Caher Island (Co. Mayo / Southwest)
Caher Island / Cathair Phadraig / Cathair na Naomh, (“City of Patrick / City of the Saints”) lies six miles off the coast, halfway between Roonagh Pier and Inishturk. Long uninhabited, it is grazed by sheep from the latter island.
This striking, wedge shaped little island is said to have a very special atmosphere or aura, perhaps due to the remains of an Early Christian monastic settlement.
Saint Patrick is believed to have spent some time there after his fast on top of Croagh Patrick. A flat stone half covered in mud and grass is named “Leaba Phádraic” in his honour. Some believe this to be his final resting place.
A ruined oratory in an enclosure adorned with the original C7th carved crosses, stands near the hermitage sites of monks, believed to have been followers of Saint Colmcille / Columba. (Photo – www.earlychristianireland.org)
In the oratory there is a “floating stone” (which according to folklore will always return to the island, even if stolen – and the thief“s boat will sink!). There is also an ancient prayer/wishing bowl.
The monks lived in terror of the Vikings from 800 to 1000 AD. By 1500 they had Barbary slavers to worry about. All the while they starved in winter. Their faith must have been very strong.
Caher Island also features an atmospheric Holy Well, comprising little more than primitive hole in the ground.
Caher Island Cross. (Photo – www.earlychristianireland.org)
On 15th August each year there is a pilgrimage to Caher Island from Inishturk, joined in recent years by parishioners from the mainland. For some this Pattern is an integral part of the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July.
Caher can only be accessed reasonably safely by approaching with a small boat, such as a currach, from the east to the point marked as Portatemple on the charts. This is not a safe harbour, as heavy Atlantic swells can break through even on rare calm days.
The comment on the chart for the area, “The entire area of irregular depths up to 4 miles offshore between Clew Bay and Killary harbour 10 miles further south, breaks in bad weather” reflects the fact that even in moderate swell conditions of less than 5 metres, peaks can rise and break unexpectedly.