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Inishturk (Inis Toirc – “Wild Boar Island”) (winter pop. 70) lies nine miles offshore, between Inishbofin and Clare Island in the Atlantic, off the western coast of the old barony of Murrisk in Co. Mayo and northwest of Killary Harbour, which divides that county from Co. Galway, of which it form part administratively.
Inshturk is tiny (5km x 2.5km) but beautiful, with dramatic cliffs, sheltered coves, and two secluded white sandy beaches, Tranaun and Curraun, with fantastic clean, clear blue waters. The island also commands wonderful vistas of the mainland coastline and Croagh Patrick.
The cliff flora is of international importance, and rare flowers (notably the pretty and endangered Spotted Rock-Rose, Tuberaria guttata) and grasses can also be found elsewhere on the island. The colonies of seabirds are impressive, and the seals are friendly.
The island also has a small freshwater lake and several reedy ponds.
Inishturk has been inhabited for thousands of years. Evidence of pre- and early Christian island life includes a number of fulachta fiada, promontory forts, burial sites, beehive huts and a ruined oratory.
Portdoon, the only natural lagoon on any of the western isles, is named for the Dun / stone fort that overlooks it, believed to have been built in the late C9th by Viking pirates.
According to tradition, these Norsemen were the last in Ireland who knew how to make bier lochlannach, a form of beer brewed from heather-bloom. The fort was attacked by Gaelic clansmen, who killed all the inmates except the old chieftain and his son, whose lives they ransomed for the beer recipe. The father requested that his child be put to death first, so as not to witness his dishonour. As soon as the boy was dead, the old man tore himself from his captors’ grasp and leapt off the cliff, yelling triumphantly as he carried the beer formula to his watery grave.
The Watch Tower, built on the island’s highest point during the Napoleonic Wars, used mirrors to reflect light in an early Morse code signalling system
Surnames on the island such as O’Toole, Heanue and Concannon originated in Leinster and Ulster as well as nearby Connemara, and their bearers are believed to be descendants of late C17th refugees from sectarian violence. Others are descended from evacuees from Inishark to the southwest.
The population of the island was almost 1000 before the Great Famine, but has declined steadily ever since due to emigration, mainly to America. English replaced Irish as the first language only in the C20th.
Lobster and crab fishing and tourism are the island’s main sources of income. Islanders engage in traditional crafts (curragh making, basket weaving) and run boat trips to neighbouring islands, deep-sea fishing trips and shark safaris. Other activities include birdwatching, rock angling, canoeing and scuba diving.
The island’s Mountain Common Community Club, located on the hill between the two main clusters of dwellings on the more sheltered eastern end of Inishturk, acts as the centre of almost all social life. Visitors are very welcome at the regular ceilidhe held here and at all events connected with the annual mid-June Festival of traditional music and folk dancing and the mid-July Regatta.
Over 50 per cent of school-leavers return to live on the island – an extraordinary statistic for the west of Ireland.
Inishturk has the highest per capita donation rate towards the RNLI in the whole of Ireland.
Inishturk was the winner of the 2008 All Ireland Islands Championship.
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