Islands of Ireland: Inishbofin — Galway’s pearl

Inishbofin is one of two islands so named in Ireland (not that there are others elsewhere) — the other is a beautiful scimitar of an island just off Magheroarty Beach in Co Donegal which is minute in comparison.

Islands of Ireland: Inishbofin — Galway’s pearl

The juxtaposition of Oliver Cromwell and Tommy Tiernan can only boggle the overwhelmed mind. On visiting the superbly attractive Inishbofin in Co. Galway the brain can’t help but conjure these two polar opposites of humanity, writes Dan MacCarthy.

One a puritan cut-throat, the other a zany comedian. Whatever else he was, Cromwell was no zany comedian.

In the Puritan invasion of Ireland in the mid-17th century Inishbofin was one of the last places to hold out. When the island eventually fell, Cromwell’s forces took over the fort of a Spanish pirate, Don Bosco, and adapted it into a star-shaped fort to subdue any resistance and control the surrounding seas. The fort can still be seen today, its walls right on the edge of the precipice guarding this superb deep water harbour.

Bosco had had a dalliance with the pirate queen Grace O’Malley who occasionally used his fort. A chain across the throat of the harbour to capture enemy vessels may have been put in place by either pirate. Either way, it was a dastardly ambush on unsuspecting seafarers.

The Cromwellites used the island as a staging post to expel Catholic priests to the West Indies after a parliamentary act discriminated against them. Tiernan’s connection to the island came about when he performed a gig here a few years back as part of his tour of islands on the western seaboard. And him probably not a zealous puritan. The fort is an eerie place at odds with the vivacity and energy of the harbour which in the summer at least is busy with fishing boats, passenger ferries, RIBs and the hustle and bustle normally associated with towns.

Inishbofin is one of two islands so named in Ireland (not that there are others elsewhere) — the other is a beautiful scimitar of an island just off Magheroarty Beach in Co Donegal which is minute in comparison. The Co Galway Island, the Island of the White Cow, with upwards of 3,000 acres is roughly the same size as Rathlin in Co. Antrim or the nearby Co Mayo island of Clare. It is 5.5km long and 3km wide and about 8km from the village of Cleggan in Connemara. The population peaked at around 1,400 in 1841 while nowadays stands at about 200 — still lots of people to create a vibrant community.

Inishbofin is a neighbour of the now-deserted Inishark a couple of kilometres away. The islanders were closely linked before the latter island was deserted in 1960. It stands as a reminder of what can happen to islands if circumstances erode the possibility of life on an island. Inishbofin has enough of a population to offset such headwinds. And how times change — the island now has its own airstrip and even a helipad. It has several other satellite islands including Davillaun and Inishlyon to which it is possible to walk at low tide.

Inishbofin has a lively arts scene and is running a movie club this summer.

However, the jewel in its crown is its annual music festival which has just begun in The Dolphin Hotel on the island. Weekly concerts feature Lisa O’Neill, The Frank and Walters and others are scheduled. Boatloads of music fans can be expected to beat a path to the Dolphin Hotel.

As an escape from city life this island can have few equals. It has beautiful sandy beaches, enticing walks, scuba diving, angling, birdwatching, an equestrian centre, boat tours, children’s ecotourism and even an open farm. The island is a special area of conservation largely due to the habitat of the corncrake whose croaky call can sometimes be heard.

Another image to counter the dreadful Oliver is from a few of years ago when the dreadlocked Northern Irish vaudeville punkster Duke Special thrashed the floor of the hotel bar with his didgeridoo doo-like instrument at his gig while belting out “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine” while leading a bunch of ecstatic holidaying children on a merry dance.

    How to get there From Cleggan, Co Galway:inishbofinislanddiscovery.com

    Other: Upcoming concerts: July 31: My

    Fellow Sponges & Emma Langford: August 7:

    Lisa O’Neill: August 14:

    The Frank and Walters: August 21:

    Leslie Dowdall and Luan Parle; www.dolphinhotel.ie;

    Aidan Day boat charter: 086 832 4123; www.inishbofin.com; www.inishbofinribcharter.com

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