2000:0860 - CHURCH ISLAND, LOUGH KEY, Roscommon

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Roscommon Site name: CHURCH ISLAND, LOUGH KEY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 6:6 Licence number: 00E0483

Author: Heather A. King, DĂșchas The Heritage Service, DĂșn ScĂ©ine, Harcourt Lane, Dublin 2.

Site type: Medieval tomb shrine

ITM: E 583375m, N 805745m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.000675, -8.253578

Church Island has the remains of an Early Christian church, possibly 12th-century in date, with later medieval additions and a small ruined building to the north. Both are in extremely bad condition. The site is known as Inchmacnerin, and it is thought that there was a 6th/7th-century foundation on the island, although there are no early accounts of the monastic site. Gwynn and Hadcock (1979, 179) refer to the establishment of a priory of Augustinian canons after 1140, and a number of priors are recorded during the later medieval period. The abbey was granted to William Taffe in 1569.

Various references to the site in the 18th and 19th centuries indicate that it was ruined and overgrown. In 1999 clearance of trees and the dense overgrowth was undertaken by the National Monuments staff of DĂșchas The Heritage Service in order to repair the (?)12th-century west gable of the church. The small building, c. 1.5m by 3m, to the north of the church, referred to by Peter Harbison (1991, 150) as a tomb shrine, was found to be in a very vulnerable state. Five ash trees, growing within and on the walls of the building, had been cut back to a height of c. 1m, and, as there were signs of re-sprouting, it was decided to remove the trees and excavate the area around and within the building to facilitate reconstruction and consolidation of the monument.

Prior to excavation there was no trace of the south wall, and the most substantial section standing was five courses of the west gable. The only intact architectural feature was the roundheaded window in the internal wall of the west gable. Externally the head of the window was missing. Excavation uncovered the lower course of the south wall, with a possible centrally placed door, and two small piscinae were found in the rubble close to this feature. The jambs and sill stone of a window were recovered from the rubble of the east gable, while the interior of the building was filled with collapsed mortared material from a stone roof. The walls of the building are set on a stone plinth/platform that surrounds a cist grave.

Two burials were recovered: one within the cist and a second laid on top of the plinth to the south. Both burials were in poor condition, and only the more robust bones survived. The second burial was disarticulated, but the head, leg and arm bones had been carefully aligned west–east, adjacent to the burial within the cist.

The building has been fully recorded, although further work will be required when conservation work is undertaken, as it proved impossible to remove ivy roots from the north wall without further endangering the building. No dating material was uncovered, and the burials have not been analysed to date.


Gwynn, A. and Hadcock, R.N. 1970 Medieval religious houses: Ireland. Dublin.

Harbison, P. 1991 Pilgrimage in Ireland. London.