(Saint Mac Dara's Island)
By Young Connemara Poet — James O'Neill Moran.
The Galway Observer, Saturday, December 25, 1926.
Interesting Story — The Doubting Fisherman — Time honored custom — Galway — Captain's Fate in Sixteenth Century
Sweet Cruach—na—Caurra, hallowed Isle.
The evening lights are on this breast,
The Skirds in wondrous beauty smile,
Upon thee, Sinach's lowly rest;
Thy erubescent shelvy flags
Hyperion gilds in mellow hue,
And Wherroon's waters wash thy crags
That kiss the cloudless welkin blue.
O'er Neptune's throne, the thin—lawned mist.
In curtained folds his naiads draw,
The winds that rustle them are whilst,
And e'en the noisy homeward daw;
From out thy rock—hewn sanctuary,
A sacred stillness holds the eve;
And breathes its silence on the sea
Whose waters ever round thee heave.
Thy sands are strewn with snowy shells
That on the moonlit stillness toll,
Like myriad sappired tinkling bells
Beneath the ocean's gleaming roll;
The feathery flecks of foam are flung
In garlands round thy silvered creeks,
And on thy brow are dewdrops hung
To greet the Dawn's first rosy streaks.
The spotless gull, that rides the wind
Across the cloudless starry plain,
Will now in thee a haven find
When tempests toss the angered main;
The wary redshank guards thy caves,
And mocks the heaving salty brine
That casts its green and tangled waves
Along thy shore in ceaseless line,
From out the vaulted firmament
The Sloan—goose descends with ease,
And brings in homage reverent
Her living offerings from the seas.
Within thy shingled coves, in peace,
The timberous teal and wild duck lie,
And watch the mounting wave increase
To blend its waters with the sky.
The mellowed centuries have rolled
A down Time's hushed and storied halls,
Since first sweet vesper bells were tolled
Within thy oratory walls.
And oft St. Sinach knelt in prayer,
And thanked the God who gave him life
To breathe thy pure and briny air
Away from care's unholy, strife.
And when the sun and shower—wrought are
Had haloed thee in varied light,
The Saint would watch from his frail baroque
Thy fading form sink in night;
In Summer sun, and Autumn glow.
With unrelinquished faith in God,
He toiled, and through the Winter's snow,
And when the Springtime decked thy sod.
In lightning flash and thunder blare,
In storms brunt, and calm's repose,
Through shining hope and dark despair
He bore for Christ his silent woes.
The boatman on his daily quest
Upon the endless boundless sea,
When passing St. MacDara's Rest
There dips his brown —barked sail to thee,
The duleasg from the captives' stone
His good spouse pulls at ebb of tide,
Its healing powers to her are known
And oft she tells the tale with pride.
And oft by cosy hearth the tale
Of the ill—fated Gill is told,
Who once refused to strike his sail
In honour of thy Saint of old
Of how a Captain proud and vain
Who sailed his barque by Sinach's Rest,
Was tossed upon the stormy main
Because he mocked the custom blest.
From Ara's burnished limestone cliffs
Across the waves by Goolum's burrs
Come in their tarred and canvassed skiffs
The tall, dark, sandled Araners.
From Maumeen Peaks to stormy Slyne
From Great Man's Bay to Mason Head,
The pilgrims worship at thy shrine,
In homage to thy patron dead.
And ever as the shadows fall
O'er thy wind—beaten crags so bold
The voice of Faith will ever call
Form out thy silent altars cold
And as the fleeting years depart
This pilgrimage to thee, will be
Imparted to each infant heart
As blest to Sinach's memory.
I leave thee now loved holy Isle,
Beneath the twilight's crimsoned pall
To kiss the myriad eyes of night
And harken to the sea—mew's call.
I leave thee in the moon—kissed seas
That toss each tinkling snowy shell
Fanned by the Western balmy breeze
Sweet Cruach—na—Caurra fare—thee—well
Saint Mac Dara's Island, or Cruach—na—Caurra, as it is better known to the natives of Connemara lies, together with other smaller Islands, West of Connemara. Here also is the beautiful Croaghnakeela, on which are the ruins of St. Keelan's Church and Well.
The surface of Cruach—na—Caurra is, mostly bare and rocky, and at its best, affords sustenance for a few sheep. The island is uninhabited; its calm and silence are seldom broken, save on the Saint's two festivals when people from the mainland visit it. The chief feature of archaeological interest is the Church (dating probably from the sixth century) of St. McDara, of whom little is known, save that Sinach, his proper name was dropped, and that he was called after his father Dara, at a time when the use of surnames was not widespread.
It is believed that the name Sinach fell into disuse, owing to the superstition of the fishermen of Connemara and Aran, to whom the sight and the name of a fox presage disaster.
Hardiman's edition of O'Flaherty's H—Iar Connacht" gives the following description "Over against Mason Head, southward in the same country, lies Cruagh Mhic Dara, a small high island and harbour for ships. This island is an inviolable sanctuary dedicated to MacDara, a miraculous saint, whose Chappell is within it, where his statue of wood for many ages stood, till Malachias Quileus, the Archbishop of Tuam, caused it to be buried under ground, for special weighty reasons."
"On the shore of this island is the captives' stone, where women, at low water, used to gather duleasg for a friends sake in captivity, whereby they believe he will soon get succor by the interception of the Saint.
"The boats that pass between Mason Head and the island have a custom to bow down their sails three times in reverence to the Saint. A certain captain of garrison of Galway, Anno 1672, passing this way and neglecting that customs was so tossed with sea and storms, that he vowed he would never pass there again without paying his abeyance to the Saint, but he never returned home till he was cast away by shipwreck soon after. A few years after, one Gill,a fisherman of Galway, who would not strike saile, in contempt of the Saint, went not a mile beyond that road, when, sitting on the pup of the boat, the mast, by a contrary blast of wind, broke, and struck him on the pate dead the day being fair weather both before and after.
"The parish church of Moyruss, by the sea—shore, just opposite to the island in the continent of Irrosainhagh, is dedicated to his name, where is kept his altar stone by the name of Leac Sinach. His festival day is kept as patron of Moyruss parish, the 16th July."
Mnr. F. J. Biggar, M.R.I.A., whose death took place recently, in a description of St. MacDara's Island, wrote:—
"Some distance from the church to the north, and overhanging the shore, are the remains of what may have been clochauns or circular stone dwelling—houses. The walls of one stand 4 feet high on one side, and 2 feet on the other, the diameter being 19 feet. The stones are large and well cut, and carefully built. To the east of this are remains of another circular stone structure, but its character is not so apparent. These may have been the residence of Sinach and his followers.
These are all the evidence observed by me of what must formerly have been an important religious settlement. Their life on illaun MacDara must have been, for at least six months of the year, rigorous in the extreme; a few sheep or goats could exist on the island and a few herbs be grown, but the principal food must have been fish and seaweed, unless the inhabitants of the mainland systematically contributed food for the maintenance of the religious on this barren rock."