Corrib Holy days

Inchaguille Island is a wooded place of three hundred and sixty acres. Once a place of holy
ancient people, more recently owned by the Guinness Family, Lord and Lady Ardilaun. They
owned a large boat and the island had a small quay, at that time. The Guinness family and
their guests travelled to the island for relaxation and fishing. The only downside that they
recorded was the prevalence of midges on the island.
Fishermen and boatmen in my family all knew this Island well. They were familiar with the
Corrib Lake for many decades. They had grown up on the shores.
The Island of Inchaguille, is situated on the Southern side of Lough Corrib. The island was
inhabited until nineteen sixty-four when the last householder moved to the mainland, Mr
Tommy Nevin. He had also been the last caretaker of the island. He came ashore each
week to collect his wages from the Proprietor. Previously, many families lived there on the
A ruined stone village exists, a graveyard and an ancient Church without a roof. It is said that
Saint Patrick was a resident at the holy settlement in the fifth century. In the village of Cong,
a large Augustinian priory was inhabited by a great many monks, up to three thousand it is
recorded. They would have gone to the Island to meditate and pray. Seclusion and silence
prevailed. There was in my childhood, an annual pilgrimage day to the Island in the month of
June, the last Sunday of that month. A Mass was celebrated on the island. Usually the
Parish Priest from Cong Parish, travelled out bringing his vestments and Chalice with him.
To arrive on the Island at that time, everyone travelled by rowing boat. Not a Cruise boat.
From all directions, boats would arrive.
My Father and Uncles would row their eighteen-foot larch boat each year. It was an outing
much talked about beforehand. Preparations and boat care. Also, someone might want a lift
there, a neighbour or lifetime friend. This formed part of the logistics. On the appointed day,
an early start was made. The lake was large, and sudden storms could blow up quickly.
Wind and weather conditions noted, the pilgrimage would head out from the quay at Ashford
Castle or Lisloughrey pier. A long hard-row lay ahead. Mass was at a set time and so there
were time constraints. The men took turns at the oars and watched for changing weather
conditions. Evidence of boat tragedies lay around on clusters of rocks, their last timbers
standing like sculptures against the skyline. Birds stood atop them and gazed at the world.
Many families were lost on this lake over the centuries.
The lake is eighteen miles wide so the distance from Cong was more then, half-way. The
town of Oughterard, on the Southern side of the water was the next landfall. So, a journey of
some distance and not to be taken lightly. It never was by my Father or Uncles. Man was
prepared as was the boat. When the rowing pilgrims got to the Island there was a harbour to
arrive in. Quickly a fire was lit, and a kettle of water put on to boil. But first, there was Mass
to attend. Washing their face and hands quickly they, headed up the grass lined path to the
ancient ruins. Taking off their hats and caps in respect, even though they were under the
sky. The graveyards were visited, and prayers offered for the deceased. Many greetings to
people and friend or neighbours, not seen since last year. News exchanges and comments
made about those missing. “Gone to God”, they would have said. Resigned that all is well.
The presence of those who had survived was a jubilation for life.
Afterwards, tea was made in the blackened kettle and eggs put on to boil. Now that they
were on the Island and duty done, they were in no hurry to rush away. Lying out on the
grassy knoll men cut block tobacco with worn penknives, slicing carefully. Rubbing the
tobacco between the palms of their hands they crushed it small and fed it into the pipe bowl.
A light was struck and, sucking vigorously, a great plume of smoke rose- up and was
spewed out. Midges and gnats twerking away in fury. The sweet smell of tobacco smoke
filled the air. It added to the contentment of the pilgrims. As they lay there smoking, they
recalled the lives of people down through the ages. Those that had lived and died on the
Island. A litany of names. Their hardships and their joys. Powerful fish fought and captured
by visiting men and women. Ghillie days and favoured fishing flies and baits. All trawled
through to leave nothing out. Kings and Princes and Counts from the Continent. They were
all unwrapped and aired on the annual outing.
Today a modern cruise liner is operated on the lake. Many visitors, from around the world,
travel in comfort to the Island for a fee. They can have a drink and food on-board. Gliding out
of Ashford pier with Mount Gable and the Connemara mountains to the left. There are three
hundred and sixty five islands on Lough Corrib, and all have a name. Nowadays, unlike
nineteen-sixties Ireland the passengers have an opportunity to swim and paddle in the lake.
Back in the day, few people could swim, and water was considered a danger and therefore,
to be avoided. Not the experience for the modern traveller.
The ancient writing on tall stones on Inchaguille Island are evidence of the earliest Ogham
Script in Europe. Excavations are still being carried out there, and new data arrived at. Time
moves all things, including mankind, and a trip to this Island reminds one evermore of this
truth. The lapping of the water has a calming and soothing effect on the visitor to this
beautiful place. My Father and his Brothers would have spent many happy hours Fly fishing
and dapping for trout and salmon. This is a noted place for game fishing. The trip each year
in June was part of their calendar, no matter what else was happening. Both deceased now
and “gone to God” . When I travel to visit this Island in this twenty first century, I go by
cruiser. I stay behind when the cruise boat leaves and take a later sailing back.
I like to walk around in silence. Absorb the essence of the place and listen. I seek here some
presence or connection to a time and a people now gone. Every corner one walks around
there is evidence of previous habitations. All is peaceful. A place to meditate and observe.
Reflection taking the mind in cycles of Life. Ever changing and yet somehow, always the