The Islands of Ireland: Footprints in the sand on Dinish

The Islands of Ireland: Footprints in the sand on Dinish
Dinish, Lettermullan, Co Galway, where JM Synge and Jack B Yeats were sent on assignment by the then Manchester Guardian. They were told that all the children living there would be going to America one day. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

This 95-acre island in Co Galway is separated by a very narrow channel from the causewayed island of Furnace which is itself connected to the causewayed island of Lettermullan.

This entire area of interconnected islands in south Connemara is known as Ceantar na nOileán and behaves like a sequence of Russian dolls, where one island seems to disappear into the next.

Dinish is the most outlying of this group of islands at Casheen Bay, while across Kilkieran Bay myriad other islands await discovery. Due west lie many more islands, including the saintly retreat of MacDara’s Island.

It is possible to while away a few pleasant hours kayaking the channels which divide the islands hereabouts and explore the islands at your leisure. Dinish has a lattice of boreens which cling to the folds and contours of its gentle hills like a discarded silk handkerchief. Scattered about are the ruins of former dwellings which in some cases almost look good enough to be restored. The island even has its own lake which was patrolled on this visit by a pair of alert swans.

When the Irish Examiner landed recently on one of its two gorgeous beaches, a set of footprints wound mysteriously over the sand as if left by Daniel Defoe’s eponymous hero, Robinson Crusoe. Dinish is now unpopulated, like most of the other islands between Casheen Bay and Golam Head, but it once boasted a significant population of 75 people. The island possesses a few holiday homes — the source, presumably, of the footprints.

The population peaked at 75 in 1861 in 14 houses, indicating a comparatively low density per house. The numbers remained fairly static up to the turn of the 20th century, when they fell into decline. According to to local history group Oughterard Heritage, the 1901 Census recorded 12 houses listed in the townland of Dinish. All were Catholics. At the time, 56 people lived in Dinish (35 males and 21 females). There was a national school, five farm buildings and out offices which included cow houses and piggeries.

One extract indicates a typical family: “Pat Loftus aged 30 was head of the family; single. He lived with his cousins Bridget Feeny aged 56, a widow and John Feeny aged 10.

Pat was a farmer and John was a scholar; they could read and write. Bridget could not read. Pat, Bridget and John spoke Irish and English. The family were Roman Catholic. They lived in a 3rd class house with 2 rooms and 1 front window. This was a private dwelling.

Other names on the island included Audley, Loftus, McDonogh, and Larkin.

Daighinis was the original name in Irish of the island but that became shortened to Dinish of which there are many examples around the county.

However, its main claim to fame is artistic. Where other islands in the vicinity owe their reputation to great rowers (Inishbarra), production of poitín (Inisherk), or Golam as an island where Saint Colmcille visited, Dinish’s fame rests on a visit in 1905 by the playwright JM Synge and the artist Jack B Yeats. Why did they chose Dinish in particular when there were so many more islands that could have wielded more stories of the lives of the people? Their journey was part of an assignment by the Manchester Guardian looking at the Congested Districts of the west of Ireland and they also took in Gorumna Island and Carna. The newspaper was supporting relief work in the west and hired the writer and artist to depict life in the west for the readers.

Synge wrote a full article on his trip to Daighinis, as it was known at the time, and focused on the stories told to him by the boatman who brought him the short distance. The school had closed by the time the illustrious pair visited the island. They were informed that all the children on the island would one day go to America.

More on this topic

Islands of Ireland: Isolation a way of life on ToryIslands of Ireland: Isolation a way of life on Tory

Islands of Ireland: No man is an islandIslands of Ireland: No man is an island

The Islands of Ireland: Shore thing in Fergus EstuaryThe Islands of Ireland: Shore thing in Fergus Estuary

Islands of Ireland: Inis Mór than meets the eyeIslands of Ireland: Inis Mór than meets the eye

More in this Section

Virus response writes a new chapter for Books UpstairsVirus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

Ireland's DIYers causing problems for doctors during covid19 crisisIreland's DIYers causing problems for doctors during covid19 crisis

Damien Enright: Coping with confinement by coronavirus in the CanariesDamien Enright: Coping with confinement by coronavirus in the Canaries

Richard Collins: Glimmer of hope for the dwindling hedgehogRichard Collins: Glimmer of hope for the dwindling hedgehog


Latest Showbiz

The singer told fans that ‘there will be an album this year’.Sam Smith to change title of upcoming album To Die For

James McAvoy is the latest famous figure to make a contribution.Covid-19: Angelina Jolie, Rihanna and Taylor Swift among stars donating money

He shared an inspiring message to those struggling during the coronavirus crisis.Drake shares first photos of son Adonis with emotional tribute

The American was one of the biggest box office draws of the 1950s and 60s.‘Affordable’ items belonging to Hollywood star Doris Day to be sold at auction

More From The Irish Examiner