Architects Architecture

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.

Architecture Country Houses

St Ernan’s House + Island Donegal

A Singular Existence

Lack | Kesh | Toome. The nomenclature of the villages en route to St Ernan’s Island resonates with monosyllabic North West Ulster brusqueness. Pettigo may sound more reticent but it’s full of robust no nonsense Georgian buildings backing onto the Termon River. Just before entering the jollity of Donegal Town and Magee “Specialists in Donegal Tweed” who are, for those who know best, also Specialists in lunch at the Weaver’s Loft Café, turn left, veer right, get lost, turn left again, go round the bend (physically not metaphorically), and straight ahead is the destination that inspired a murder mystery. A pink house bathed in lilac Donegal light immortalised in Paul Charles’ colourful thriller St Ernan’s Blues.

Professor Alistair Rowan, North West Ulster: “This was the island retreat of John Hamilton of Brown Hall (1800 to 1884) the author of ‘Sixty Years Experience as an Irish Landlord’. Mr Hamilton took a romantic fancy to the island, laid out a pretty garden on it, with a wall round the shore, and built a two storey Regency style cottage there between 1824 and 1826. It is five windows long with a continuous verandah running the length of its front across canted bays at either end.

The setting is indeed glorious, but the romantic whim of a young and newly married proprietor proved inconvenient. For most of each day the island was cut off either by the tide or, worse, by impassable shallows of mud. The construction of a causeway, despaired of by professional engineers, was achieved by Hamilton with free labour from the surrounding country.”