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St Patrick’s Purgatory + Lough Derg Donegal

Station of the Cross

Inch. St Ernan’s. Station. Ah. The eternal magic of County Donegal islands. Legend has it that if the priest rowing across Lough Derg to Station Island has red hair, the boat will sink. The island has long been a place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Patron Saint of Ireland. In 1837, Samuel Lewis recorded a calamitous case of titian haired sailing in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland: “About 10 years since a boat having 80 pilgrims on board swamped and went to the bottom, and only three of the number were saved; the bodies of the rest were afterwards found and interred on Saints’ Island.”

Lough Derg is a large piece of water in a declivity among shallow hills some 240 metres above sea level in south Donegal. It has several small islands, two of which – Saint’s Island and Station Island – have long been associated with the penitential exercises for which the place is famous,” notes Alistair Rowan notes in The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster, 1979. He continues,

Station Island is now almost completely covered with buildings of which the large centrally planned Church of St Patrick by William Scott is the most recent. Designed in 1921 and built in phases by T J Cullen after Scott’s death, it is a massive neo Romanesque pilgrimage church, octagonal, with short cruciform arms, flanking circular towers to the entrance portal, and primitive Norman arcades outside. In 1912 Scott had also designed the grim New Hostel block, a three storey concrete frame, with modern battlements, providing space for 220 cubicles. The Old Pilgrims’ Hospice, a three storey stone built block erected by Father James McKenna in 1880 to 1882, has been spoilt by the removal of its gables and the addition of a clumsy mansard roof. Beside it are four substantial two storey Georgian houses in an irregular curve in front of St Mary’s Church, a modest four bay lancet hall with a gabled porch, statue niche, and short chancel…” Bringing the architectural history up tp date, Editor and Publisher of Ulster Architect Anne Davey Orr confirms, “In the 1980s the architects McCormack Tracey Mullarkey designed the additional dormitory blocks built by McAleer and Teague. Joe Tracey was the principal architect.”

Today there are two sailors operating St Columba and St Davog’s boats on Lough Derg. Both are brunettes.

10 replies on “St Patrick’s Purgatory + Lough Derg Donegal”

Great highlight of this place of much interest in such a remote location in Donegal. My grandfather lived in nearby Pettigoe and talked of how busy the sanctuary was with pilgrims in the summer months.

Another reader reminds us, “Wasn’t it there that Thurlough O’Carolan went in later life and reached out to help passengers from the boat, and touched the hand of a woman he had been in love with when a boy. Blind, he knew by her touch that she was his boyhood sweetheart. He said in Irish, ‘By the hand of my Godfather, this is the hand of Bridget Cruise.’ Her parents had refused his pleading that they should marry, and they never met again until on the island. Extraordinary story. Maybe one day I could take the hand of Tom Cruise.”

Thanks DC! LVB X

A new generation emerges: Tracey Architects was formed by Peter Tracey in 2005 following the dissolution of McCormick Tracey Mullarkey Architects of which he had been a partner for 10 years. His father, Joe Tracey, along with Liam McCormick, was co-founder in 1968 of McCormick Tracey Mullarkey a firm which produced some of the finest architectural buildings throughout Ireland. Tracey Architects’ office is on Clarendon Street, Derry City.

Certainly Ireland’s grimest pilgrimage, the emphasis on mortification of the flesh. Red heads beware!

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