Nowadays, the sounds that predominate on Hop Island, Cork, are horses’ hooves but in the mid-18th century it was more likely to have been the sounds of Bach or Mozart.
Today Hop Island has an equestrian centre with indoor and outdoor arenas. Riders can train in the finer points of horse riding, showjumping, trekking, cross country and dressage. In addition to the equine centre, there are five privately owned houses on the island.
Whether Hop Island still deserves that geographic description is a moot point. A tarmaced causeway connects it to the shore at Rochestown, but part of its character derives from the time when water swirled around its shores.
Eventually, like for many of the other islands in Cork Harbour, huge amounts of silt built up to create a link to the mainland, aided here and there by manmade efforts to link the islands.
Hop Island is effectively a heap of boulder clay emerging from the surrounds of Lough Mahon, part of Cork’s inner harbour.
The wonderful resource that is the Cork Archaeological and Historical Society has made available its archive online. And a cursory search for Hop Island reveals a glut of information from a 1909 article by ‘anonymous’.
The island derived its name from a nickname ascribed by sailors to one Laurence De la Main, or Delamain, who was a French Huguenot who built a house on Hop Island in the middle of the 18th century. The
protestant Huguenots fled religious persecution in France and about 5,000 initially settled in Ireland before a second group arrived later. Some were interred in the Huguenot cemetery on the appropriately named Frenchchurch St, Cork.
Some of these immigrants became active in local governance and several became lords mayor. Others were very successful in the commercial trade of the city. Some of the Huguenot names are still in use: Lavit, Perrier, Godsell, Hardy, Malet, and Delacour. The sailors, passing up and down the River Lee, and aware of the musical reputation of its new resident, Monsieur De la Main, referred to it at as ‘Hop Island’ presumably referring to ‘hop’ as in ‘dance’. The article in turn quotes a piece f in the Gentleman’s Magazine from 1855 written by a Dr Caulfield to bolster its claims.
“Mr De la Main, a French Huguenot, arrived at Cork possessing a small sum of money, the remains of an ample fortune, having left behind considerable estates in France. He followed for some time the profession of dancing master, and from the high respect in which he was held by the citizens of Cork he soon obtained a sufficient competency.
Having purchased this little island, known previously as Ratland from the enormous swarms of Norway rats with which it was infested, Mr De la Main built on it a handsome residence and highlycultivated the adjacent grounds. From the profession of its respectable proprietor the sailors and boatmen used jokingly to call it Hop Island, a name it has retained
De la Main instructed the citizenry of Cork in dancing, perhaps waltzes and quadrilles, in Boland’s Lane in the city centre. This was a lane off Brunswick St but appears to have been built over when the Augustinian Church was built. His son Henry was a composer in his own right and at the beginning of the 19th century was the organist at (now Triskel) Christchurch and later St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
Later, a Rev Saunders and Osborne Edwards lived on Hop Island. The latter leased a property valued at £16 from the Chatterton family who were baronets.
Whether Ratland is a misinterpretation of the previous name for Hop Island (Red Island) is not clear but judging by the murine reference it is probably correct and Red Island was then a version of this.
Hop Island is the starting point for a beautiful walk or cycle to Passage west along the old disused railway line. The other islands in Cork Harbour have nearly all been either joined to the mainland or linked by bridges: Great, Little, Spike, Fota, Haulbowline, Corkbeg, Rocky, Hare, Harper’s, Weir, Brick, and Brown.
How to get there: 2km east of Douglas in Cork City on the R610.
Other: www.corkhist.ie; www.hopisland.com