This tiny island, surrounded by a salt lake and cut off from the sea by a sand bar, has been a place of pilgrimage since pre-Christian times. It was St Ibar who absorbed it into the Christian Church and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. From the 12th century, Christians have made their way to do penance there, many crawling around its 12 acres on their knees, or walking with a foot in the water.
Today, outdoor seating is arranged beneath an altar set into the remains of a 15th century castle, whose one remaining tower leans at an angle. Thousands of worshippers regularly attend a late summer service held on the island each year, between August 15 and September 8.
There is ample evidence of pre-Christian settlement around the island. Raths, or ring-forts, are thought to lie beneath clay mounds scattered throughout the locality, and at nearby Ballytrent and Carnsore Point are two important pagan shrines. Historians believe that the area was once quite densely populated and that Our Lady’s Island – whose Irish name means ‘meadow of the women’ – was the home of druid priestesses. The present causeway is thought to have been built by pre-Norman monks.
The area’s mystical past is still venerated at every funeral, when a wooden cross is placed in the hawthorn tree nearest the cemetery, a custom thought to be linked druidical worship.
Our Lady’s Island is a hidden gem and well worth a visit on your Ireland tours, contact us now to organise your chauffeur driven tour!