Islands of Ireland: Roeillaun - a hidden piece of paradise

Abandoned caravan on Roeillaun, Co Galway (Doorus Peninsula).

The suits hang neatly on the rail of the caravan’s wardrobe. Shirts and ties are ready for wear. Colourful dresses complement the picture of a happy home life. 

It looks like someone has just popped out for a minute. In the window is a bouquet of plastic flowers.

The clothes are a little moth-eaten, perhaps, and have been untouched for the best part of 40 years.

The painted caravan above is on the heavily wooded island of Roeillaun at the end of the Dooras peninsula in Lough Corrib, Co Galway. 

This peninsula juts into the enormous lake from the western end near the village of Cornamona.

However, like most of Lough Corrib’s islands, Roeillaun is uninhabited and no one has returned to the caravan in a long time. 

It looks like the people who occupied it left in a hurry or even that the caravan was preserved as a type of shrine. 

The caravan is painted with trees, rendering it invisible to passing boats. This was a hideaway that lived up to the term. 

A second caravan nearby is also camouflaged.

Through the heavy vegetation, another structure peers out. This is a type of wooden teepee which reaches high into the trees. 

Appearances being deceptive of course, all is not as it seems. 

One entire triangular facade has crashed to the ground, revealing its contents in very poor condition. 

An abandoned teepee house on Roeillaun.
An abandoned teepee house on Roeillaun.

The best-before dates on the tins of food are decades out of date. And then among the detritus, a clue … a soggy jigsaw of the Belgian cartoon character Tintin written in German.

This small sock-shaped Roeillaun measures a mere 100m from heel to toe and another 100m from heel to top. 

There is a dense covering of deciduous trees including beech, oak, holly and sycamore. 

The floor of its little wood has a colourful spread of purple loosestrife, vetch and meadowsweet and is a little bit of paradise. 

The island has no jetty but has a short pebble beach suitable for a flat-bottomed boat.

However, that is not the end of the habitable structures. There is an elaborate hexagonal house at the western end of the island, which must have involved some serious architectural planning. 

This house has a roof and solid walls with doors and windows but it is now boarded up. It was on the verge of completion before the plug was pulled on the project. 

The house was the last on Lough Corrib to receive planning permission, which was in the late 1980s. 

After that, any requests to Galway Council for construction of dwellings on the lough’s islands was declined. 

There are enough islands in Lough Corrib to keep this column going for at least five years (!) including such as Hen Island, where Granuaile had a castle. 

Several had houses built on them before the late 1970s planning restrictions.

The caravans and associated buildings on Roeillaun look like part of a hippy commune. 

However, it was not an oasis of free love and flower power but in fact was the summer retreat for a German family. Two parents and two children.

A local fisherman takes up the story. The compound was built by a German couple who desired a summer retreat in Ireland far from the madding crowd. 

They brought their two young daughters with them and spent several summers there in the early 80s. 

They stayed in the caravans while the house was being built. 

The romantic notion of owning your own island was once sorely put to the test when the father was away for the day and his wife was left without a boat. 

Her daughter fell ill and the mother had to swim to the shore to get a doctor to treat the ill child.

The case of Roeillaun is a reminder that the romantic notion of living on your own island can be fraught with difficulties and that the practicalities associated with daily life on them can be daunting. 

The dream of getting away from it all on their own island ended shortly afterwards for the family. 

They simply returned to Germany and never came back.

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