Island's of Ireland: Long Island waiting for normal to return

Island's of Ireland: Long Island waiting for normal to return
Long Island has 15 to 20 people living on it depending on the time of year. It has recently added three people, including children, to its permanent residents. Picture: Dan Linehan

New York isn’t the only geographic region in the world to possess a Long Island and a Coney Island. And with Baltimore, Maryland, just down the Interstate 95, you could be forgiven for thinking that the northeastern seaboard of the US has a distinctively West Cork vibe.

West Cork’s Long Island and Coney Island lie about 15km due west from Baltimore in the capricious Roaringwaterbay. Schull is the nearest village while the point of embarkation for Long Island is just up the road at Colla. Coney has no permanent resident and is privately owned, but Long Island has 15 to 20 people depending on the time of year and a regular ferry service allowing visitors explore its irresistible charm.

Long Island (Inishfada) once formed a mini-peninsula in its own right, being contiguous with Castle Island and Horse Island to the east before sea levels rose to cut it off. Long Island, like all our other islands is this week waiting for clarification from the Government about when it can open following Covid-19 restrictions on travel. With August 10 the nominal return date for visits to the islands to resume, there was some confusion last week if the phase two-plus definition, allowing people to travel within their own counties, actually included islands as well.

Long Island is keen to get back to normal but with due consideration of social distancing and the other HSE guidelines.

Like Whiddy Island which has seen a modest increase in population, the numbers living on Long Island are on the up. It has recently added three people, including children, to its 15 residents: a 20% increase, which is pretty good going. Still, that is a far cry from the over 300 people who lived there in the mid-19th century.

“Because the island is so small if you meet anyone on the road they’re stopping for a chat, It’s a lovely community,” says Helen Tilson who runs the ferry with her partner Maurice Coughlan.

“The ferry has been running a curtailed service, three days a week, just for a few hours. It means people can go out and go shopping without hanging around,” she says.

The island has an extended community with some farmers now living on the mainland but who grew up on the island. “We have a lovely community of original islanders, who now live in the mainland but who have cattle here, and who visited during the lockdown to attend their cattle [with social distancing measures in place],” says Helen.

“There are people who are still part of the community and they haven’t been able to visit, so it will be nice to see those people coming back,” she says.

The island hasn’t been running out of supplies, says Helen as various people can pick things up in Schull for the community.

The biggest change wrought by the lockdown was the cancellation of the Long Island component of the Fastnet Film Festival. When the festival does run, Helen and Maurice show movies on a 50-inch screen in their house.“The film festival is the biggest event here, so that had to be cancelled. Each year it’s growing and it brings about 300 people over four or five days to the island. It keeps a heartbeat here. So it’s great exposure for us. You always get people coming back for walking and other activities. So it’s a bit disappointing [this year]. It’s entertainment for the locals,” she says.

There is no shop, no pub, no school or no church, so this is one island where self-sufficiency is a byword for survival. One of the landmarks of Long Island is the spring water well at Coosnagulling which has been creatively restored by Joe Whooley incorporating stones, steps and driftwood. “It’s gorgeous. Stunning,” says Helen.

Like all the islands, people are keen to open up, but with an observant eye on the possible spread of the virus. “To live on an island you have to have a grasp of commonsense,” she says.

The first new potatoes are just out, the fields drenched after a fall of rain, and the sea is calm. A place in harmony with nature.

How to get there: Maurice Coughlan 086 172 1254. August 10 Other: www.schull.ie; schullseasafari.ie; westcorkislands.com; www.helenokeeffe.ie

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