Devenish Island, on the southern end of Lower Lough Erne and 1.5 miles downstream from Enniskillen is one of the best preserved monastic sites in Ireland. It was founded by St Molaise in the 6th century. On the island are the ruins of a monastery, two churches/ graveyards, an oratory and one of the finest round towers in Ireland. Additionally there is a small museum, worthy a look, and toilet facilities on the island.
It is said that St Molaise, resting from his labours, listened, spellbound, to bird song that was the Holy Spirit communicating. The reverie lasted a hundred years, and then when St. Molaise looked around after the interval the monastery had been built.
While one might imagine this island monastery to be fairly secure is was in fact plundered and destroyed twice (836 and 923) by water-borne Vikings who made their way up the lake. The monastery was re-established but became increasingly involved in secular affairs and local politics. Its reward for this was the burning of its churches in 1157 and in 1176 the round tower was the site of the murder of a local king’s son by his kinsmen. At around this time, the Monastery’s most important relic – the Soicel Molaise, or book shrine of St Molaise was created – this bible case (without bible) is now in the National Museum in Dublin.
Towards the end of the 12th century the Irish monastic churches came under the control of bishops and were organized into dioceses, etc. On Devenish the old monastic community survived as secular priests. Devenish served as the host site for various treaties, commissions and assizes and was the site of a 1259 meeting of Irish Kings, Hugh O’ Connor of Connacht, and Brian O’ Neill, of Ulster (also high-king of Ireland) where they agreed to unite against the English.
The Reformation and defeat of the Ulster Irish Chieftains by the English brought this monastic community to an end in 1603. Parish worship moved off the island in 1630, though the cemeteries remained in use until into the 19th century. See my related review – The Church of St. Molaise – Monea.
In terms of the buildings on Devenish Island today – the round tower and the walls of the Oratory of St Molaise near the lower church ruins date from the 12th century while the lower church, dedicated to St Molaise, dates the 13th century. The youngest building here, and highest up on the island, is the 15th century St Mary’s Augustinian Priory replete with original stone cross.
The round tower stands at 30 metres (100ft) tall – you can climb to the top via internal ladders.
A visit to the Island is highly recommended. Getting there, outside July and August, is the tricky part. If you can get to it you certainly should go.
Prior to 2015, in July – August a government run ferry used to operate a very economical service to Devenish Island from Trory Point, down a short lane at the junction of the B82 to Kesh and the A32 to Ballinamallard, 3 miles north of Enniskillen Town Centre.
The 2015 service was cancelled due to Government funding cutbacks. It remains to be seen if the service will be reintroduced in. Check with Fermanagh Visitors Information Office in Enniskillen.
MV Kestrel from Enniskillen
Again this service operates seasonally. I have written a separate review – M.V. Kestrel – Tours on Lough Erne– on this service as the Kestrel also offers a separate dinner cruise option and its ‘tour’ to Devenish is a pleasant thing to do in its own right. Please refer to that review for details on getting to Devenish Island on the M.V. Kestrel.
Hire your own boat
There are a number of operaters offering day boat hire on Lough Erne (again seasonal). Please see my separate review – Get out and about on Lough Erne for details on this very viable option.
Expect there to be little or no access to Devenish Island between mid September and Easter unless you have your own boat. If you fall into the later category of visitor you can access the island any time though I imagine you may not be able to climb the tower.
Access to the ruins is free.
Address: Access is by boat only
Directions: Access details in review
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Enniskillen. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Castle Balfour, Lisnaskea – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – “Fare thee well Enniskillen, ………..”