Station Island Archaeological Survey

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Station Island Archaeological Survey


Lough Derg--Station Island--Archaeological survey--Summary


It is traditionally believed that a monastic settlement was founded on the nearby Saint’s Island (formerly St. Dabheog's Island) in the fifth century by St. Patrick who installed Dabheoc as the first abbot (see DG101-001001-/002-/003-/004-/005-/006-/008-). The primary concern of the monastery was to minister to the needs of the pilgrimages to the ‘cave’, known as St. Patrick's Purgatory, on Station Island. Some sources suggest that the original cave had been located on Saint's Island and that the pilgrimage was later transferred to its present location (Leslie 1961, 9-10). The Lough Derg pilgrimage was famous throughout Europe in the middle ages and a large literature grew up around it (Curtayne 1976; Harbison 1991). Several unsuccessful attempts were made to quash the pilgrimage and include legislation, papal prohibitions, adverse propaganda and the destruction of physical structures. In 1494 a Dutch Augustinian wrote to Pope Alexander V pronouncing the site 'a sham'. The Pope subsequently ordered its closure (Harbison 1991,59). In 1497 the cave was supposedly demolished, as a 'fictitious thing', on St. Patrick's Day ... by authority of Pope Alexander VI (MacRitchie 1901, 85). However, the Annals of Ulster recorded for the year 1497 that the 'demolished' purgatory was not the real one prompting the suggestion that the Augustinian canons closed down a 'false' cave, thus conveniently allowing the pilgrimage to the original to continue (Harbison 1991, 59).

In 1632 the Protestant authorities decreed that all buildings on both Station Island and Saint's Island should be demolished and the masonry thrown into the lake because of the 'extremely abusive and superstitious' nature of the pilgrimage: this task was successfully executed by the Anglican Bishop of Clogher (Pinkerton 1857, 67-9). Despite the obliteration the pilgrimage survived and even flourished (Campbell 1789, 151), except for the subterranean purgatory element. This was replaced by an aboveground building, as indicated on the plan of the island published in 1666 (Carve 1666) and mentioned in subsequent written accounts. The pilgrimage was again closed down in the 1780s on the pretext of dangers that might befall pilgrims as a result of overcrowding (Harbison 1991, 60). Once more these measures foiled and the pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Purgatory continues to thrive into the 21st century.

The structure named ‘Caverna Purgatory’ on Carve’s 1666 map no longer exists as the entire island has been subject to continuous development and building activities over the past two centuries. The location indicated here can only be considered as indicative of its former presence on the island. Even the existing so-called penal beds cannot be considered of any great antiquity. Miscellaneous ecclesiastical remains on the island include a cross-shaft (DG101-004002-), the broken head of a cross (DG101-004003-) and a small font (DG101-004001-). (Carve 1666; Campbell 1789; Curtayne 1976; Lacey et al. 1983, no. 1592, pp. 280-2; Picard and de Pontfarcy 1985; Dowd 2015, 217-20).


Compiled by: Paul Walsh


Archaeological Survey of Ireland


National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland


12 April 2017


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence


Archaological survey summary






54.6083, -7.8714


Class: Structure
Scheduled for inclusion in the next revision of the RMP: No





Compiled by: Paul Walsh, “Station Island Archaeological Survey,” Digital Derg: A Deep Map, accessed April 21, 2024,