Eight miles off the west coast of Cork lies the island of Cape Clear, Ireland’s most southernmost inhabited island and the birthplace of one of Ireland’s earliest saints, writes Anne Keeling
There is something irresistible and enticing about islands. As a ‘mainlander’ my one-day visit to Cape Clear left a lasting impression of another world of rare and unspoilt beauty.
Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island, Cape Clear is reached by a half-hour ferry ride from Baltimore on the coast of West Cork. Even on a calm day the crossing can be hazardous to an unseasoned sea-traveller, as some of us Kerry pilgrims found out one mild Thursday in spring of this year.
It was March 5th, the feast of the island’s Patron Saint, Ciarán. Nine of us with Fr Tomás Ó Caoimh at the helm journeyed early by minibus from Tralee, breaking our fast at the delightful Casey’s of Baltimore, which offered lovely views and a varied menu.
We reached the harbour with full tummies and eager hearts. Joined by a group of young schoolgirls and blessed by Fr Tomás we boarded the Dún an Óir. Seagulls swooped and dived around us as we cut through the waves.
Though it cannot be verified because of the passage of time, it is said that St Ciarán is one of Ireland’s earliest saints, possibly even pre-dating St Patrick himself. Born on the island – reputedly on the beach – St Ciarán has left a legacy there which is obvious by the proliferation of his name.
There is St Ciarán’s beach (Trá Chiaráin), St Ciarán’s Well (Tobar Chiaráin), St Ciarán’s Church (Séipéal Chiaráin), St Ciarán’s Graveyard (Reilg Chiaráin), among others. What’s more, almost every family has a Ciarán in it. It’s clear the 120-strong population of Oileán Chléire, as it is known in Irish, reveres its patron and it was nice to be seeing it for the first time on his feast day.