The Islands of Ireland: Shore thing in Fergus Estuary

The Islands of Ireland: Shore thing in Fergus Estuary
Shore Island has seen several unsuccessful reclamation efforts over the years

t is apparently a battle between nature and man, or the artefacts of man. And there is only going to be one winner. 

The ruin of the last house on Shore Island, Co Clare, is so penetrated by ivy and other trees that its brickwork has fallen away in places.

Its masonry crumbles to dust as the powerful branches push through. The roof is gone too. Two gables are all that remain of a once doughty cottage which was home to a family. 

In another few decades the likelihood of the gables still standing is small and the last traces of habitation on this small island in the Fergus Estuary will be no more.

The Fergus River flows through Ennis before discharging into the sea at its confluence with the River Shannon. Upwards of 25 islands interrupt the flow of the river and ample mudflats engorge the area at low tide. 

When this happens make sure you are absent, for then it is the preserve of millions of lugworms and the frolicsome birdlife which they attract. Experienced boatmen avoid the area at low tide.

At 28 acres, 0 roods, and 8 perches, Shore Island is dwarfed by its neighbours: Inishmacowney, known as Horse Island, has 225 acres; Canon Island has 270 acres, and Inishtubbrid has 85 acres. It would be nice to report that what it lacks in size it makes up in other appealing ways but it doesn’t really.

It has that one beautiful glade containing the ruin of the cottage where dappled light breaks through the tree canopy, but nearby Inishmacowney is almost entirely comprised of such airy locales. Inishtubbrid, too, is generously furnished with tree cover and even the remnants of an old orchard.

Canon Island, with its 12th century Augustinian abbey, has an abundance of tree cover whose trees find ample nourishment in the rich, loamy soils. The majority of Shore Island, by comparison, is given over to grazing cows which merrily munch the rich grass. 

They are brought over from the adjacent pier at Crovraghan on the purpose-built, flat-bottomed boats whose sides are enclosed by about six parallel bars to keep the animals within.

Local boatman Fintan Ginnane cuts the engine on his self-built gandelow and we drift slowly to the island. We land at a makeshift pier which also has an enclosure for the cattle.

A defined track leads to the 28m summit under which the bowery lies, availing of significant shelter. The old cottage looks out on the eastern side of the island, its absent inhabitants long gone. The 1837 Ordnance Survey map depicts five dwellings clustered in the centre of the island. 

However, on a recent visit, it appeared two, at most, of the dwellings remained.

Like several other of the Fergus Estuary islands, Shore Island had its own quarry and the limestone dug out from there was used in the construction of piers and houses on the other islands. 

The rich soils on the islands prompted several attempts at reclamation over the years and in the 1880s under the direction of an engineer from Manchester called Drinkwater the former Islandvanna and Island McGrath were reclaimed and their island status lost forever — though, if the floodwaters in the Shannon basin in recent weeks are anything to go by, maybe these two former islands and possibly others may resurface.

In the late 17th century, Shore Island was the former property of the Earl of Thomond who also owned many of the neighbouring islands.

The island is rendered as Enish Sherkey in a map by the English draughtsman Thomas Dineley in 1681. It later came into the ownership of a Colonel George Wyndham and in 1891 14 people were recorded as living in one cottage there — probably the same ruin mentioned above.

The McInerneys, were one of the established families of Inishmacowney 400m distant, and later they purchased the island before it passed on yet again to new ownership.

One other small item to note: Shore Island is for sale for €900,000. The estate agent writes it “is likely to be bought by a person who values their privacy and who wants an unusual property”.

How to get there: Inquire at Crovraghan Pier, Co Clare

Other: The Islands of the Fergus Estuary Jackie Elger and Dolores Meaney, Cat Beag Books; dominicjdaly.com

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