Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rihla (Journey 38): Inishbofin Island, West Coast of Ireland: PURPOSE AND PORPOISE

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about Inishbofin Island off the west coast of Ireland.

In April 664 King Oswiu of Northumbria, at the instigation of his son King Alhfrith of Deira and his wife Queen Eanfled of Bernica (from the 7th century the former Brythonic kingdoms of Bernica or Bryneich and Deira made up the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria), called a Synod in Whitby to determine whether the Celtic (Ionian Gaelic) Church or Roman Church method of calculating the timing of Easter was to be the acceptable method in Northumbria.

This was to be a crucial test for Oswiu as his Kingdom straddled the orthodoxy divide in England between the Roman Rite as promulgated by Augustine from Canterbury (and Patrick in Ireland from Armagh) and the old rite of the Columban missionaries from the fading Celtic Church powerbase of Iona in the Gaelic (Scots) Kingdom of Dál Riata (a territory approximating roughly to modern day Argyll in Scotland). Representing the Celtic Church was Colmán, the Bishop of Lindisfarne since 661, the third bishop after the founder St. Aidan.

St Colmán's Journey with Irish and Saxon Monks 
from Lindisfarne to Inishbofin 664-666

Colmán was from the Conmaicne Mara (Connemara) dynasty in Connaught on the western side of Ireland and had been educated and ordained in Iona before transferring to Lindisfarne. When King Oswiu decided against the Celtic Church reckoning of Easter Colmán resigned his see and took his disciples (Irish and 30 Saxon monks) as well as the relics of St Aidan and part of the famous Lindisfarne scriptorium, and left first for Iona, where they stayed for two years, and then onwards to establish a new monastic base on Inishbofin Island off the coast of Connemara.

Iona Monastery c.1890 before restoration

To Colmán Inishbofin (Island of the White Cow) must have been very like Iona both in size (6km long by 2km wide) and geography and he must have had had great spiritual hopes for its future and perpetration of the Celtic Church traditions. This was not however to be the case as simmering tensions between his Irish and Saxon monks forced Colmán to uproot his Saxon disciples and found a new monastery at Magh Eó on the mainland in 668. St Colmán himself was to return to the island and he died there in 675.

Location of Inishbofin Island off the coast of Connemara

Colmán’s monastery was destroyed in 1334 by Edward II’s Justice of Ireland Sir John D’Arcy (founder of one of the famous town tribes of Galway) in revenge for the rebellion in Connemara sparked by the murder of William de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster in 1333. The historical association of Inishbofin with the Gaelic/ Dal Riada/ Iona Scottish resistance movement of Edward II’s nemesis William Wallace influenced this cultural destruction, a theme repeated throughout many armed conflicts in human history as a sort of 'cultural genocide'. It is the sort of 'tactical' destruction, currently happening in Syria, that the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was agreed upon to give enhanced protection to cultural historical sites in International Law (Ireland has not yet ratified the Convention) by defining five serious violations which are enough to establish individual criminal responsibility and by applying the Convention to both international and non-international armed conflicts.

There is a ruin of 14th century chapel on the site of the monastery and cemetery and a current archaeological excavation to try and unearth the foundation of the original monastery.

The irony of Inishbofin is that at the entrance to the harbour there is an early 17th Century barracks established by Cromwell to incarcerate Catholic priests (from specifically the Roman Rite tradition) for high treason under a parliamentary proclamation of 6 January 1653 which extended the 1585 English Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists (27 Elizabeth, Cap.2) to Ireland. I wonder if ever Colmán turned in his grave and smiled at their misfortune only a short distance from his Celtic Church retreat and his purpose for living.

There follows a series of pictures of Inishbofin Island:

Leaving Cleggan Harbour on mainland

Looking East towards Connemara

The New Pier

Inishbofin Harbour

Looking East towards the Twelve Bens past site
of St Colmáns Monastery.

It was 25 degrees in the shade and not a 'White Cow' in sight.

Site of St Colmán's Monastery

Dumhach Beach

My Grandson Leon and I

Looking West from Dumhach

Cromwell's Barracks to starboard of harbour entrance

Beacon at Gun Point at Harbour Entrance


 A pod of porpoises surfed the ferryboats waves 
as we made our way back to the mainland.

All life should have a 'porpoise' to experience the beauty of these moments.

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