It is hard to believe today but the former island of Ringarogy in West Cork was once home to around 800 people.
It is perhaps not too surprising when, just prior to the Famine, the islands near Cape Clear and Sherkin Island had a population of around 5,000 people.
Clustered into at least three villages in the townlands of Inane and Donegall on the 950 acres of Ringarogy, the comparatively huge population (today’s population is about 75) eked out a living farming and fishing.
Today, the low-lying island, nestled in a magnificent setting, is predominantly farmland with a comparatively low population density.
The name Donegall derives from Dún na nGall, or fort of the foreigner. An earlier castle built there in the 12th century by the Normans was later occupied by the powerful O’Driscoll clan who had many castles in West Cork including at Baltimore, Cape Clear, Sherkin and Heir Island.
The castle was built on the northern tip of the island and controlled all navigation on the River Ilen. It is presumably from the earlier occupants that the appellation ‘foreigner’ applies.
The modern name Ringarogy, itself with several spellings including Ringaroga and Rinngarogue, is derived from the Irish Rinn Ghearróige, meaning the ‘point of the defeat’.
This defeat may be a reference to the warfare of 1537 when Waterford mariners attacked Baltimore and the islandsin a reprisal for the seizure of its vessels which had sought shelter in a storm.
The villages of Rinn Ghearróige were burned in the attack.
Nothing remains of this castle today, at least not in Ringarogy, as most of its stones were brought to Skibbereen in 1827 to build the cathedral in the town.
The owner of the lands where the cathedral was built, the philanthropist landlord William Wrixon Becher, soon afterwards constructed the causeway to Ringarogy.
Ringarogy’s largest neighbour is the similarly causewayed Inishbeg, once home to Dwight D Eisenhower’s chauffeur/ lover Kay Summersby.
A cluster of islands lies to its south including Tinker’s Island which featured here last month.
Tinker’s neighbours make up a good part of ‘the hundred isles’: Reenmore Island, Illaunattin and an almost uncountable number of unnamed islets.
Near Baltimore Ringarogy bisects the River Ilen which rises in the hills above Dunmanway before flowing through the village of Drimoleague and the beautiful market town of Skibbereen.
Further upriver are more satelliteislands of Ringarogy, including: Illaunacullin, Illaunnaseer, Illaunglass and Illaundarrig.
There are no more islands as a broad sweep of the Ilen courses by for 2km on the west side before at Ringarogy’s southwest, with diverse topography, Inishleigh, Aghillaun, and Spanish Island are encountered.
Ringarogy’s channel with Spanish Island at the estuary of the Ilen provides one of the most fascinating historic tales of all in Ireland’s turbulent history.
The tiny Hackett’s Channel, about 100m in length, provided a means of invasion in 1631 for Algerianpirates who were led up the creek opposite the village of Baltimore, by the eponymous John Hackett. In the dead of night they sacked the village and carried off over 100 slaves to north Africa.
Ringarogy and its neighbours along with the dozens of islands of Roaringwater Bay were memorialised in the famous 1844ballad by Thomas Davis, ‘The Sack ofBaltimore’ which included a reference to the old barony of Carbery: “The summer sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles/ The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles/ The yellof “Allah!” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:/ O blessed God! theAlgerine is lord of Baltimore!”
However, there aren’t 100 isles atCarbery any more than there is an island for every day of the year in Clew Bay, Co Mayo, as lore would have us believe.
In 2016 a gorgeous kayak tour fromSkibbereen to Ringarogy Island wasestablished by Cork County Council and Jim Kennedy from Atlantic Sea Kayaking.
How to get there: Drive south from Skibbereen on road to Baltimore. Causeway to Ringarogy is after 9km. Or kayak: https://www.skibbereen.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FINAL-RiverIlenLeaflet.pdf