Sunday, 1 July 2018

Island 415 - Claggan Island, County Mayo

Claggan Island (Oileán Chloigeann in Irish) is a low lying tidal island located in Blacksod Bay, 10 miles north west of the town of Bangor Erris and 4 miles south of the town of Belmullet in the north west corner of County Mayo.

A mile long sand tombolo links Claggan Island to the mainland of County Mayo.  It is possible to drive a car along a track through the dunes and then along the beach at low tide. The area to the north of the tombolo is Trawmore Bay.

Claggan Island was officially declared an island in January 1991 when it was cut off from the mainland of County Mayo for several weeks by storms.  The tombolo was later repaired.  The highest point on Claggan Island is 29 metres above sea level.  The island is approximately one mile from east to west by half a mile from north to south.

Unusually for a such a small Irish island, there are signposts to Claggan Island because it is officially part of the Wild Atlantic Way.  There isn't a formal car park at the mainland end of the tombolo but there is plenty of space to park.

On arrival at Claggan Island I was drawn to look at the outside of the old Belmullet Coastguard Station.  However to do this I had to enter a yard and as I did so a man came out.  I was a bit worried he was going to tell me to go away but no, this is Ireland and he had come out to welcome me and to have a chat!  He was very friendly and informative and happy to answer my many questions.  He said he had lived and farmed on the island since returning home from the UK in the 1980s.  I think he also said he lived on the island as a child. He showed me one of the two new glamping pods next to the Coastguard Station, which he said after decades of neglect had recently been renovated by his son and turned into luxury self-catering accommodation.    He also gave me a copy of The North Mayo Sculpture Trail booklet, as one of the sculptures is on Claggan Island. 

The sculpture is called Acknowledgement and it was designed by artist Marian O'Donnell and constructed in 2001.  Unbaptised infants, suicides, unidentified bodies recovered from the sea and other people deemed by the Catholic church to be unworthy, were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground, so they were often buried in a place called a cillín or  lisín, with their graves marked by uninscribed stones.  There is a cillín in the middle of a field on Claggan Island and Marian O'Donnell's sculpture is in the same field.  It consists of two curved stone walls facing each other and separated from each other by a narrow passageway.  Each stone wall is backed by a sloping earth bank.  You can walk between the stone walls, which are supposed to embrace, protect and acknowledge those buried in the cillín.  The following words by the poet Derek Mahon are inscribed on a stone nearby:

"They are begging us you see
in their wordless way,
To do something to speak
on their behalf,
Or at least not to close
the door again."

Belmullet Coast Guard Station was built on Claggan Island in 1795 and was in use until the 1920s.  Three families lived and worked at the station. In the 1960s the roof was removed and the buildings became derelict.  Restoration work began in 2009 and was completed in 2010.

Illustration of the Night of the Big Wind
 This was a severe windstorm, which hit County Mayo and then swept across Ireland in January 1839, killing hundreds of people

"Road" to Claggan Island

Notice about sand dune restoration works on the tombolo

Looking east along the tombolo

The residents of Claggan Island are outnumbered by cows and sheep

Bungalow on Claggan Island
Another bungalow
And Another
And Another!

The newly restored and renovated former Belmullet Coast Guard Station
Former Coast Guard Station
The cillín

"Acknowledgement" Sculpture
Words by Derek Mahon inscribed on a rock

Stone commemorating the construction of the "Acknowledgement" sculpture

Ruined house

Primroses on a bank 
Welcome to Oileán Chloigeann

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