St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

Holy Islands of the UK and Ireland

There are four places referred to as “Holy Island” in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and this sometimes causes confusion. Twice I’ve had enquiries from people thinking we (The Holy Island of Lindisfarne) are in Wales or Scotland, and I’ve heard of a person who navigated to entirely the wrong UK country (Wales) trying to get here. One caller insisted we must be in Ireland.

Therefore, I thought I’d spend a little time explaining which Holy Island is which.

1. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne | England

Located in Northumberland, only a short distance from the Scottish border, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island in the North Sea, on the eastern coast of England. Locals refer to it simply as “Holy Island”, though it is often referred to elsewhere as Lindisfarne.

Access to the island is through a causeway that is covered by the sea twice a day for a few hours. It is known for its imposing castle, the ruins of the priory, stunning beaches, bird life and seals.

The island has a village with about 150 permanent residents (2021 census), and there are two pubs, two hotels as well as holiday lets and small accommodation providers. There are three cafes and various shops, including a gin distillery and a mead shop. For tourist information, see our Holy Island guides.

2. Holy Island/Holyhead Island (Ynys Gybi in Welsh) | Wales

This Holy Island is located to the west of the island of Anglesey on the north-west coast of Wales. It is connected to Anglesey by the Stanley Embankment (Road, rail and cycle paths) and the Four Mile Bridge. The island’s land mass is 24 square miles.

The island is named after St. Cybi, a 6th-century Cornish bishop who established a monastery there (hence the Welsh name Ynys Gybi, the island of Cybi). It is known as holy because of its religious sites, standing stones and burial chambers. The island is also home to the South Stack Lighthouse, which dates back to 1809 and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline. The alternative name for it in English is Holyhead Island.

Today, Holy Island is a popular tourist destination known for its rugged coastline, stunning beaches, and fascinating history. Most of the island’s population is concentrated in Holyhead, its main town.

3. Holy Island / Holy Isle (Eilean MoLaise in Gaelic) | Scotland

The Scottish Holy Island is located off the west coast of Scotland in the Firth of Clyde, inside Lamlash Bay near the Isle of Arran.

The island is steeped in history and is believed to have been a place of pilgrimage since the 6th century. Irish Bishop St. Molaise is said to have lived there as a hermit in a cave. The island’s name comes from its association with the holy man, and it has since become known as a place of spiritual retreat and meditation.

Visitors come to enjoy the island’s natural beauty and tranquility, come for retreats or to participate in courses at the Buddhist Centre for World Peace and Health.

During the summer months, visitors can take a ferry from the nearby town of Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Winter retreats are also available.

4. Holy Island (Inis Cealtra in Irish) | Republic of Ireland

Based in Lough Derg (a freshwater lake) in County Clare in western Ireland, the 50-acre Irish Holy Island is uninhabited and is home to the ruins of five churches and historical structures such as a round tower, a holy well, bargaining stones and over 80 recumbent graves bearing inscriptions or crosses. It is considered one of the foremost monastic sites in Ireland.

The island can be reached by boat from Mountshannon.

The island has a rich history dating back to the 6th century when it became a place of pilgrimage and a monastic settlement. The island is associated with St. Caimin, a holy man who founded a monastery there in the 7th century.

Today, Holy Island is a popular tourist destination and a designated National Monument of Ireland, with the many historic ruins and structures offering visitors a glimpse into its past.

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