A paradox: The clue to this island’s geography is in its name, or is it? While Inishdadroum, which lies in the outer reaches of the Fergus Estuary in County Clare before that river merges with the River Shannon flowing from the east, is by definition ‘The Island of the Two Hills’ there is a seeming contradiction in either maps or in names pertaining to the island.
The Island of the Two Hills is a clear reference to Coney Island which has two obvious ‘hills’ or ‘backs’. However, the Inishdadroum on the maps is clearly a finger-like peninsula sticking out from Coney Island and separated by the river. It too has the merest pair of distinguishable ‘hills’ but not enough to merit a name for the islet. The separate classification of Inishdadroum probably relates to the importance of seaweed harvesting — the revenues on which poor families often survived.
It is a very low-lying grassy bank about 300 metres in length and barely 100 metres at its widest point and consists of just under five acres. Its main features are a couple of very small lagoons which floodwaters will occasionally fill when the river is high. There is meagre foraging for any animals that make their way across from Coney Island.
Ringfort - rath— everyringfort (@everyringfort) June 26, 2019
Several sites in Ireland are linked to monasteries established by the famous St Brendan the navigator, especially Ardfert in County Galway. Another is at Inishglora, County Mayo and another at Inishdadroum, according to the annals. However, this island is not much more than a mere mudbank at the western end of Coney Island which is attached to it at high tide and categorically is not the home to any monastery past or present. However, Inishdadroum was obviously used as a name to substitute for Coney Island and its name would have been spread far and wide as a seat of learning and worship after St Brendan’s efforts on behalf of his flock.
This is supported by archaeology.ie which has no record of any monastery on the little island. The only archaeological remains on Inishdadroum are a possible fulacht fiadh identified in 2010: “a horseshoe-shaped, grass-covered mound. Without further investigation it is difficult to classify”.
However, there are the ruins of two churches and a graveyard as part of the same complex on Coney Island and it is one of these that St Brendan founded.
It appears that Inishdadroum must have stood in for Coney Island somewhere along the line and eventually became synonymous with it. Inishdadroum merits its own entry on logainm.ie and it is distinctly separated from Coney Island on several Ordnance Survey maps.
On his return from his epic voyage to modern-day America and where he also visited St Brendan’s Isle along the way (a whale’s back, according to mythology) he visited Inishdadroum and founded a monastery there. The historical archive, Celt.ucc.ie, writes that: “It is probably no coincidence that Inishdadroum retained rectory status down to the seventeenth century and that the Augustinian canons founded an important priory on Canon Island (Inisgad), a large island next to Inishdadroum.” Again though, this is Inishdadroum substituting for Coney Island.
The Griffiths Valuation for 1855 lists distinct occupiers, or lessors, of Coney Island and Inishdadroum. Among the names linked to the latter were Ginnane, Kieran and Normile, though these were almost definitely meant for Coney.
Inis Dá Dhroma lies at the centre of about 20 islands in the Fergus Estuary including Coney, Deer, Shore, Horse and Inishmacowney. The islands are generally either huge or tiny and together form a stunning archipelago whose green rolling hills contrast with the blue of the river. The island has one named point in Lurga Point at its western tip, not to be confused with the famous birdwatching site near Mutton Island in Co Clare where some of the Spanish Armada ships sank in 1588.
: No ferry, but ask at the pier near Ballynacally, County Clare. Or kayak. If kayaking watch for the massive swing in high and low tides; up to five metres and which reveals a massive mudbank.
: logainm.ie; Jackie Elger and Dolores Meaney, Cat Beag Books; celt.ucc.ie