Walk for the Weekend: Scattery Island, Co Clare

This beautiful spot is home to an ancient monastic site founded by St Senan

Scattery Island is home to an ancient monastic site founded by St Senan, who is said to have banished a dragon-like creature called Cathach

"There are people . . . who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication. These born 'islomanes' . . . are direct descendants of the Atlanteans." – Lawrence Durrell

To use a popular phrase, I identify as an islomane, which sounds much nicer than islomaniac. We islomanes are always in search of new island experiences and this year I decided to visit Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary off Co Clare.

I normally visit islands in early spring or autumn, when that unique “island silence” adds to the feeling of being in a place apart. I took a risk and went in August and struck lucky. It was the day of the All-Ireland final and so I was the only customer. I was made as welcome as if I had brought 50 with me. I have known ferry sailings to be cancelled in such circumstances, but not here. And I got the services of Michael, the OPW guide, all to myself.

The island is home to an ancient monastic site founded by St Senan, a noted teacher and hermit who is said to have banished a dragon-like creature called Cathach, hence the Irish name Inish Cathaigh. Over time the monastic site expanded to feature a round tower (the only one in Ireland that has a door at ground level), a small cathedral and several medieval churches.


St Senan was obviously a popular guy and all the saints with whom he had made an alliance pledged to avenge any wrong done to his churches. From The Miracles of Senan: “Woe to him who rouses up this host by outraging this Monastery. Short and scant will be his grace. Long and lasting will be his ruth.”

Michael brought me around each one, giving me a detailed history. The pilgrimage to this holy site was a tough one, involving walking in bare feet to seven prayer stones and crawling on your knees on the stony ground around each one, reciting incantations.

Michael then left me on my own to soak up the atmosphere. I had enough time to walk the periphery of the island, passing the deserted village. Scattery was home to 147 people in 1881. The last two left in 1978.

I then passed the Artillery Battery, built in 1814 to repel a French invasion. The western shore is a cobbled storm beach and the best route is along the foot of the low cliffs, which are most unusual. A layer of glacial boulder clay rests on top of compacted river mud known as mudstone, which is still soft enough scoop a piece out with your hand. An ice house, used by fishermen, is embedded in the cliff.

As we sat on the pier awaiting the ferry, Michael and I discovered a mutual penchant for remote mountain spots. A pleasant end to a most pleasant day.

Scattery Island. Shannon Estuary, Co Clare

  • Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 63 but not necessary. Excellent map available from Scattery Island tours.
  • Start and finish: Kilrush Marina
  • How to get there: Kilrush is on the N68 Ennis to Kilkee road. The Island is accessed via the Scattery Island Ferry. 00353 85 2505512 or check website
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Distance: 10km, if you do a circuit of the island and visit all the ruins
  • Total ascent: 17m
  • Suitability: Route is easy
  • Food and accommodation: Kilrush