The Isle of the Living

Patrick Kennedy
1891 (2nd Edition)

Wonderful as were the stories concerning our lakes, islands, and sunk cities, related by native historians, they were excelled in some respects by the reports of foreign writers, who put down for subjects of general belief what were told to them by some individuals who were over-credulous, or wished to mystify the unfriendly visitor. Thus the choleric and disparaging Gerald Barry, after having told his Anglo-Norman admirers how the Shannon rises in a large lake, and after dividing Connaught from Ulster, flows into the Northern Ocean, gave them this notable piece of information:—

"In North Munster there is a lake with two islands one large, the other small. In the former there is a church of ancient veneration; in the latter there is a chapel devoutly served by a few unmarried persons named Colidei (Culdees). If a woman or any animal of the female sex enters the larger church she dies instantly; but no person ever dies, or died, or can die a natural death in the smaller isle, and hence it is called the 'Isle of the Living.' Sometimes, however, they are grievously afflicted and brought to the last gasp by a mortal distemper; and when all hope is gone, and they feel that nothing of living life remains, . . . they get themselves carried in a boat to the larger island, where they yield up the ghost the moment they reach the shore."

This lake was known by the name of Lough Cre. The place once occupied by itself and its banks is now called Monincha (Bog of the Island). It lies near Roscrea. According to the same judicious writer, after the Isles of Arran had been blessed by St. Brendain, no corpse suffered decomposition there, nor rat could live. So the inhabitants had the privilege of pointing out their great-grandfathers, with their lineaments still recognisable —a questionable benefit; and if an ill-advised person brought over a rat from the neighbouring Galwegian continent, and gave him his liberty, he incontinently ran direct to the sea; if stopped and detained, he died on the instant. Irish writers, later in time than Giraldus, convicted him of error as to the antiseptic qualities of Arran of the Saints, but claimed them for Inis na Gloire, off the coast of Erris. However, the learned and credulous Roderic O'Flaherty, zealous as he was of the fame of that sacred island, pronounced the report altogether untrue.

With the following precious pieces of information, obtained from Giraldus, we close this section of our researches:—

"There is a well in Munster, and whoever is washed with its water becomes instantly gray. There is another well in Ulster, and whoever bathes in it never becomes gray. In Connaught there is a well salubrious for human uses, but whose very taste poisons flocks, and herds, and beasts of burden, and all sorts of animals. The pebbly sand of this well, if only applied to the mouth, at once assuages the cravings of thirst. There is a well in Munster which if touched or even looked at by a man, the whole province will be deluged with rain, which will not cease until a priest, selected for the purpose, and who has been a virgin in body and mind from his infancy, appease the fountain by the celebration of mass, and the sprinkling of holy water and of the milk of a cow of one colour (a custom barbarous enough, and destitute of reason)."