http://www.roscreathroughtheages.org/index.html

App guided tour for Roscrea town  http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/roscrea-heritage-trail/

App guided tour for Monaincha   http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/monaincha-heritage-trail/

http://www.roscreaonline.ie/content.asp?section=291

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3 comments on “A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré

  1. Daniel V. Williams says:

    Thank you for this wonderful background story. Today’s tourist publications give no space nor coverage to this special place. Even publications from Bord Failte give no space to this important ancient and appealing place. I was excited to read it here. Having visited many of the important places of pilgrimage throughout Ireland, I had not read nor heard of this one and am anxious now to get to visit this Summer. So much ground to cover, So little time. Thanks again.

    Sent from my iPad

    Dan Williams

    >

    • Your very welcome its a really wonderful place. Another interesting pilgrim site not too far away from here that I am hoping to write about in the coming weeks is Seir Kieran Co Offaly. Best Wishes, Louise.

  2. Finola says:

    What a nice piece. Must fit it in somehow next time in Tipp.

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