Gougane Barra translates as the rock of Barra, referring to St Finbarr who built a monastery here on the island in the lake in the 6th century. His name is often abbreviated to ‘Barra’.
It is the end point of St. Finbarr’s Way, one of Ireland’s long distance pilgrim paths. The ruins visible today are from the an 18th century hermitage, whilst the oratory (chapel) is from the 19th century.
There is a Scottish connection with the island of Barra in the Hebrides, which also has a (ruined) church of Finnbarr. Tradition says that this church, indeed the entire island, is dedicated to this same St. Finnbarr. At the time that these churches and monasteries were established the West coast of Scotland and Ireland were very much part of one sea-based culture, with evangelising monks travelling far and wide. The seat of power at Dunadd in Argyll was also established at this time by the ‘Scots’ – a tribe from Northern Ireland.
Its a wild, isolated place. When the rain sweeps in you have to admire the dedication of monks living here in their cells. But, I can feel why they were drawn here. There is an energy arising here, and although it can seem bleak, that gentle nourishing power is always here. The natural springs here are reputed to have healing powers. In fact, in olden days the locals used to drive their cattle through the lake as they held it to be blessed, and this would keep the animals free of disease.
For the modern visitor the nearby family run Gougane Barra hotel offers welcome refreshment after being out in the weather.