William R. Wilde's Loch Coirib - Its Shores and Islands

Chapter 6: Inis Uí Chuinn to Inis A' Ghaill and Cunga Fheichín (Cong)

Inís mhic a'trír

Chapter 6: Inis Uí Chuinn to Inis A' Ghaill and Cunga Fheichín (Cong)

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Running out from the land in a western direction, and about a mile in length, is the long, low, narrow Island of Inis mhic a' trír, containing a few cottages, the meagre ruins of an ancient church, and also a burial ground.Of this ecclesiastical building we have no account; and there is not a single stone left whereby to judge of its style.It is, however, probable that on this island, as well as on the neighbouring one of Inchiquin, to which it is second in size, may have been erected one of those religious establishments referred to the times of Brendan, Maeldun, and Fursa; for there is great difficulty in determining the precise topography of many of the places in this district mentioned by the hagiologists; and when Colgan wrote he was evidently not personally acquainted with the locality, and his sources of research were chiefly Continental.The shores of this island abound with those peculiar perforated limestones already referred to and at the eastern end they form a causeway, which, with the aid of "a plank," connects it in summer time with the mainland.

The derivation of the name seems to be Inis mhic a' trír, "the island of the son of the three."

Taking up our itinerary where we left it, at the north-western angle of the parish of Shrule, we meet the little churchyard of Billapark, one of a group of several such which stud this corner of the parish of Cong.Then we approach Houndswood, a little to the north-west of which commences, with Cathair Muigheó, that vast assemblage of stone forts, cairns, and circles, that culminate at Nymphsfield.

The river of Cross opens into the northern end of a deep bay, surrounded on the north by the woods of Ballymagibbon.In this deep bay there are a great number of small islands, upon one of which (Gibbs'), near "The salt house," there are persons now living who remember the timbers of a surrounding stockade rising above low water; so that it may fairly be conjectured, that crannógs existed here and in other parts of Loch Coirib in early times.

Two roads on the west, and two others on the east, uniting at acute angles on each side of a small river running into Loch Coirib, give, together with a mill, dispensary, bridge, schoolhouse, a couple of shops, some cottages, a forge, and a public-house, etc., the name of "Cross" to a village of some note and antiquity.

About a mile to the north-east of this village, on the Kilmaine road, stands an antique quadrangular tower, commonly known as "The Castle of Cross;" and attached to its eastern side are the ruins of an early, and in some of its architectural details rather interesting church of which the two following cuts are highly illustrative, although it has not been thought worthy of recognition on the Ordnance Maps.The tower, which is exceedingly massive and well built, is now twenty-two feet high, and measures twenty-five feet on the east, and sixteen on the south side: and its walls are three feet three inches thick.It has a narrow light on each face; and its pointed doorway, leading from the church, opens into a stone-roofed apartment, topped by another similar chamber, the only access to which is by a square aperture in the floor over the outer doorway, like those seen in secular defensive edifices.In all probability this tower, which was evidently constructed along with the church, was used not merely as a belfry, but as a residence for the clerics, and in troubled times a place of security for the people and the ecclesiastical valuables, just as it is believed the round towers were.A great many churches in Ireland of the same architectural character as that of Cross are furnished with towers; and, as if carrying out the idea of the primitive round tower, their architects have almost invariably placed their doorways at a considerable distance above the ground.A striking example occurs at Corcomroe, in Clare, where the only opening giving access to the belfry tower is a square-headed doorway, placed about twelve feet from the ground.The church itself is forty feet long and nineteen wide, on the inside.Its northern wall is thirteen feet six inches high, and the east gable is still standing, but formed of small stones, undressed, except at the angles, and in the double-lighted eastern window.The latter is deserving of a careful inspection, as its masonry exhibits a curious instance of economy and adaptation.The superincumbent weight of the gable is relieved by a solid arch of undressed stone below.Although the division between the lights, and also their outer edges, are all composed of chiselled stone, their inner jambs, a portion of the splays, and all the soffit and arches, are ingeniously constructed of carefully-selected blocks, that do not show the slightest trace of either chisel, punch, or hammer, as may be seen in the accompanying illustration. Although there are many legends afloat anent cailleachs, witches with black-hafted knives, "weird sisters," and belated travellers, there is no real history of this building.It is situated in the townland of "Attyickard," as it is spelled on the map, but the proper name of which is Áit Tighe Riocaird, "The site of Richard's House," probably because a Burke had a hand in the construction of its castellated tower.To the south and west may be seen in a few minutes' walk several ancient remains--circles, forts, traces of Pagan sculptures, and caves--one of the latter in particular sunk in the middle of a fort, adjoining the site of the dilapidated village of the same name as the townland, is worthy of inspection.

Next: Cross Castle

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