Islands of Ireland: Vanishing on Inishbofin

Welcome to the other Inishbofin, much smaller than its Co Galway namesake.

Islands of Ireland: Vanishing on Inishbofin

A rolling line of white-capped waves sometimes forms what appears a natural defensive line around the glorious Co Donegal island of Inishbofin.

This innermost of a trio of islands is tantalisingly close to Magheraroarty beach in the northern part of the county and this Maginot Line of surf appears to forbid entry. Not to worry. Our ferry bisects the green and white swell like a sunbeam through a cloud. Welcome to the other Inishbofin, much smaller than its Co Galway namesake. Inishbofin, or the Island of the White Cow.

In contrast to its two near neighbours Inishbeg and Inishdooey, which are much much smaller and much less enticing (and much harder to reach), Inishbofin is wonderful for a lazy stroll.

This amazing 1,200km coastline of Donegal with its deep inlets, sweeping bays, and varied islands is pounded by the merciless Atlantic but the payoff is a series of golden beaches which stretch away as far as the eye can see, their sands having been deposited by the mighty ocean. The blue flag beaches of Rosnowlagh, Culdaff, Carrickfinn and several others bear witness to the mighty geological forces that created them. The distant Tory Island lies 14km off the pier at Magheroarty, a sentinel of sorts. Mount Errigal with its white quartzite slopes forms a focal point in the backdrop.

The egg-timer-shaped Inishbofin lies just under a kilometre off Magheraroarty beach and measures about 2km by 1km except for a middle part 100m wide.

Erroonagh Bay and Toberglassan Bay nearly meet, and probably one day will, thus creating a new island, but for now they form two parabolas of a glorious geometry. Their two gorgeous beaches are infused with the hues of the disintegrated pink granite bedrock and banks of marram grass are combed back over the dunes. It is a comfortable haven for dozens of bird species

From this part of the island northwards there is almost no sign of human habitation. All the houses, contemporary and historic, are clustered around a few lovely boreens on the south side

The island is no longer populated year-round but, as in many cases of depopulated islands, the descendants of the original residents have returned to summer residences there.

A 1986 RTÉ documentary by Doireann Ní Bhriain revealed the hardship on the island but also the craic. There was a lively traditional music scene and dancing was very popular.

“I think we had a good life,” former islander Margaret McFadden told the programme.

“There were always good neighbours to help you. The main worry was over when the turf was landed. Then you’d be all right. I did all the work myself with help. You’d be working like a man. We were often caught [out] on the island but we were all right. We had a shop and never once ran out of food.”

Inishbofin has its own mysterious disappearance to rival that of the British aristocrat Lord Lucan who vanished without trace in the 1970s and whose case transfixed the public till his body was found in London in 2017.

Arthur Kingsley Porter was a Harvard academic in Fine Art as well as being an intrepid traveller. He bought Glenveagh House in 1929 and in his explorations around Donegal arrived at Inishbofin.

Enraptured with the island, he built a fisherman’s hut on the northern side, an exception to the rule. One day in 1933, while out walking, he simply disappeared. It was not known if he travelled away, fell into the sea or fell victim to some other mishap. His wife Lucy reported: “Kingsley will not return tonight. Kingsley will never return.”

    How to get there:

    N56 north from Donegal town to Falcarragh, Carmel Olivia ferry: 074 913 5635.


    Glenveagh Mystery: The Life, Work and Disappearance of Arthur Kingsley Porter, Lucy Costigan

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