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The carved pillar-stone in the ancient graveyard on Inchagoill Island
The carved pillar-stone in the ancient graveyard on Inchagoill Island in Lough Corrib in County Galway.

Inchagoill Island

The beautiful Island of Inchagoill, the Island of the Devout Stranger is found to the center of the northern portion of Lough Corrib in County Galway. An early Christian religious foundation was established there as early as the 5th century AD. The legend tells that the devout stranger is none other than St Patrick who founded the first of two churches on the Island. The story also mentions the nephew of St Patrick, and one of the seven sisters of the illustrious saint.

The carved stone in the gaveyard with an early Latin inscription.

The inscription says: "Lie Luguaedon macci Menueh" (Stone of Luguaedon son of Menueh), and is said to commemorate a nephew of St Patrick. Some see the shape of the pillar-stone as resembling a ships rudder. Others believe it may be a reworked ogham stone. Whatever, the Latin inscription is one of the oldest known from outside Rome and dates the inscription to around 500 AD.

The Saints doorway
The Saints doorway in 1894.
A heavily carved and much eroded classical Irish early Christian doorway leads into the small church.

The Devout Stranger

The Science fiction and fantasy author Jack Vance circulated a rumour that the Holy Grail resided for a time within the church on Inchagoill as part of the plot for his novel Madouc.

"Of the Holy Grail I can tell you only a few bare facts," said Kerce. "While I know of a hundred religions, I give credencee to none. The Grail is reputedly the chalice used by Jesus Christos when last he dined with his disciples. The chalice came into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea, who, so it is said, caught blood in the chalice from the wounds of the crucified Christ. Subsequently, Joseph wandered across the world and at last visited Ireland, where he left the Grail on Isle Inchagoill in Lough Corrib north of Galway.

The Greek cross of Inchagoill.
The Greek cross of Inchagoill.

A band of heathen Celts threatened the island chapel, and a monk named Father Sisembert brought the to chalice to the Elder Isles, and from this point onward the stories go at variance. According to one account the chalice is buried in crypts on Weamish Isle. Another reports that as Father Sisembert passed through the Forest of Tantrevalles, he met a dreadful ogre, who put him to evil uses, claiming that Father ad Sisembert had neglected courtesy. One of the ogre's three heads drank Sisimbert's blood; another ate his liver. The third head suffered from toothache and, lacking appetite, made dice of Sisimbert's knuckles. But perhaps that is only a story to be told around the fire on stormy nights."

Madouc, Jack Vance, P62.

Vance, who was a keen sailor and fisherman, visited the area with his wife and son in 1969, when he rented a cottage near Cong for several weeks and got to know the locals pretty well. Did he come up with the notion of the holy grail resting on the Island himself, of was the idea implanted by some mischievious local?

David from Corrib Cruises gives a tour of Inchagoill.
David from Corrib Cruises gives a fantastic tour and is very keen on the history of the island.

Certainly magical cottages, lakes studded with islands, mentions of the Tuatha de Danan, Formorian and Firbolg invasions, castles, churches, and medieval robber barons all made it into his later novels, and may well have been inspired by the Cong area.

The beautiful sandstone doorway on Inchagoill with its array of worn carved heads.
The beautiful sandstone doorway on Inchagoill with its array of worn carved heads, is preceeded by form of earlier monumental portal.