St. Senán and the Péist of Inis Cathaigh

Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.
Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.

Then came Raphael the Archangel to commune with Senán, and he said: “Come with me, and I will shew thee the place in which thy resurrection will take place; for unto God it seems time for thee to reach it.” Then Senán and the angel went till they were on Mullach Feis. Then said the angel to him: “Behold the island there. Thy resurrection shall be therein, and the resurrection of a great host of saints along with thee. In the west of the world there is no more sacred island. No outrage to God hath ever been committed there. God sent an awful monster to keep it, so that neither sinners nor sons of cursing should dwell therein, but that it should remain in holiness awaiting thee. Yonder monster shall be put forth from the island before thee, so that dwelling along with it may not annoy thy community. For unto God it seemeth time for thee to go and build a church in that island. Noble and venerable will that church be. It will be a head of devotion and a well of wisdom of the west of the world. It will be a protection of prayer to foreigners and to Gael.” Said Senán to the angel: “What seems timely to God seems timely to me; for this is what I seek continually, that which is the will of God.” With that the angels lift him up along with the flagstone on which he was sitting, from Mullach Fessi, and set him down on a high hill in the middle of the island; and thence is Ard na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Height), and Lec na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Flagstone) in Inis Cathaigh. They sing praise to God in that spot, even Senán and the angels, and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary)  and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.
Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary) and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.

When the monster heard them, it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles; and it looked at them, hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild, was the look that it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that any one else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful, was the beast that arose there. Longer was its body than Inis na h-Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it; an eye gleaming flaming in its head, and it keen, savage, froward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Any one would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it; behind it a mane. Nails of iron on it which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burnt like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Iron, rending (?) claws upon it, which used to lay bare the surface of the ground on the path they came behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of its heat and from its virulence when it entered it. No boats could catch it: neither from that day to this has any one escaped from it who could tell tidings of it.

Now, when the monster came savagely to the place where Senán was biding, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senán lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s Cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senán spake to it:

“I say unto thee,” saith he, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district unto which thou wilt come.” The monster went at once at Senán’s word out of the island till it reached Dubloch of Sliab Collain. And it did no hurt to any one, till it came there, nor after arriving; for it durst not oppose Senán’s word.

Now after that Senán and the angels went righthandwise round the island till they came again to the Height of the Angels, after they had consecrated the island. Senán said to the angel: “Savage is the sea that there is around the island: there seemeth a troubled people therein.” “Though it be savage,” saith the angel, “whatever monk with humbleness of heart shall go from thee . . . . he will not be drowned until he shall come back to thee again. God hath granted to thee,” saith the angel, “that he over whom the mould of this island shall go, shall not be after Judgment an inhabitant of hell.”

Then the angel uttered this stave:

A sea high, stormy, past its side,
. . . not a royal element:
No penance but death shall he taste,
He over whom its mould goeth.

Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, trans. Whitley Stokes (1890).

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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