There is something about West Kerry that strikes a chord deep inside all who visit. You can feel it in the air, see it in the landscape and in the ancient reminders dotted across the peninsula. It’s a window into the past and possibly a pointer to the future.
Folklore and history are interwoven and people still tell the stories of centuries old traditions and history as though they were first hand accounts.
Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They connect us to our past and shape who we are today. Some traditions fall by the way side but there is a yearning across the country to restore many of these old ways and it was a great honour to be part of a revived tradition last Saturday when myself and Mary boarded a fishing boat that headed out of Fenit for Illauntannig, also known as ‘O Leary’s Island’.
Some years ago the priest in Fenit, Fr Gearóid revived or created a new tradition of celebrating mass in the ancient Christian site on Illauntannig – St Seanach’s Island. Fr Gearóid passed away last year but the tradition continues and this year Bishop Raymond Browne was the celebrant along with the local priest from Fenit, Fr. Eamon Mulvihil.
Our mad dash from Castlegregory to Fenit was almost in vain but thanks to the incredible hospitality of the local fishermen, space was made to include two hangers on.
Illauntannig is 8 miles from Fenit and our small flotilla of boats ferried about 60 people out to the island – which could only be accessed via a transfer by Naomhóg or inflatable craft.
The monastery was founded in the 6th century and incredibly some of it survives today despite it’s harsh environment on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It consisted originally of a cashel wall eighteen feet thick. Battered by seas and hurricanes it has survived remarkably well.
Within the wall were a couple of oratories and some beehive huts and a leachta (small graveyard), most of which are still there.
An ancient stone cross still remains with a bullaun at it’s base.
It was a good day weather wise and the views were spectacular – as far as Loop Head in Co. Clare and Sliabh Mish Mountains and the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. A stunning setting.
Bishop Raymond Browne celebrated the mass and it truly was a moving celebration attended by young and old alike. The island’s owner Bobby Goodwin was there and I presume it was his father, Richard, who owned the island in 1945 when Richard Hayward visited as he complied his guide to the Kingdom of Kerry.
Special thanks must go the families of fishermen who ferried all of us across to the island – and fed us too! Big shout out to Susan Browne, Marie; Gerard O Donnell and all the crew of Fenit RNLI.
Once we ignore the meaning of our traditions, we’re in danger of damaging the underpinning of our identity.
Long may the tradition continue; we should embrace the past and use our traditions to reinforce who we are as a nation. In today’s world, the traditional values (espoused last night by Michelle Obama in a brilliant speech!) of freedom, faith, integrity, education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless.
There are so many community benefits in celebrating our traditions and we should never undervalue their importance as a part of who we are.