Caomhan is the patron saint of Inisheer (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. He is said to have been a disciple of Saint Enda of Aran. He is also said to be the elder brother of Saint Kevin of Glendalough although no corresponding legend exists in Co Wicklow to support this claim.
The saint’s Pattern Day (Lá an Phátrúin), 14 June, is a special holiday on the island when mass is celebrated at his church.
The ruins of Caomhan’s Church (Teampall Caomhán) are below ground level. The church was nearly buried by drifting sands but has now been excavated and is kept clear of sand by the islanders. According to the notice prepared by the Office of Public Works, the building may date from the 10th century. 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 (Leaba Chaomhain or Caomhán’s bed) is located to the north-east of the church. In recent times it has been roofed to resist the incursion of blown sand from the surrounding dunes. It is a tradition on the island to spend the vigil of the saint’s feast praying at his grave. It has been written that people were cured of illness here.
Photo: Caomhán’s Church, Inisheer, Aran Islands, Co Galway