Islands of Ireland: Eyrie story from Crump Island

Islands of Ireland: Eyrie story from Crump Island
Crump Island, Co Galway. This part of Galway once boasted dozens of eagles but today there are far fewer in evidence. Picture: Eoghan Redmond

It is probably the strangest method ever devised for establishing a sea border anywhere in the world. In the mists of time in attempting to decide the borders between the counties of Galway and Mayo the good burghers decided that the best way to mark the border was by throwing a sack of oats into the sea and seeing where it would come to rest. The incident is recorded in the sea-kayakers bible Oileáin by David Walsh.

“The islands that lay to the N of the oats as they floated out would be in Mayo those to the S in Galway. To the surprise of many it floated down S of Crump and then headed out to sea,” he writes.

If the story is true it must derive from the period after Queen Mary’s plantation of the Midlands in the 1550s when King’s County (Offaly) and Queen’s County (Laois) were created. In the ensuing redrawing of borders that followed, the historic county of Connacht was subdivided into Galway, Mayo and Sligo.

The confusion appears to originate at this juncture but over time Crump and its neighbouring islands of Freaghillaun North and Shanvallybeg were claimed by Co Galway. Mayo’s loss was Galway’s gain.

Crump lies about midway between the mouth of Killary Harbour and Inishboffin Island and under the hulk of the highest mountain in Connacht: Mweelrea.

The population of the 70-acre Crump, also known as Ilane-a-green (much less used) peaked in 1841 at 16 people. The anglicisation Crump comes from Oilean Da Chruinne possibly meaning ‘a roundness of stones’ or ‘universe’.

Islands of Ireland: Eyrie story from Crump Island

The ruined house on the island is of sizeable dimensions with its walls in fairly good condition. Its roof is shattered but within the roof space is (when the Irish Examiner visited recently) a gigantic bird’s nest which could only be that of an eagle.

In Seán Lysaght’s book Eagle Country, the author relates how the skies and mountains in Galway and Mayo were often filled with the sight of eagles in the 19th century. When they were reintroduced in 2007 it was merely returning to Nature what was already hers. However, he wrote “despite Mayo’s rich legacy of eagle records and place names — ‘eagle crag’, ‘eagle wood’, ‘eagle green’, ‘Mount Eagle’ — there introduced birds have been slow to revisit the county.”

I spotted one a couple of years ago on the north side of Achill floating in a huge trough after a large wave had passed. And now this nest in the ruin of Crump. Could it even be the home of the very same bird?

In common with dozens of our islands Crump had a small oratory in this case built by St Rioch who according to sketchy detail is buried in the adjacent shore. Forty of his associates, who Rioch met on his travels, are apparently interred on the island itself. Folklore relates that that any- body interred there will be cast ashore. So, perhaps the 40 met that fate.

Roof of ruin with probable eagle's nest.
Roof of ruin with probable eagle's nest.

St Rioch is said to have preached in the far west of Conmhaícne Mara, which is the derivation of Connacht. Folklore also relates that he was the nephew of Saint Patrick. He also left his imprint on the other two of the Crump archipelago: Shanvallybeg and Freaghillaun North.

Crump is associated with the song ‘Alament for Affy (Austin) Gibbons’ whose family had participated in the 1798 rebellion against English rule. The lament is attributed to several sources but one of these is the rebel’s own uncle who came from Crump.

“The lament for Affy Gibbons commemorates the death of an individual while at the same time the verses expressed a tone of communal bitterness directed against the coming of the French,” writes historian Guy Beiner. Affy sought shelter on nearby Inishboffin but, as in many a similar tale in Ireland, was betrayed and murdered.

“It was from Killala the catastrophe originated/ that scattered us from each other/ It was the coming of the French to Ireland my woe and my sorrow.”

Makes a change from our usual target.

How to get there:

Kayak from Renvyle Beach about 5km north of Letterfrack.

Other: Eagle Country, Seán Lysaght,Little Toller; Oileáin, David Walsh, Pesda;Remembering the Year of the French:Irish Folk History and Social Memory, Guy Beiner, University of Wisconsin Press

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