“There is a lake in North Munster with a large island which has a church of an ancient religious order. No woman or animal of the female sex could enter this island without dying immediately. This has been put to the proof many times by means of the cats, dogs and other animals of that sex, which have often been brought to it as a test, and have died at once” – Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerard the Welshman) 1187
Whilst Gerald the Welshman is being somewhat dramatic in his description of the small church at Monaincha there is no denying that it is an unusual place. Originally the church was built on an island in the middle of a lake, however in the 18th century this lake, named Lough Cre, was drained and the church stands on a mound surrounded by bog. The island is named ‘Inse na mBeo’ in Irish, which translates as ‘Island of the Living’, local folklore states that you could not die while on the island and as long as you remained there you were immortal.
An abbey was built on this site by St Cainnech of Aghaboe in the 6th century but it was also associated with St Cronan of Roscrea during the 7th century. There was once another island on the lake, smaller in size but also home to a chapel, this has long been destroyed. The current nave-and-chancel church was built by the Augustinians in 1140. A beautiful decorated Romanesque 12th century west doorway and chancel arch are constructed from sandstone. There is a small sacristy to the north of the chancel which was added in the 15th century. Outside the church stands a reconstructed 12th century High Cross. The Augustinians left the site in 1485 and the church became ruinous, however some repairs were carried out in the 19th century.
It should be noted that Gerald the Welshman wrote extensively about Ireland when he visited the country in the 1180s as a royal clerk. He was chosen to accompany the son of Henry II on his first expedition to Ireland in 1185. Gerald describes the Irish as barbaric, cannibalistic savages and helped to create an image of the Irish as an almost different species to the Anglo-Norman settlers.
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