Just south of Clew Bay and sandwiched between Clare Island and Inishbofin is the roughly equally-sized island of Inishturk.
It is one of two Inishturks in Ireland — the other is at Cleggan in west Galway.
In keeping with our many islands that bespeak the animal-nature of an island — rabbit island, horse island, gull, island, deer island — the island of the hog reveals its faunal history though hogs were once much more prevalent than they are now.
Access to Inishturk is from the pier at the scattered hamlet of Roonagh in west Co Mayo just beyond the village of Louisburgh.
Here two ferry companies compete for passengers to Inishturk, Clare Island and Inishbofin.
Inishturk is a little further out than Clare Island and lies about 20km from the mouth of Ireland’s only fjord, the serpentine Killary Harbour.
The island hit the headline in 2013 when a photograph of its recently built GAA pitch went viral. A sports pitch is the last thing you expect as the rocky road winds around the north-east of the island.
Inishturk Island GAA club secretary Eugene O’Toole told the Mayo News at the time:
“I suppose it’s unique in that it’s surrounded by mountains on three sides. It’s a pitch that appears out of nowhere as you’re coming up the road. You would never think approaching the area that there was a pitch actually there. It is there, and we’re proud of it.”
The island went on to host the All- Islands football tournament in 2015 when over 200 people were welcomed.
Inishturk has a small fishing industry based at its fine modern pier where impressive trawlers berth.
There is good lobster fishing around the island with a number of productive holes whose location is of course a well-kept secret.
Wrasse, pollock, ling and dogfish are used as bait. Inishturk, like all the neighbouring islands, had a strong tradition of curragh fishing which has largely been replaced by larger vessels.
The island possesses one other pier at Portdoon which has probably the narrowest harbour entrance in the world let alone Ireland.
When boats squeeze through the narrow throat of rock there is barely room to put a book between the rock and the side of the boat. Nevertheless, the smaller boats do come in and the shelter afforded by the harbour is reassuring.
This inlet is overlooked by the 9th-century dún (fort) and where it is reputed the Vikings came in search of gold.
Inishturk is a very hilly island though with a high point of only 191m has a deceptive appearance.
There are two waymarked trails: The Lough Coolaknick Loop is a lovely 1.5 hour stroll along the top of the island with astonishing views to Achill, Clare Island; the Mountain Common Loop is an hour longer and takes in the signal tower as well as some rough ground. You may even espy the rare spotted rock-rose on your peregrination.
Which brings us to the eponymous bird of that description of roving: The peregrine falcon — there is at least one pair which can be seen swooping above the cliffs.
On the north side of the island the land falls away in a series of steps with many small valleys out of sight until you reach them. Some of the pre-Famine population of 577 lived here but most lived on the sheltered southern side away from the stormy Atlantic.
The current population is around 60 and apart from the fishing there are several B&Bs which do a lively summer trade and a pub which hosts many a seisiún.
An art installation on the north side of the island captures the family names of the islanders. Etched in blocks of opaque glass their lives are memorialised almost in defiance of the great forces of history and nature that sweep over us: Heaney and Heanue, O’Halloran; Prendergast; Concannon.
The work was designed by New York architect Travis Price III as part of the Gathering diaspora celebrations of 2013. The Tale of the Tongs won a major American Institute of Architects design award in the US in 2013.
Simple yet profound.
How to get there:
Daily ferries from Roonagh Quay here.
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