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Great Island was entry point for first inhabitants


Front: Declan Lyons, Emma Hewlett, Mark Hewlett; Back Prof James Mallory and Simon Kennedy

Front: Declan Lyons, Emma Hewlett, Mark Hewlett; Back Prof James Mallory and Simon Kennedy

Front: Declan Lyons, Emma Hewlett, Mark Hewlett; Back Prof James Mallory and Simon Kennedy


An internationally respected university professor has said that County Wexford's Great Island on the estuary near Campile is most probably where the first inhabitants of Ireland came from Spain and landed five thousand years ago.

Up to now the claim has been that it took place at Bantry, County Cork. Archaeologists have been flocking to Kilmokea in recent years to study the soil in the ecclesiastical enclosure from the early Christian period. Evidence was unearthed from a nearby archaeological excavation to suggest the existence of a Bronze Age settlement and that the site was used by Vikings, Normans and also in the Medieval period. A D-shaped enclosure was discovered along with rocks from a collapsed building.

Professor emeritus James Mallory of Queens's University Belfast and native of California, USA, told 50 historians and local politicians at a Think-In at Kilmokea Country Manor that 'Great Island has the strongest claim' and that other 'manufactured claims do not stack up'.

He said further that the place Dún na Marc or the Fort of the Ships, reputed by some scholars to be the exact place where Cessair, granddaughter of Noah, landed with 49 women and three men, was not at Cork but at Great Island. He was one of four university professors invited to focus on the area in a contribution by Mark and Emma Hewlett of Kilmokea Country Manor, Sliabh Coillte Heritage Group, local business people and historians to national heritage week.

Simon Kennedy, a retired solicitor from Duncannon who had spent more than 20 years researching the area personally and later with Sliabh Coillte Heritage Group, conducted recorded video interviews with three professors in Cork and Dublin. In a 40-minute video interview shown to the audience, Professor John Carey of UCC said that Kilmokea was of primordial importance and had the deepest antiquity. He had said in an article in Eigse magazine, based on his research of Labor Gabala Eren that Cessair had landed at Cumar na dTri Uisce or Confluence of the Three Rivers, known locally as 'the three sisters'.

The confluence is in the estuary off Great Island.

In another video interview, Professor Máirín ni Dhonnchadha of NUI Galway paid tribute to the work of the late Dr Billy Colfer and to John Flynn and Tommie Grennan authors of research findings about the Kimokea enclosure on Great Island published in the book Medieval Wexford. She confirmed the views of local historians that Kilmokea was a major medieval education centre that provided religious, spiritual and intellectual leadership to the national and international Christian community. It was also on the pilgrimage route to St. Molings or St. Mullins.

She said that the bishop and abbot of the church in the area, Bishop Suadbhar, who governed Kilmokea was signatory to the first human rights law in Europe. This was an accord known as the Law of the Innocents which protected women, children and clerics from involvement in warfare. She said also that his name may have been venerated in the place name, Carnsore or Carn Suadhbhair.

Professor emeritus Padraig Ó Riain of UCC, author of the acclaimed book A Dictionary of Irish Saints, in another video interview with Simon Kennedy noted similarities between Kilmokea and other monasteries such as those at Carnsore, Begerin and Ardmore.

He said saints Finbarr and Barrfhind gave the name Cill Mach Aodh or 'Church of the sons of Aodh' to Kilmokea. As the cult of Finbar, also linked with Nessan of Cork was associated with teaching, we may assume that Kilmokea was a school or education centre on the island.

Declan Lyons, an international management consultant and author, who is a part-time resident at nearby Arthurstown, was moderator for the Think In. The attendance included Wexford historians and authors Bernard Browne, Alice Burke, Willie Considine, John Flynn, Brian Ó Cléirigh, Greg Walsh and Dan Walsh. Councillors Larry O'Brien, Martin Murphy and Michael Whelan.

Emma Hewlett, co-ordinator and host for the Think-In, invited people to contribute further opinion on the findings in the weeks ahead.