Dan MacCarthy explores Coney Island, off the coast of Sligo.
THE warning is unmistakable and clear. If you find yourself stranded on the walk to Coney Island, Co Sligo, by an in-rushing tide and you have to cling for dear life to one of the pillars, make a note of its number when you call the coastguard for help.
As the area is prone to dense sea mists such information could save your life. Sligo Bay RNLI has responded to numerous calls for help over the years. Walk across the sand about two hours before low tide.
This will give you about two hours on the island. Fourteen stone pillars guide walkers and drivers to the island from the starting point about 5km west of Sligo town at Cummeen Strand near Strandhill just short of the airport.
Coney island is in the crabclaw of Rosses Point and Strandhill. It is flanked by Oyster Island to the north, Maguins Island to the south and Blackrock, with its lighthouse, to the west. In the sea channel to the north is the unusual sight of the 19th-century navigational aid known as the Metal Man whose extended arm guides seafarers
towards a safe passage.
This is one of several Coney islands in the country. There are others in Roaringwater Bay near Schull, Co Cork; the Shannon Estuary in Co Clare, in in Lough Neagh near the village of Maghery, Co Armagh. Then of course there is the Coney Island immortalised in Van Morrison’s eponymous song:
“On and on, over the hill and the craic is good/ Heading towards Coney Island.”
However, this is not an island as it is attached to the mainland by an isthmus, sandwiched between the name-checked villages of Ardglass and Killough. This northern island is named after conyng, coney or cony which in medieval English meant rabbit. Medieval, as well as modern Irish, translates coinín as rabbit, which is the source of the name of the Co Sligo Coney Island.
It is claimed by Sligonians that the origin of the Coney Island across the water in New York was via Peter O’Connor the local captain of a schooner, the Arethusa, who came from Sligo and on sailing into New York in the late 18th century espied a plot of land at the end of Long Island which reminded him of home.
This could be disputed by the English version, but either way the name of the island has entered popular culture with Van Morrison’s song, and Tom Waits’s ‘She’s my Coney Island Baby’.
Those songs might never have been written if the original name had survived Inishmulclohy - after a family of the same name who lived there. Coney Island was also the inspiration for the modern jazz composition ‘The Barinthus Suite written by Eddie Lee and David Lyttle and which premiered at the Sligo Jazz Festival in
In 1841 the island’s population peaked at 124 but this had dwindled to 64 people recorded living on the island in the 1911 census. They were Harans, Mitchells, Feeneys, McGowans, Flannerys, Wards, Cartys, Floods and McHughs. By 2006 only six people called Coney Island home. The island got electricity in 1999 preceded by a telephone line in 1975.
Nowadays, there are around 20 houses on the island some very prettily decorated with a pair of clogs over the door, or shells embedded into a wall. The blue of the freshly-painted water pump contrasts with a pot of geraniums.
There is only one family in residence year round while in the summer the population expands as several of the houses are available for rent. The island’s pub, Michael J Ward’s, is open at weekends and is a focal point for any visitors.
A lovely old country road encircles half the island and leads you on to a beautiful crescent beach. Carty’s Strand, with its windswept dunes and long draw is a great surfing site. Elsewhere on the island there is a ringfort and a standalone rock known as St Patrick’s wishing chair where, after you settle yourself into position, your wish may be granted!
How to get there: Walk from Cummeen Strand, Strandhill, Co Sligo. Safety is paramount. Text Coney to 53600 to get tide times from the RNLI. RNLI.org
Accommodation: Internet search for Inishmulclohy Lodge; also Airbnb