Cill Gobnait, Inisheer

The stories surrounding St Gobnait, who is most prominently associated with Ballyvourney, hold that she was born in Clare in the 6th century and later spent time on the Aran Islands studying under St Enda. Her time spent on Inisheer (Inis Oírr), the smallest of the Aran Islands on Ireland’s west coast, marked the beginning of her life in peregrinatio. In this tradition, holy individuals, in imitation of the Desert Fathers, left their homeland and social ties to pursue a life dedicated to Christ; for example, St Fionán established his monastery on Sceilig Mhichíl and St Columba lived on Iona in Scotland. Later, following a visit from an angel, Gobnait went in search of a place to establish a church across Munster, and as had be prophesised she found a herd of nine white deer grazing at Ballyvourney. She was granted land by St Abbán and she found a community of religious women.

A small ruined church, Cill Gobnait, remains on the island as evidence of her time there. The structure is reminiscent of other oratories found in Ireland, especially older sites along the west coast. Adjacent to the church are three altars or potentially penitential stations.

As features associated with St Gobnait, can be linked with other locations named after the saint. A network of places across Ireland, including sites in Clare and Kerry, as well as Inisheer and Ballyvourney, have a Gobnait connection. Through belief in the holy person and her journeys, a thread unties these sites. The stories of the saint and her peregrinatio are manifest in these places. Legend and history, geography and belief fold together in this spaces.

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