Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

The story of the first dead buried on Scattery Island

Celtic literature is full of fascinating stories that offer a glimpse into the ancient beliefs and customs of the monks. One such story is entitled “The little boys who went to Heaven” and tells the story of the first dead who were buried on Scattery Island. The story is recorded in early Celtic literature, translated by Kenneth H. Jackson in this book ‘A Celtic Miscellany’ and is a testament to the mystical and spiritual world that the Celts inhabited.


Image of the well path leading down to Teampeall na Marbh on Scattery Island with the towers of Moneypoint power station in the background.

Image of the well path leading down to Teampall na Marbh on Scattery Island

The story begins with Donnan, son of Liath, went to gather dulse on the shore with two little boys, who were studying with him. The sea carried off Donnan’s boat from him, so that he had no other boat on the island to rescue the boys. So the boys were drowned on a rock. But on the next day, their bodies were carried so that they lay on the beach of the island.

Their parent came then and stood on the beach, and asked that their sons should be given to them alive. Senan said to Donnan, ‘tell the boys to arise and speak with me’.

Donnan said to the boys, ‘You have to leave to arise to talk with your parents, for Senan tells you to do so’.  They arose at once at Senan’s command, and said to their parents, ‘You have done wrong to us, bringing us away from the land from which we came’.

‘How would you prefer’ said their mother to them ‘to stay in that land rather than to come to us?’

‘Mother’, they said, ‘though you should give us power over the whole world, and all its enjoyment and delight, we should think it no different from being in prison, compared with being in the life and in the world to which we came. Do not delay us, for it is time for us to go back again to the land from which we have come; and God shall bring it about for your sake that you shall not mourn after us’

So their parent gave them their consent, and they went together with Senan to his Oratory; and the sacrament was given them to them, and they went to Heaven, and their bodies were buried in front of the oratory where Senan lived.

And those were the first dead who were buried in Scattery Island..

(Original Author: Unknown.)

This story is a beautiful and poignant tale that offers insight into the ancient Celtic belief in the afterlife. It demonstrates the importance of the spiritual world to the Celts and Monks and their belief in the power that their religious leaders such like St. Senan.

Today, Scattery island remains an important site of pilgrimage for those interested in Celtic spirituality and history and stories like that of ‘the little boys who went to heaven’ continue to inspire and captivate.

Thank you to Kevin Donnelly who shared this story with us.