Monday 23 December 2013

The Twelve Pilgrims of Inis Uachtair, December 23

Among the saints commemorated on December 23 is a group of twelve pilgrims from an island in Lough Sheelin, County Westmeath. The Martyrology of Gorman describes them as:

Pilgrims whom thou shouldst know, two hexads, with a vigorous career.

whilst the Martyrology of Donegal records them quite simply as:

THE TWELVE PILGRIMS, of Inis Uachtair.

The Irish name Inis Uachtair translates as 'Upper Island' and as Father Anthony Cogan's diocesan history of Meath explains, a monastery had existed on the Lough Sheelin site since the sixth century:


This is an island in Lough Sheelin (upper island), bordering on the half barony of Fore. St. Carthagh the elder, grandson of Aengus, King of Cashel, erected an abbey here in the sixth century. In the Martyrology of Donegal the festival of St. Carthach, bishop, is marked at the 5th of March, and it is stated there that "Inis-Uachtair, in Loch-Sileann, belongs to him." The festival of the "Seven Sons of Dreitell, of Inis-Uachtair", is set down in the Martyrology of Tallaght at December the 21st, and in the Martyrology of Donegal at December the 22nd. The festival of "The Twelve Pilgrims of Inis-Uachtair" is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal at December the 23rd.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out any more about our saintly pilgrims. It would have been interesting to know of the purpose of their pilgrimage and especially of their destination. Although we hear of Irish saints going on pilgrimage to places like Rome or Tours, many Irish pilgrimages were undertaken to less exotic destinations here at home. Peter Harbinson's book 'Pilgrimage in Ireland - The Monuments and the People' is packed with fascinating details about this subject, one which I hope to post about in the future.

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