Islands of Ireland: Rub of the Green

Green Island, in the middle of a mini-archipelago in the lower reaches the River Shannon, was responsible for years for the upkeep of the navigational aids.
Islands of Ireland: Rub of the Green

Green Island, near Bunratty, Shannon Estuary, Co Clare. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

The lower reaches of the River Shannon present a hazard to the inexperienced mariner who may be unaware of their potential for sinking their boat. In addition to the small Quay Island and Bush Island, and the minute Grass Island, Graigue Island, and Battle Island, there are other reefs and mudbanks for which the navigator must take account: Crawford’s Rock and the Scarlets, Kerry Rock, the Whelps, Carrigdirty Rock, and Slate Rock.

A system of beacons and lights was established in the 19th century to assist boats whether local fishermen in gandalows or larger freight vessels making their way to the docks in Limerick City.

Johnny Green, who lived on another of the islands, Green Island, in the middle of this mini-archipelago, was responsible for years for the upkeep of the navigational aids. Travelling a few kilometres from his island home, he used to light the lamps on the Limerick Harbour Commissioner’s navigation perches in the estuary around Green’s Island: Laughteen light, Trácht, Conor Rock, Fergus buoy, Carrigadurta light, Craolta, and Muckinish buoy.

It was a vital task and his dedication to the task was legendary. A more modern system of navigational lights was installed by Irish Lights in 1998.

Green Island, near Bunratty, Shannon Estuary, Co Clare. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

Green Island, near Bunratty, Shannon Estuary, Co Clare. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

Green Island, Co Clare, at 16 acres, is the second largest island in the area, just a little smaller than Quay Island which is closer to the confluence of the Ralty River and the Shannon, just downstream from Bunratty Castle. The castle’s name comes from ‘Bun na Raite’ or the ‘bottom of the Raite river’. The dearth of human activity on Green Island today makes it a wildlife haven. Clarebirdwatching.com has previously recorded sightings of the European storm petrel, peregrine falcons, curlews, and great skuas.

This part of the Shannon was fished by a group known as the Strand fishermen who operated from Limerick City down to the estuary. One of them recalled in the mid-1970s: “We had a great time fishing down the estuary, and myself and all the other Strand fishermen will always remember the friendly islanders, like Johnny Green and Johnny McInerney [Johnny the Saint] of Saint’s Island. They aways made us feel at home on the lower Shannon islands.”

In 1975, the Limerick Leader reported that Johnny had the unenviable task in 1953 of assisting with the recovery of bodies of a KLM plane that had ditched in the river, with 27 bodies recovered. The journalist wrote that “Johnny Green is a very kind and friendly person and the last man on Green’s Island, and highly regarded by anyone who sailed the estuary”.

Green Island takes its name from three generations of the eponymous family who called this low-lying, wooded island their home. On a recent visit, nothing could be seen of the three buildings that the Greens once called home due to dense undergrowth. Not only was there a barrier of trees to negotiate but the interior looked as if it had accumulated sizeable ponds from the Shannon probably due to the rising levels of the river. Though its soils were once rich enough to support the Green family, the island today does look very
vulnerable to the encroaching Shannon.

The Irish Press sent a reporter to the island in 1947 who reported that seafaring was in the Green family’s blood. Mary Green said of her grandson, Paddy McInerney: “The tide is in him, and nothing will stop him going to sea.”

At low tide, the inhabitants were able to go to and from the island on foot by way of a narrow roadway, about 18in wide, which had been built in the 1950s by Patrick McInerney. On each side of this pathway were sandy stretches — “dangerous mudflats in which the unwary visitor would sink unless he picked his steps carefully”, the newspaper recorded.

The reporter wrote that the Greens welcomed visitors to the island and even that a few generations back a certain Daniel O’Connell, while waiting for the tide to rise and thereby allowing his ship to float, had alighted and dined with their antecedents.

It’s not every day a Liberator drops in for dinner.

  • How to get there: Inquire at Bunratty jetty or kayak from there.
  • Other: sfpc.ie; limerick.ie/discover

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