'Lights out for Dursey' as stalled cable car repairs force islanders to quit

The departure of the island's remaining occupants will see it uninhabited for the first time in more than 400 years
'Lights out for Dursey' as stalled cable car repairs force islanders to quit

Martin Sheehan, Graham Harding and Fionn Griffin arriving from Dursey Island on Friday. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

It appears that the lights are about to be switched off at the country’s most south-westerly island for the first time in 420 years.

Two farmers have just departed Dursey Island because they are unable to access the island safely as work has stalled on the repair of its famous cable car. And it’s expected that the last full-time inhabitant and a couple who have a holiday home on the island will be forced to leave for the same reason before Christmas.

Taking a boat out to the island in the winter is extremely dangerous as Dursey Sound is notoriously treacherous and the safest way to access the island is by the cable car - which was opened in 1969.

However, repair work was needed to keep the cable car operational, and it was closed at the end of March by the county council which promised to have it reopened last month. However, the cable car is still not ready and it is unclear when it will be up and running again.

The departure of the island's remaining occupants will see it uninhabited for the first time in more than 400 years. The last time there was no indigenous people on the island was in 1602 when the 300-strong population was massacred by English forces after the Battle of Kinsale.

Islanders Martin |Sheehan (left) and Bernie O'Leary after arriving ashore from Dursey Island. Mr Sheehan said his sheep will be self-sufficient over the winter, but if the cable car isn’t running by February 1 the cattle will face starvation. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Islanders Martin |Sheehan (left) and Bernie O'Leary after arriving ashore from Dursey Island. Mr Sheehan said his sheep will be self-sufficient over the winter, but if the cable car isn’t running by February 1 the cattle will face starvation. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Martin Sheehan has cattle and sheep on the island. He said the sheep will be self-sufficient over the winter, but if the cable car isn’t running by February 1 the cattle will face starvation.

He said: “When the cable car was opened in 1969 there were 50 residents on the island. When the school closed in the 1970s it changed the dynamic and shifted a lot of people to the mainland. 

This is another nail in the coffin. It’s horrendous what’s happening. It’s the end of an era as far as I’m concerned. It’s the lights out for Dursey.

Mr Sheehan, chairman of Dursey Island Development Association, added: “Dursey survived the Famine, World War One and several recessions, but I don’t know if it will survive this.” 

Bernie O’Leary, another farmer who has just left the island, said: “What’s going on is ridiculous. They closed the cable car on the last day of March and promised it would be operational again in November. This is a serious inconvenience.” 

Martin Sheehan with Islanders and workers trying to get the boat ashore after arriving from Dursey Island. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Martin Sheehan with Islanders and workers trying to get the boat ashore after arriving from Dursey Island. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Both he and Mr Sheehan had to pay for lifting gear to take a boat they use out of the water because the council lifting equipment at the mainland pier “had been left rot for years and doesn’t work,” Mr O’Leary said.

Cork South-West Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan has raised islanders’ concerns with the council.

Graham Harding uses a digger to haul the boat ashore. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Graham Harding uses a digger to haul the boat ashore. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

“It’s extremely disappointing for them as there was an expectation this project would be completed by November. It’s unbearable for the islanders as potentially it won’t be done now until the spring. I’ve asked the council to expedite the project as quickly as possible,” he said.

In a statement, the council said a date for the resumption of the cable car service will be confirmed once all components are in place and consent has been granted by the Commission for Railways Regulation to operate the cable car following completion of all necessary works.

The rusted and broken derrick that was used in the past to haul boats ashore carrying islanders and workers from Dursey Island. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
The rusted and broken derrick that was used in the past to haul boats ashore carrying islanders and workers from Dursey Island. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

The council said it had contracted a ferry operator to provide a temporary sea crossing for the duration of the works, but the local authority admitted it would only operate in days with favourable weather conditions, which will be far fewer during the winter.

The upgrade of the cable car got was deemed necessary after concerns were raised about its durability following the impact of severe storm.

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