When Marisa Murphy went to play as a teenager on Dinish Island, she could still see the flowers growing among the ruins in her grandmother’s garden.
It was many years since the family had lived there but the signs of the past were all around.
Mary’s mother Mary Teresa (née Harrington) produces a grainy photograph that shows her father walking down the path from their fine house which looked on to Bere Island.
Another shows him rowing strongly over to the island from Castletownbere, Co Cork.
The family of four were the only inhabitants of the 45 acre-island which lies only about 500m from the mainland at its closest point.
In addition to fishing and farming they grew their own vegetables and the self-sufficiency extended to their own orchard where apples and pears grew in abundance.
They had a donkey and a jennet and they would swim the cattle across to the mainland
Mary’s father was born on Dinish Island, her mother came from Dursey Island and her husband John from Valentia so the family was steeped in island life. It was a time of no TV, and of a radio run off a wet battery. They were very busy and just got on with life, says Mary Teresa.
I was born and reared on the island. My father [Denis Harrington known as Dinny Deenish] used to bring us [and her brother John Edward — a powerful rower in his day] in and out to school on the boat. When the weather changed for the worse there were days when we couldn’t go to school or to mass or get the milk out to the creamery.
Marisa relates how it is thought that Vikings had used the southern part of the island for safe harbour from the rough seas outside Bere Island.
The Vikings also had a presence on Bere at Lonehort (Longphort — a ship’s enclosure) and at the tip of Beara at Dursey Island where they kept slaves. So it is entirely possible, if not probable, that Dinish was also used by them. Mary Teresa recalls her father saying that there were even Danes buried on the island.
The southern part of the island was hillier before modernity in the shape of fish processing factories and services came calling.
The family had decided to call it a day some years prior to this in the late 1950s and it was a decision not regretted by her mother, says Mary Teresa. However, they kept the farm for years until their house burned down. “It was a very sad end to their time there,” says Mary Teresa, and particularly for her father.
“He loved the island.”
Then came a compulsory purchase order in the late ’60s which forced their hand. The government was attempting to modernise the fishing industry and designated the island as an ideal site for the development of a modern fish-processing site.
Deenish is the old spelling and was changed after the compulsory purchase order to Dinish, says Marisa.
Mike Duggan of the Beara Historical Society worked for two years on the construction of the bridge from 1971 to 1973 which was built by Cork company Austins.
He says it was a great source of employment in the town and Beara in general with about 35 people employed.
Dinish Island today bears no resemblance to those early years of fish processing let alone the time the Harringtons farmed it.
Most premises are leased by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine. The facility saw an investment of €23.5m in 2018 making it one of Ireland’s leading fish-processing sites.
For the family, nostalgia for Dinish is very strong and their small archive of stories as well as an abundance of memories is testament to their love of the place.
From an island possibly used by the Vikings to berth their ships, to the rolling fields of a productive farm, to an industrial fishing enterprise, Dinish is an island that has had many uses.
A page turned over in history.
On the approach to Castletownbere, turn left across the bridge.
A memorial to people lost at sea in the area was erected at Dinish by Mná na Mara.
Thanks to Fachtna O’Donovan of the Beara Historical Society.