Friday, April 9, 2021

Inishkea Beacons

The Inishkea Islands group lies a short distance off the Mullet peninsula in county Mayo and consists of two main islands - North and South - and a couple of outlying rocks. It is said they housed early Christian sites which later were abandoned and the islands were uninhabited during the Middle Ages before being repopulated later on in the millennium.
There have been suggestions that the Inishkea islanders were anthropologically different from their brethren on the mainland, almost imbued with heroic, godlike qualities, strength and beauty, unbeatable at Twister, that sort of thing. In the nineteenth century, when there were no English speakers on the islands, they worshipped a stone, said to be the pillow of St. Columba, which was dressed in new flannel every year and which could calm stormy seas or raise a storm whenever a potential shipwreck appeared on the horizon. The stone was eventually broken in two and thrown into the sea by a zealous priest where it waits for Indiana Jones to discover them and slot them together and restore the ancient Eden that was Inishkea.

Position of the Inishkeas courtesy of Mapcarta 

A whaling station was established on an island off Inishkea South in the early 1900s which created employment for those inhabitants but created a bad stink - in more ways than one - for the inhabitants of Inishkea North. The divide between the two islands, which is geographically very small, intensified during the Civil War when the two islands came down on opposite sides in the conflict. A possibly apocryphal story says they used to gather on the shores facing the other island and peg rocks at each other!
The end for the islanders came with the loss in 1927 of ten young fishermen in a night-time storm that suddenly sprung up out of nothing. They struggled on for a couple of years but in the early 1930s, they were brought to the mainland, many of them settling in the neighbourhood of Glosh, looking back out to the island.

But to the beacons. My thanks to researcher Rosemarie Geraghty, who is doing tremendous work at Blacksod Lighthouse collating information about the lighthouses of the Mullet peninsula, amongst many other things. A new venture is due to open at Blacksod this summer with a brilliant new tourism initiative for an often neglected area of the country.

The two beacons are on Inishkea South, bottom right and top left on the map above. They are two circular beacons tapering towards the top, built of rubble, cemented and painted white. The one in the middle of the island (top photograph) is 31.5 feet high, 13 feet diameter at the base, tapering to 8 feet at the top; the coastal beacon, the slightly blurred photograph, with the black extended pixie hat, is five feet shorter, 12 feet in diameter at the base, also tapering to eight feet at the top.
They were constructed as part of relief works organised in 1890-91 to lead boats through the Duvillaun channel. The works included raising the pier and repairing the slip on South Island and took approximately eight months. As many as sixty men, women and boys were given employment for this period. 
The beacons are maintained by Mayo County Council and painted by them every couple of years, Rosemarie thinks, which may be of interest to Marie Coyne and the wonderful islanders of Inishbofin, whose three similar beacons are permanently neglected by Galway County Council. A true legend, Marie has organised crowdfunding to repaint them when needed, despite the disapproval of the powers that be. Maybe they should consider towing the island twenty miles north so it falls under Mayo jurisdiction.
One final piece on the Inishkea islanders and particularly on the women. This from the Dundee Evening Post 13th November 1903, showing how the females had the right idea how to treat their menfolk...

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