Islands of Ireland: No man is an island

Islands of Ireland: No man is an island
People have been asked to refrain from travel to Clare Island in light of the current coronavirus outbreak

There are many great quotes about islands, but perhaps the greatest is from English metaphysical poet John Donne. 

His famous lines, written in 1623, in a prose essay entitled ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,’ have never been so apt. 

His exhortation for humankind to come together to help each other is, today, exceedingly relevant, as we all try to help each other through the coronavirus crisis and get the country back on its feet.

However, the impulse is countermanded by our need to self-isolate after the devastating consequences of this complex virus that is sweeping the world like an insatiable fire. 

Yet, it is our island status that may, in the end, be our saving grace in minimising our infections.

Islands have long been seen as a haven or a refuge from pestilential or political forces. Because they are cut off by the simple matter of geography, they are a place to which to escape.

When the Great Famine decimated the population of Ireland, from 1845 to 1849, many of our islands endured. The people there gained sustenance from fishing, but were also not subjected to the same phenomena as on the mainland.

Among those to flee to an island in political circumstances were Wexford men Bagenal Harvey and John Henry Colclough, in the Rebellion of 1798. 

They went to the Great Saltee Island.

Many of our populated islands have taken the bold decision to cut off contact with the mainland until at least March 29. 

At a time when medical and food supplies are in great demand, this is a brave and commendable step. Here is the reaction of some of our main islands to Covid-19.

The islands’ support group, Comhdháil Oileaín na hÉireann (The Irish Islands’ Federation), lists 26 islands in the Republic of Ireland with a population of 2,726, according to the 2016 Census.

The federation has urged island communities to follow government and health advice to help minimise the spread of the virus. Covid 19 cases on any of the
islands would present unique difficulties and avoidance is of paramount importance, as per HSE advice. 

Comhdháil Oileaín na hÉireann wishes all island communities the very best through the trying times ahead, a statement on its website read.

Arranmore (ferry), Co Donegal

The island asks people not to visit until March 29, at the earliest.

Bere Island, Co Cork

The Bere Island Projects Group has asked people to refrain from visiting until the end of March, to protect the community.

Cape Clear, Co Cork

Comharchaman Cléire Teo, representing the island community, requests: “When travelling, please implement social distancing, and if you are returning to the island from an at-risk area, please follow HSE advice closely.”

Clare Island, Co Mayo

Asking people to please refrain from visiting the island until the end of March. Island residents are also strongly advised to please avoid non-essential travel.

Heir Island, Co Cork

Heir Island Ferry will operate a reduced ferry schedule on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at 9am, noon, and 2pm.

“We urge visitors to visit the island only in exceptional circumstances.”

Inishbofin, Co Galway

... discourages all tourists, holiday-homeowners, and work-people from visiting the island until at least March 29.

Inishlyre, Co Mayo

Closed to visitors. Groceries delivered to the pier.

Inis Mór, Co Galway

A statement from Comharchumann Forbartha Ãrann: “The majority of the island residents respectfully suggest tourists refrain from travelling to the island of Inis Mór until March 29.

“We also request that all islanders, if at all possible, try and refrain from travelling to the mainland.”

Inishturk Island, Co Mayo

“We are asking visitors to please refrain from visiting the island to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Island residents are also advised to please limit non-essential travel.”

- From to Sherkin Island to Inishfree and Lambay to Inishbiggle, several of our islands are now in self-isolation and many more have restrictions on travel. 

Hopefully, it will not be long before you can sink your feet into the sands of Inishbofin or watch the fishing boats go by on Clare Island.

  • Note: Please email this column at danmaccarthy@examiner.ie, if you want to provide information about access to your island. Information correct at time of going to press.

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