Church Island, Ballycarbery West

The Iveragh Peninsula has fifty-four Early Medieval ecclesiastical sites. The most important of these sites is the spectacular Skellig Michael which became the most impressive eremitical site in Christendom.

Church Island at Ballycarbery West, in Valentia Harbour, was a centre of local importance which never developed into a major monastic centre. During vernal equinoctial tide, Church Island can be reached by foot from Beginish Island along a sandbar. The site was excavated under the direction of M.J. O’Kelly in 1955-56. Visible features included an oratory and cloghaun, an ogham inscribed cross-slab and traces of an enclosing wall. Evidence of occupation from the early to late Medieval period was discovered as well as a circular wooden hut and a rectangular wooden structure. Later stone structures replaced these wooden buildings. the site was further examined in August/September 2004 and proved to be an elaborate terraced shrine mound. Nine stone terraces were also uncovered but not excavated. Valentia Slate was used as part of the paving. Traces of burials, probably of the founding fathers of the monastery, were also found. The results of excavations indicate that the oratory was founded by at least the eighth century but may actually have been established as early as the sixth century.

It is unclear when individual religious sites such as Church Island went out of use but it may have been when parochial divisions were established in the twelfth century. These ancient monastic sites are an essential part of the religious and cultural history of our parish and indeed, our country.