Yours to Explore: A Tour of Scattery Island

I’ve been fascinated with abandoned monastic sites, famine villages, and other ruins ever since I first visited Ireland seven years ago. Bones slowing crumbling into the earth, ancient buildings leave you wondering about what life would have been like anywhere from 50 to 1,500 years ago.

Achill Island has its deserted village, tucked away on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain. Skellig Michael has its beehive huts, found ten miles off the coast of County Kerry. And Glendalough has a monastic city, complete with round tower, in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Just to name a few. There are literally hundreds of ruins scattered across Ireland. I’ve seen quite a few of them over the years. So, when I landed at Shannon airport last May, I was surprised to find that I’d actually missed a major site!

Mixed in with the various travel brochures that I sometimes peruse for ideas, I found an advertisement for Scattery Island while waiting for my rental car. Located in the Shannon Estuary and less than an hour from the airport, the uninhabited island boasted a monastic settlement, abandoned village and a lighthouse–a trifecta of deserted Irish treasure!

Of course, I called Scattery Island Tours immediately and booked a trip.

Scattery Island Tours is a family run business that started operating in May, ferrying passengers to the island several times a day. The staff is outstanding. From the moment you pick up your ticket and board the ferry until the moment you’re back at the marina, you feel like a welcomed guest. Part of the reason for that is the small group sizes—there were only seven people on my tour, although (I think) they could fit up to twelve on the boat—so you don’t feel like just a number.

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Plus, I love traveling by boat; it feels especially adventurous, like you’re really going somewhere. Leaving Kilrush Marina, the ferry actually passes through a lock. This was a first for me. The tide was out, so it took a few minutes for the water level to fall so we could exit into the estuary. Once out, it only took about ten minutes to get to the island.

Our guide was already waiting for us on shore. He led our humble group of seven down the ecclesiastical path (the easier of two walking trails), regaling us with tales of angels and of venerated saints who drove monsters from the island. Legends were mixed with the history of St. Senan, Vikings, and, most recently, fisher-farmers who occupied the island until about 1970.

After an hour-long tour, we were free to explore at our own pace. A second path led to a lighthouse and artillery battery. A few people walked the twenty minutes or so to get there while I explored the old main street and enjoyed the silence.  I think that was one of my favorite things about the island–how quiet it was. I remember walking behind the village, surrounded by trees and tall grasses, and hearing nothing except the rustling of leaves and a few bees chasing each other down the path. It was just good for the soul.

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Ecclesiastical path
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One of the more noteworthy relics our guide talked about is the round tower, speculated to be one of Ireland’s first. It’s unique for two reasons: 1) It was struck by lightening, giving it a lopsided shape and 2) It’s door is at the base of the tower. The doors of most towers in Ireland are built about ten feet off the ground. Contrary to popular belief, the high doors weren’t meant to protect the monks from invading Vikings, they were meant to provide structural stability. A doorway built at ground level would have weakened the structure.
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A rare look inside a round tower. Another first for me!
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Scaffolding is such a drag for the photo enthusiast. My one wish is that OPW will restore the buildings on the island to a safe standard so the metal fencing and scaffolding can be removed. I’d love to actually go inside of some of the old buildings. It’s a nit-picky request, though, because there’s certainly plenty to see, and the island is a quiet reprieve from some of the noisier sites around Ireland.
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Cnoc An Aingeal. This is where an angel flew Saint Senan to the island to defeat the resident monster.
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We had the island all to ourselves. 
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Looking back towards the mainland. 
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St. Senan’s Bed. The monks who used to reside on the island basically put up a No Girls Allowed! sign. Even if you were a saintly woman on her deathbed, you weren’t allowed to set foot on it.
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St. Senan’s Bed
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Mystery weed
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Another fixer-upper. I’ll take it!
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A peaceful resting place
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The Street
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Post Office
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Closer… (love all the rust!)
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After several tranquil hours upon the island, looking back to the mainland felt a little startling–like the past had suddenly and inexplicably collided with the present.

Don’t let this tour escape you. If you’re in the area, it’s worth adding to your vacation itinerary.

Scattery Island Tours

Kilrush Marina,
Merchants Quay,
Kilrush, Co. Clare

Tel: 085 2505512
info@scatteryislandtours.com

8 comments on “Yours to Explore: A Tour of Scattery Island

  1. Jolene, what a beautiful trip! I love the links, photos and detailed information you’ve given your readers. It’s very interesting and so well thought out! I appreciate being able to share your journey with you ~ thank you for your enthusiasm and creativity, it’s infectious!

    • Yes, quite the adventure! The tour guides explained that the towers probably didn’t have stairs. Likely, there would have been a series of ladders that lead to the top. There wasn’t a lot of room inside… I can only imagine these monks were tiny people!

      • Either that or they were really flexible! This is almost like the monastic folks in Kalambaka in Greece where the monks repose high up on the cliffs…

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