ST. CAVAN’S CHURCH
St. Cavan’s Church, also known as the Sunken Church, is located on the island of Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of the three islands. This ancient church, dedicated to a 6th century Irish saint, is partially buried by sand and offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the islanders.
St. Cavan, or Caomhán in Irish, was a cousin of St. Kevin of Glendalough and a contemporary of St. Columba. He is said to have been born in Leinster and travelled to the Aran Islands to spread Christianity. He settled on Inis Oírr (Inisheer), where he founded a monastery and became the patron saint of the island. He died on June 14th, around the year 600, and his feast day is still celebrated on that date by the locals. The grave of St. Cavan or ‘Leaba Chaomhain’ is located to the north-east of the church. On the saint’s day, it’s tradition to pray at the grave, with further stories of people being cured of illness there also.
St. Cavan’s Church (Teampall Chaomhán) is a small stone church that was built over the saint’s grave in the 10th century. It is located near the shore, close to a holy well and a stone cross that are also associated with the saint. The church has a simple rectangular plan with a round-headed doorway and two small windows. The interior features an altar stone and a stone slab that marks the saint’s resting place.
Over the centuries, the church was gradually covered by drifting sand that was blown across the island by strong winds. The sand accumulated around the walls and roof of the church, creating a mound that hid it from view. The entrance of the church became below ground level, and visitors had to descend into a pit to access it. The church was almost forgotten until it was excavated by the islanders in the 1980s. They cleared away the sand and restored the church to its original appearance. They also built a protective wall around it to prevent further sand encroachment.
St. Cavan’s Church is open to the public and free to enter. You can reach it by walking from the pier or by hiring a bike or a pony and trap from the village. The church is signposted along the way and easy to find. You can explore the church and its surroundings at your own pace and admire the views of the sea and the other islands. You can also learn more about the saint and his legacy from the information boards nearby.
St. Cavan’s Church is a remarkable example of early Irish ecclesiastical architecture and a testament to the faith and resilience of the islanders. It is well worth a visit if you are looking for something different and authentic on your trip to the Aran Islands.
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