Caomhán of Inisheer

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Coordinates: 53°03′50″N 9°30′50″W / 53.064°N 9.514°W / 53.064; -9.514

The ruins of St Cavan's Church (2011 photograph)

Caomhán (also Cavan, sometimes Kevin) is the patron saint of Inisheer (Irish: Inis Oírr), the smallest of the Aran Islands. Even though he is "by far the most celebrated of all the saints of the Aran Islands", little is known about him.[1] He is said to have been a disciple of Saint Enda of Aran,[citation needed] which would place him in the 6th century, but his death date has also been recorded as 865.[2]

The saint's Pattern Day (Irish: Lá an Phátrúin) was formerly 3 November, but was moved to 14 June in the 19th century.[2] There used to be a pilgrimage of the sick to his tomb on his day, and an open air mass is still celebrated there every year.[3]

St Cavan's Church (also "St Kevin's Church", Irish: Teampall Chaomhán) is a ruined church, built in the 10th century,[4] at the location of the saint's grave.[3] The entrance is now below ground level, as the church was nearly buried by drifting sands; it has now[year needed] been excavated and is kept clear of sand by the islanders.[5] In recent times[year needed] it has been roofed to resist the incursion of blown sand from the surrounding dunes. All that remains visible of this structure today is the chancel. A century or so after this was built, the rest of the building gave way for a wider nave. The lintel over the original western doorway was reused in the enlarged building to become the entrance from the nave to the priest's residence. Three other features date from the late medieval period: the head of the chancel arch, the pointed doorway in the south wall of the nave and the priest's residence.

The grave of St Caomhan (Irish: Leaba Chaomhain or "Caomhán's Bed") is located to the north-east of the church. It is a tradition on the island to spend the vigil of the saint's feast praying at his grave. It has been written[citation needed] that people were cured of illness here.


  1. ^ John O'Donovan, 1839, cited in Peter Harbison, Pilgrimage in Ireland. The monuments and the People, 1991, p 91.
  2. ^ a b Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, John Eller Taylor, Hardwicke's Science-gossip Volumes 10–11 (1874), p. 272.
  3. ^ a b Fionn Davenport, Ireland, Lonely Planet (2010) p. 410.
  4. ^ The 10th-century date is given on a notice on site prepared by the Office of Public Works, and is repeated in various travel guides. G. V. Du Noyer in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 9 (1867), p. 425 still gives a 7th-century date. Hardwicke's Science-gossip (1874) says it is "supposed to be a twelfth-century church".
  5. ^ "the little church of St Cavan, or Kevin, is usually covered by drifting sands, but it is cleared each year in order to hold a service at his tomb, to the north-east of the church." Elizabeth Rees, Celtic Sites and Their Saints (2003), p. 10.