There have been dozens of gorgeous islands featured on this page where you could happily hang your hat. Inishturk, Co Galway would be up there with them in an ideal world.
Its much larger namesake around Aughrus Point, and well offshore, is also very attractive.
This one is closer to shore and has a relatively low profile nationally, but still attracts a lively population in the summer. It is sometimes distinguished by its more expansive name of Inishturk South but usually loses the location of Boar Island.
Barley half a mile in diameter, and a little more lengthwise, it’s a truly lovely spot where a swimmer may have to share its golden beaches with bathing cattle if they feel like swim. This outer part of Clifden Bay has two other islands of similar size at Turbot and Omey which have had a lot of interaction with Inishturk over the centuries. It is a devastatingly beautiful part of Connemara.
The spirit of this island was captured in a 2019 book by Bernadette Conroy called Waves on the Shore which spoke of the deep generational ties attached to this island with her descendants, some of whom now own vacation homes there. Electricity only came to the island in 2003, but long before that the island had a prosperous life. Some of the names that appeared on the 1911 census were: McDonagh, Pryce, Walsh, Stuffle, Hannon, Toole, Murray, Conroy and Burke.
The population peaked at 128 people in 1861, which is difficult to understand given the size of the island. It must have been a hive of activity with currachs constantly pulling up on shore to unload the day’s catch. Over time the population dwindled until its last recorded year-round occupant in the 1980s, but even in the 1950s it still had a thriving community of 86 people. A place to live. “This increase in population could be attributed to expulsions from the mainland. While the rest of the country struggled with emigration and starvation, the miracle of the “loaves and fishes” and collection ashore sustained the lives of the islanders.
All the houses were self-sufficient in vegetables and most had a cow or hens, chickens and geese, she writes. Rye and oats were also sown. In those days, island life often revolved around a small shop run by the Wallace brothers.
Bernadette was a teacher at the school and recounts with emotion her final departure in 1973: “On this historic day, I closed the school door for the last time. A light was dim that would never shine on the island again… I gathered my things and headed for the beach. Joe Burke rowed me back to the mainland for the last time…I saw Joe pull the currach away from shore and start rowing at a steady pace towards Inishturk. I raised my hand and said goodbye.
The outstanding feature of Inishturk South is the intricate pattern of intersecting stone walls, delineating roads, farms and even villages. The island could once boast of having two villages: Baile Thoir (East Village) where the school was located, and Baile Theas (South Village). However, it is the indomitable walls, sometimes limestone and sometimes granite, which are the most impressive. They rise and fall like animated figures, plunging through fields and marshes and tempting the visitor onto the next climb where they form a route.
“In many cases, these simple stone walls have a story to tell. They are silent witnesses to hundreds of years of island history, patterns of settlement and land use, and the craftsmanship and craftsmanship of the islanders, as well as reminders of days gone by. writes Bernadette.
If you can’t find a way to land there, at least try to take the Sky Road from Clifden and gaze upon Inishturk and its neighbors Turbot and Omey and marvel at the hardy souls who once lived there.
How to get there: Kayak from Eyrephort beach east of Inishturk or inquire at the Clifden tourist office.
- Other: Bernadette Conroy; Waves on the Shore: The Life and Times of a Connemara Island – South Inishturk; Connemara Island Publications