It is thought that the chain of islands running west from the parish of Lisheen in West Cork were once connected. Horse Island, Castle Island and LongIsland form a distinct chain and a mini peninsula in their own right was once discernible. Rising sea levels after the last Ice Age inundated the lower parts of the former finger-like peninsula thus creating three separate islands.
And if the recent RTÉ documentary series on climate change is anything to by we can expect much more of the same. And soon. Three more islands lie beyond the trio: Goat Island, Goat Island Little and the minute Illaunricmonia.
Castle Island comprises around 122 acres of arable land where the ditches demarcating the often huge fields of the former residents have to be hurdled to advance. Lazy beds can be detected near one of the clusters of houses which look out across Roaringwater Bay from the highest point of the island, of just 36m, towards Cape Clear and the Fastnet Rock.
Griffiths Valuation records these and the other ruins as belonging to the Nugent, O’Driscoll, Donovan, Cunningham, Hurley, Sullivan, and Leahy families. The 1827 Ordnance Survey map reveals several clusters of houses on the island. They are positioned around the pier as well as on the high ground. The Island is infamous forthe fate that befell these families as their eviction during the land wars in the 1870s to 1890s was a test case for the Land League.
Historian with the Skibbereen Heritage Centre William Casey takes up the story:
"He was in possession of it at the time of the land wars. He ordered the people to be evicted and they went across to Dereenatra [on the coast opposite the island] where temporary timber houses were built for them and where they stayed two to three years. And then they moved back out to Castle Island.”
Some of the families were eventually allowed to return as their cases were taken up by the Land League especially the Mallow TD William O’Brien.
“They were bringing in fair rents and adjudication so they went through the legal process. The Land Leagues supported them throughout. It was one of the test cases that the Land League had at the time,” he says.
Around a dozen families lived on the islands but without a school, church or of course a doctor. A boat trip of around 1km would have been required to avail of these services. As elsewhere, the islanders were mainly small farmers and fisherman. By the 1940s Castle Island was uninhabited. One hundred years earlier the population had been 92.
Oileán an Chaisleáin is the third castle island to appear in this series following the ones in Lough Hyne and Co Roscommon. The castle in question, in this case, is the 14th-century O’Mahony castle which lies in ruins on the north side of the island.
Its location poses a conundrum as all the other castles in the area looked outward rather than inward.
“The main O’Mahony castle, Ardintenant is just across the way. Rossbrin isn’t far away. It is a strange place for the castle. It only overlooks Castle Island sound and there was already an O’Mahony castle on the mainland.
“If it was on the other side of the island you could see what was happening in the bay. It would have commanded the sea,” says William.
The castles kept an eye on foreign boats coming and made sure to collect a tax from them. The castles were strategically placed and they were watching who was coming and going. They had galleys and armed enforcers and they would go out and collect money with 20 men or thereabouts, says William.
How to get there: No ferry. Inquire at Schull pier.
With reference to our article of October 28 the Irish Examiner can confirm it has no proof regarding the presence or not of eagles on Crump Island, Co Galway. Theisland is in private ownership as is the adjoining island of Shanvallybeg.