The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility

The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility
Niamh O’Dwyer from Co Tipperary visits Inishtubbrid, Fergus Estuary, Co Clare.

Apart from the several variations in its spelling in Irish and English, Inishtubbrid, Co Clare is also recognised by three other names: Wall’s Island; O’Grady’s Island and Inishtubber which surely puts it up there as the island with most names — not counting say Inisvickillane, Co Kerry which has about 33 variations to that spelling.

Inishtubbrid helps to bisect the flow from the River Fergus but, in truth, said river has already been dissipated once it hits the estuary of the same name.

The River Fergus rises near Ennistymon Co Clare and winds its way south passing through Corofin, Ennis and Clarecastle. It is a relatively short river at 60km but entirely pleasing to the eye as observed in 1780 by an English traveller John Lloyd:

“It exhibits a most delightful Appearance of various meandring Courses, beautifully variegated with a Diversity of naturally improv’d Islands, until it falls into the Shannon.”

It is a famous brown trout-fishing river and is popular with anglers from February to September.

Gathering silt from dozens of tributaries and streams the Fergus deposits the accumulation downstream in its estuary in a vast sandbank which, due to the direction of tides and owing to the sheltered aspect from the mighty Shannon, is unmovable.

The area attracts dozens of species of birds and is a special area of conservation.

Beyond the mudflats over an expanse of water are situated clusters of islands which number about 20. The largest are Deer Island, Coney Island, Inismacowney and Canon Island with lots of smaller islands scattered around.

They are all now uninhabited but they once boasted a large population before external forces contributed to them being drained of life. Inishtubbrid is a mid-sized island and like the others has a benign environment well capable of supporting life.

Ruin on Inishtubbrid. Former residence of the wall and O’Grady families.
Ruin on Inishtubbrid. Former residence of the wall and O’Grady families.

All that remains now though is what was once a charming farmhouse enveloped within an orchard which was thronged with wildflower on a recent visit.

A preponderance of the pale violet speedwell caught the eye amid the ruins of the orchard.

Above the delightfully situated house rises a considerable hill which commands an amazing view of the Fergus. Eastwards it looks to Shannon Airport and westwards to the mighty Shannon itself which forms a confluence with the Shannon at Beeve’s Rock.

Inishtubbrid was latterly the home of the Wall family (hence Wall’s Island) who sold the island to a Michael Tuohy of the nearby Low Island.

They, in turn, sold it to the O’Grady family (hence O’Grady’s Island). before it was abandoned in 1954. In 2013 local man Sean McInerney recalled his family’s connection to the island as told to Dolores Meaney and Jackie Elger.”My granduncle had that, Paddy Wall was his name.

My dad was I suppose 10 or 12 years of age. He worked for his uncle on the island for £5 a year.

My father was born in 1906 so that would have been about 1918. My dad used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning ... they’d milk the cows and they made their own butter... They’d come out on a Sunday ... they sold them to the local grocery shops.

A family known as the Fawls worked as herdsmen for them. Prior to this period the island was much more populous with the maximum number of people recorded as 25.

Apart from the O’Grady/ Wall farmhouse there is no evidence of other dwellings so they must have been ploughed under when the field system was established.

In common with several other of these islands Inishtubbrid had a quarry — in at least three sites — with its limestone put to good use in construction in the islands and the mainland.

The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility

Another notable point about Inishtubbrid is that during the era of the flying boats at Foynes, 1930s and 40s, a warning beacon was established at the summit of the island to warn the planes off.

Inishtubbrid is supposed to have had a church founded by St Senan but no trace remains of it. It is likely the saint extended his influence here as he founded another at nearby Inisloe and his seven-church HQ was downriver at Scattery Island.

■ How to get there: Inquire locally or kayak from Covraghan Pier, Co Clare

■ Other: The Islands of the Fergus Estuary Jackie Elger and Dolores Meaney, Cat Beag Books; www.fishinginireland

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