In darkness, we crunched along a gravel path, following the torchlight from our host, Tim, who led the way. As we boarded the ferry, we realised any concerns of missing the boat had been unfounded. It turned out that Tim was our captain. He hopped into the cab and began to manoeuvre the 18-ton hulk of steel out across the loch. With the headlights of the only car on board lighting our way, we motored towards Inis Rath, also known as Hare Krishna Island. Just 5 minutes later, we were disembarking.
Inis Rath Before Sunrise
Arriving at Inis Rath
From the dock, we made a beeline towards the welcoming glow of the Hare Krishna temple ahead. It was a relief to get inside where it was warm and bright. The smell of incense hit us as we walked into the main temple room and took our seats on the floor. We were just in time to join the 7am arati ceremony.
Surprisingly, we were asked to turn our backs to the main altar, instead facing a statue of the temple's founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami. In keeping with the season, the statue was well wrapped up in a thick wooly jumper and matching hat.
The Early Morning Arati Ceremony
A few resounding blasts on a freshly washed conch shell heralded the start of the arati ceremony. Accompanied by a harmonium, the devotees began to sing and sway along with the music.
One of the temple's residents was responsible for giving offerings to the statue. With constant bell ringing, she swirled a ghee candle around, presented the statue with a flower and a hankerchief, and even fanned it with a fluffy yak-tail fan.
Tim then brought the candle to each of us in turn. We were instructed to waft a hand over the candle before touching our heads. And when the statue was offered water, we too were sprinkled.
The Main Altar
The Main Altar At Inis Rath Temple
For the second half of the ceremony, we turned to face the main altar. Radha govinda statues, in black and white marble, stared back at us. Their sumptuous robes sparkled with sequins and fresh garlands of flowers hung around their necks. We later learned that these statues are fed, washed and re-dressed several times each day.
The arati ritual was repeated for these statues but this time a monk in orange robes had the honour. The devotees continued chanting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna..." The simple mantra only actually had three words, repeated in various combinations over and over. In case we forgot, there was a helpful board showing the lyrics beside the altar.
Inis Rath At Sunrise
So, What Do Hare Krishnas Believe?
When the ceremony finished, one of the devotees gave a talk explaining the basics of the Hare Krishna beliefs. She focused on the idea that our spirits are eternal and just temporarily housed in these mortal, material bodies. We were then given plenty of advice on how to get the best from our fleshy cocoons.
She read several quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient sanskrit scripture. Whether or not you subscribe to the Hare Krishna beliefs, we thought the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita did make a lot of sense. For example, performing selfless acts to help others will give you great satisfaction.
The Hare Krishna Temple at Inis Rath
Going outside in daylight, we could finally see what the Hare Krishna temple actually looked like. We had a very clear idea of what a temple should be and this was not it. We were standing in front of a Victorian mansion complete with bay windows and an impressive front porch with stone columns. Although it did have its fair share of scaffolding supporting areas where the roof had collapsed too.
The Hare Krishna Temple
A Walk Around Inis Rath Island
With a quiet "Gouranga", Tim began our mindfulness walk around the island. Following his instructions, we relaxed our shoulders and, with each step, focused on the sensation of our feet squelching along the muddy track. Mantra chanting was strictly optional.
We made a complete circuit of the island following a bizarre Hare Krishna themed walking route. Colourful paintings of Krishna enjoying his favourite pastimes were scattered among the trees. He was pictured playing instruments, taking a boat trip and even getting married.
The Temple And Grounds
Sunday At Inis Rath
The following day, we returned to Inis Rath, boarding the ferry at the much more respectable time of 12pm. We joined another arati ceremony, which this time focused solely on the main altar. As promised, the statues' clothes had changed and were now a rich purple. In a perfectly colour-coordinated fashion, the background scenery had also been changed to match.
The Sunday Feast
After another talk on Vedic wisdom, we were invited to join the Sunday feast at the temple. Our server loaded our plates with generous portions of bean curry, rice and chapatis. There were so many side dishes that he eventually gave up trying to fit everything onto our plates. And as if that wasn't enough food, there was mango cake for dessert.
Deer Stalking At Inis Rath
After our filling lunch, a walk around the island seemed like a good idea. We spotted a herd of fallow deer relaxing on the lawn beside the temple. Using some bushes as cover, we tried to creep closer, keeping a constant eye on the deer as they sunbathed and nibbled at the grass. We failed miserably and in no time the entire herd was trotting away into the forest. Apparently we need to work on our stealthy ninja skills.
We did see the deer again, several times, but they had grown wise to us. Each time we spotted them, they upped and left. At least the game of cat and mouse entertained us until it was time to get the ferry.
Inis Rath Travel Tips
Inis Rath is only open to the public on Sundays so plan your trip accordingly.
We were told it was ok to take photos of anything in the temple and around the island. If you want to do this, bring your camera with you.
Inis Rath is a small island with a lot of deer. It's worth taking a walk around the island as you have a good chance of seeing them. The temple residents feed the deer so there are often a few hopefuls hanging around near the temple.
The tracks around the island can be a little muddy in places. Bring appropriate footwear. You'll have to take your shoes off before you enter the temple anyway.
View From The Ferry
Visiting Inis Rath: What To Know
Everyone is welcome at the Hare Krishna temple on Sundays and everything, including the food, is free of charge.
The chanting and arati ceremony takes place at 12:30. This is followed by a talk on Vedic wisdom and philosophy. After the talk, the Sunday Feast is served.
You are welcome to go for a walk around the island at any time during your visit.
We also visited Inis Rath on a Saturday. This was part of our itinerary at Lake Isle Retreats.
How To Get To Inis Rath
The Inis Rath ferry quay is fairly remote so you'll have to drive there.
The ferry to the island departs around noon on Sundays.
If there are enough people, there may be two or three return ferry trips. On quieter days, there may only be one departure. Ask at the temple if you are unsure.
If you're spending more time in Co. Fermanagh, check out the Marble Arch Caves.
2 thoughts on “Inis Rath: Visiting Northern Ireland’s Hare Krishna Island”
Really surprised to hear of this Hare Krishna Temple in Northern Ireland!
Reminds me a little of our visit to a Christian church in Osaka!
Hi Howell, Yeah, it surprised us too. And we’d forgotten about the church in Osaka. Clearly remember the afternoon tea we had afterwards though.