A number of years ago I had the pleasure of joining Joe McGowan on his boat to visit the long uninhabited island of Innismurray , (Inis Muireadheach, (co-ordinates 54.43100 -8.65848) meaning “Muireadheach’s island“) which is located 5 miles off the mainland at Streedagh in North County Sligo.
Innismurray is an uninhabited island, approximately one-mile long by about a half a mile wide at it widest point, making up 228 acres (0.9 km2), of which only 63 acres were of good arable farming land, the rest of the land being of shallow marshy peat.
The island rises only 70ft above sea level at the Western end, sloping down to the sea at its Eastern extremity and consists of no hills or topographical features of any sort.
The monastic remains lie within an enclosure called the Cashel or Castle, as it was probably built as a defence against the regular marauding attacks by The Vikings.
The Cashel is a large circular stone enclosure or wall, which measures over 15 feet at its highest point on the Northern side, and is between 8 and 10 feet thick.
The monastery on Innismurray was founded by St Molaise in the 6th century and contains two churches dedicated to his memory, Teach Molaise and Templemolaise.
The livelihood of the islanders came mainly from fishing, agriculture, gathering kelp which was sold to the mainland for Iodine extraction. But it was the Innismurray Poteen which made the island famous throughout the region.
In 1834, a Mr O’Brien, who was a Protestant school teacher, was appointed to teach the children in Innismurray‘s Catholic school, a decision which didn’t go down too well with the Catholic priest in Cliffoney (on the mainland), who warned the islanders that this was an attempt to Proselytise the children.
The parish priest informed the local Chief or principal landowner and sub-agent of Owen Wynne (see the page about Hazelwood for more about the Wynne family), who forbade the children of the islanders from attending the school.
So it was that Mr O’Brien, the schoolmaster, who was always remembered as the “Maistir Dubh” or “Black Master” lived in the combined schoolhouse-residence at the western end of the village for two years, but never had a pupil.
Over the years, the islanders had to make a sad, but brave decision.
With no ferry service and continuing advances in the education system and other facilities on the mainland, to continue living on Innismurray would have placed their future at a very real disadvantage.
So it was that on 12th November 1948, Innismurray saw the end of an era, as the last 46 inhabitants sailed away from their beloved island home to re-settle around the Grange area in north County Sligo, on the mainland.
Today, Innismurray is a bird sanctuary, with barnacle geese, eider duck, shags, storm petrels and terns found in abundance, and as for flora, you can find yellow iris and bluebells growing in abundance and it is quite amazing to see how well the houses have survived the passing of time, considering they have been vacant for nearly 60 years.
After spending nearly 5 fascinating hours on Innismurray it was time for us to board the boat for our return to Mullaghmore.