Sundials in Ireland - Ancient Monastic Dials

Inis Cealtra Co. Clare

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St Caimin's church

Inis Cealtra [Iniscaltra] is an uninhabited 300m wide x 450m long island located in the south-west region of Lough Derg, close to the village of Mountshannon in County Clare. The name Inis Cealtra has been translated as the ‘island of churches’. The ruins of an ancient 6th/7th century monastic settlement founded by St. Colum, though it's mainly associated with St. Caimin who was abbot on this island, include five churches, a round tower, a holy well, five bullaun stones, many beautiful grave markers and slabs, remains of high crosses and a cillín.(Old Ordnance Survey maps mark it as “Garaidh Mhichaeil” [Michael’s Garden] a burial ground for unbaptised children and also a place where people, suffering from deadly diseases, were buried). Today Inis Cealtra appears to be a remote island hermitage, but in the 6th/7th centuries it was situated on one of the most important ancient highways of Ireland; the River Shannon. Being positioned on such an important routeway meant easy access for pilgrims, the tourists of the day, who brought wealth and status to the island monastery. The easy access was also a double-edged sword, as it was also easy access for the Vikings, and the Annals record raids on the monastery in 836 and 922 A.D. The Reformation did more damage than the Vikings and the churches of Inis Cealtra were never re-roofed or reoccupied after the mid 1500s.
The island has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1,000 years and still is. Pilgrims do rounds among its monuments which are used as stations.

Inside St Caimin's church

St. Caimin’s Church (the only roofed building on the island) was built at the beginning of the 10th century by Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. Inside the nave are several grave slabs and crosses from the 8th/12th centuries.
Copy of Du Noyer's original drawing

An ancient vertical stone sundial,dated to the 7th century was originally located in the cemetery. It was moved first to inside St.Caimin's Church and then off the island to Office of Public Works storage in Athenry where it remains. Length 1475mm, width 395mm, thickness 75mm, diameter of dial 375mm, Gnomom hole diameter 50mm,

On the left is a copy of a drawing by the Geologist/Antiquarian/Artist George V.Du Noyer circa 1860.
In addition to the scale and detailed dimensions, notes on the drawing read
"Ancient Sun dial on Innishcealtra Lough Derg.
Length of Stone 4ft 9"
Thickness 3" with a channel cut along one edge and round the top.

The dial from Inis Cealtra now in the OPW Athenry store. Photo left shows the flaking of the surface and around the gnomon hole recorded by Du Noyer 160 years ago.

The dial face has been damaged by a large flake breaking off around the gnomon hole.

The temporal lines on these Ancient Monastic sundials were designed not to measure the passing hours but to mark the times when canonical prayers should be said viz Dawn(Prime), Mid-morning(Terce), Mid-day(Sext), Mid-afternoon(None) and Evening(Vespers).

The end of the sundial shaft (see opposite),had been tapered both sides and undercut at the back so as to fit into a socketed stone in much the same way as the High Crosses were

The island of Inis Cealtra (also called Holy Island) is reached by boat from Mountshannon 50Km North East of Limerick on the R352 road.

National Monument No 5

Lat 52° 55' North    Long 8° 27' West

Irish Grid   R   169890   185003

If you know the location of a sundial in Ireland (NOT a mass produced DIY Store garden ornament) please email it to me (Click here to email M.J.Harley) - a member of British Sundial Society
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