Minane Island is a mere speck beside its giant neighbour Bere Island in Bantry Bay, writes Dan McCarthy.
The flat, overgrown island can be seen on the approach to the town of Castletownbere just a few hundred metres off shore.
Today the island of an acre-and-a-half is submerged by thickets of briars which
envelop the only structure on the island: The ruins of an animal shelter. The island was once the property of a Daniel Leahy who lived at Brandy Hall, Castletownbere. It is conceivable that, when the population of Ireland numbered 8m, someone lived there but no document has presented itself to prove the argument.
No one pays much attention to Minane any more, insignificant as it is next to the multi-million euro industrial fishing complex of its other neighbour, Dinish Island, which is just off Castletownbere.
These two islands were bisected by an extraordinary sight on March 6, 1602.
Garrisoned at Bere Island was the president of Munster, George Carew, whose name will live long in the annals of infamy. His ships with cannon and his soldiers armed with muskets sailed forth that day to do battle with the last Gaelic chieftain to survive in the wake of the Battle of Kinsale the year before.
Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare’s castle at Dunboy was destroyed in an 11-day siege by an English army numbering 4,000. The survivors of the siege were hanged in the square at Castletownbere. For good measure, Carew threw 300 of O’Sullivan Beare’s clan into the sea at Dursey Island.
In 1846, when the country was otherwise occupied, Minane Island was the chosen site for a railway terminus. The extension of the railway network to the Beara Peninsula was discussed in the House of Commons in 1846. Sadly the enterprise did not reach fruition.
The waters around Minane Island were the location of a terrible drowning of three RIC men in 1897. When the three men were returning from duty from their station on Bere Island, they encountered severe gales and their craft overturned. All had served there for years and were well known and popular in the area, according to Fachtna O’Donovan of the Beara Historical Society.
The three were Sergeant John Hickey, Constable Patrick Martin, and Constable Robert Frizzle. The only survivor was a civilian, William Donegan, and he was the only person to give testimony at the coroner’s court.
They were about two thirds of the way across when a squall struck and the sea whitened. They intended landing on Minane but the boat began to list and the men disappeared under the water. For his part, he clung to a piece of wooden grating which kept him afloat and he was soon rescued.
The coroner attested that no one was to blame for the incident.
Two of the men are buried in St Finian’s Cemetery, near the town, while the third was buried in Bantry as his body was recovered on that side of the bay.
Indicating the poignancy of the event for the families in the last few years relatives of the three men got in touch with the Beara Historical Society for information on the incident.
According to Fachtna ,“as a result of the connections made the names of the three policemen have been engraved on the commemorative plaque at the base of a statue on Dinish”. Their names have
also been inserted in the Mná na Mara ‘Remembrance Book’ which is on permanent view in Castletownbere Church.
The geography of Minane Island lends itself to receiving the endless flotsam and jetsam washed in by the tides. Occasionally among this tidal detritus of fragmented nets, children’s toys, fisherman’s boots, and maritime junk, whose farflung origins will probably never be determined, lurks a curiosity. In 1932, a sailor aboard the Danish ship Christian Holm wrote a message home to a Mrs Triger Larsen in Nyborg, Denmark.
The sailor, who didn’t give the ship’s location, placed the message in a bottle and threw it overboard. Some months later, it washed up on Minane
Island and was found by an R O’Sullivan who forwarded the message to its intended recipient. Keep those eyes peeled.
How to get there: Minane Island is in private ownership