Church Island

In the year 432 A.D after being driven to sea by the pagans of Wicklow, where he first landed, St. Patrick’s Island. He stayed here for a short period before sailing to Ulster, where as a slave he spent many years of his early life.

According to local tradition a man called Thad brought his foster son Benignus and presented him to St. Patrick. Benignus became a disciple of St. Patrick and in time became his successor as Bishop of Armagh.

A legend connected with St. Patrick’ visit is still told in Skerries. One day while Patrick and his companions were away in their boats the pagans of area slipped out to the Island and stole his goat. They killed and ate the goat, which was his last remaining source of food and drink. On his return the saint set out for the mainland to search for the goat. In doing so he took a mighty step to Red Island. The proof of this can be seen today in the shape of a footprint in the rock on Red Island near the Springboards. This footprint is called “St. Patrick’s Foot”.

Footprints and other marks on rocks, in connection with St. Patrick, are to be found in many places apart from Skerries. That there is some connection between some of these marks and the saint seems probable. It is suggested that some of Patrick’s followers, wishing to identify a particular spot where the saint stood, chiselled a footprint in the rock. With the passage of time people came to believe that it was the actual imprint of his foot.

A monastery and church were founded on the island at a very early period and existed for many hundreds of years. It was sacked and burned by the Vikings in 797 AD. The monastery was plundered on other occasions and the community of monks diminished.

Sitric, who was a son of a Dane called Murchard, re-founded the monastery on Church Island in 1120 with Augustinian monks. He dedicated it to St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. By this time the Danes who had settled in Ireland had become Christians.

In 1148, a very important synod was held on Church Island. It was summoned by Saint Malachy, the Archbishop of Armagh to settle differences between the Irish Christians and the Pope. Fifteen bishops, two hundred priests and other clergy were present. St. Malachy was sent to Rome to report to the Pope on decisions made at the synod. He never reached Rome, as he died on the way, in France, at the monastery of Clairvaux, in the presence of St. Bernard.

In 1220, the monastery on the island was abandoned and the monks transferred to the mainland where they built a church and monastery at the spot now called Holmpatrick.

The island still retains many traces of the ancient buildings where once the monks lived.