Anker’s Island, or the island of the Anchorite, is a narrow strip of land in the northeast of Ballyconra. It is about 230 metres long and, where widest, about 55 metres across. It is bounded along the east by the Nore, and on the other three sides by a wide artificial channel, in some parts very deep, through which, except at very low water, a branch of the river flows.
Here some saint of old, whose name is forgotten, retired from the world to devote himself to the service of God and from him the island received its name. He lived alone on the island, leading a life of prayer and mortification and had attained such a degree of holiness that, by God’s permission, a bird brought him daily in his beak, as much bread as he required, to keep body and soul together.
One winter’s night, however, whilst making the circuit of the island, he felt stung with the bitter cold, and allowed his thoughts to wander on the hardship and loneliness of his life. For a brief moment he felt discontentment with the life to which God had called him.
Next day the bird failed to bring the usual supply of food. The Anchorite knew that this was because of his lapse on the previous night. He begged God for forgiveness and asked him to show him how he could return to the state of holiness he had reached before his sin. God told him to take his staff and to stand in the bed of the Nore, until such time as the staff bloomed again into leaves and branches. Then, and only then, would he know that he had done sufficient penance for his sin.
Cheerfully, he did as God had asked him and stood n the river, leaning on his staff. He had not been long there when a robber from the Urlingford direction came on the scene, with some cattle he had stolen from the area around Castlecomer, intending to drive them over the ford, which crossed the Nore at the northern end of the island.
Seeing the Anchorite standing in the water the robber was surprised, and asked him for what he was doing there. The Anchorite explained what had happened and how he came to be standing in the river, leaning on his staff. When he heard this story, the robber was filled with a great fear, and he cried out.
“If God punishes you so severely here for just one offence, and that offence so small, what punishment must he have reserved in the next life, for me. I have offended him so often and so seriously. Tell me, O Holy Man, what I must do to escape God’s vengeance?”
The Anker replied,
“Come down into the river, with your staff, and stand beside me, and if you have true sorrow and perform sufficient penance for your sins, God will certainly pardon you, just as he has promised to pardon me.”
The robber did as he was asked and stood in the river beside the Anchorite, leaning on his staff. Both men remained there until their staffs bloomed again into leaves and branches. Then they knew that they were once again in God’s favour. It is said that the robber was so sincere in his sorrow that his staff was the first to bloom.
As this amazing story was retold, and as the reputation of the Anchorite spread, the little island became a favourite burial ground and many internments took place there. There are no monuments on the island to mark these burial places and unfortunately, over many years, the river Nore has been wearing away the bank, and much of the graveyard has been swept away.
Within the graveyard, were the remains of a little church approximately ten metres by five metres. Most of the stone which made up the church was removed and used in the building of Ballyconra Mill.
When the mill was burned down in 1885, many local people connected its fate with the demolition of the Anchorite’s church. On the Ordnance Survey Map, Anker’s Island is incorrectly entered as “Archer’s Island.” It is sometimes correctly written “Anchorite’s Island”, but it is always, and quite as correctly, called in English, Anker’s Island.