Dream Skeam: island off Cork for €1.5m

This retreat off the coast of west Cork isn’t just great for swimming and fishing: it has a rumoured Viking burial ground, a hidden sundial, an early Gnostic Christian church, an overgrown second World War airstrip – and commercial potential


The history of West Skeam Island, Roaring Water Bay, west Cork, reads like something from a Dan Brown novel. There’s a rumoured Viking burial ground, a hidden sundial, an early Gnostic Christian Church and an overgrown second World War airstrip.

Past owners include the so-called “thinking guru” Edward de Bono, as well as two families who were settled here during the height of the Great Famine and shared the island between them. Currently, the island is owned by telecoms entrepreneur Leonard Donnelly and his wife, Sarah, who use it as a family holiday retreat. Donnelly was one of Ireland’s first generation of tech millionaires and has been involved with companies from Euristix and Fore Systems to Ericsson and InTune Networks. Today he is chairman of Ireland’s Digital Hub Development Agency.

The couple have been together since they were 17, and Leonard first came to the area with Sarah’s family on holiday. With their children now grown up, it’s time to move onto another project as well as maintaining their main property, Creagh Gardens, near Baltimore.

Sheltered beaches
Since buying the 33-acre island in 2003, the Donnellys have carried out extensive renovations on the existing stone cottages and also built an all-tide, private pier. Other major works undertaken include securing the 4th-century church and restoring old stone walls.

The accommodation is located around a courtyard and is functional and rustic in style, although new owners may look to add more space. But the interiors are not the highlight – it’s the outdoors, with four lovely sheltered beaches and some natural swimming spots, which the family use daily when they are on the island.

Natural pathways cut across from one part of the island to the other, and the view from the cottages takes in Heir Island, East Skeam and further afield to Jeremy Irons’s Kilcoe Castle and Fastnet Rock. Boats from Heir Island sailing school are visible in the distance, and in a high-speed rib, it’s a five- to 10-minute trip back to the mainland at Cunnamore Pier.

It’s pretty easy, too, to island hop between Schull, Cape Clear or Sherkin Island from West Skeam, so it’s never too isolating. A 40MB wireless broadband connection also ensures you’re reachable despite the geographical remove.

Fishing off the island includes sea bass, mackerel and pollock, and the owners say the current water temperature is about 18 degrees.

Trio of cottages
The trio of cottages that make up the main accommodation have been re-roofed using green slate imported from a quarry in Virginia, and they contain five bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen/diningroom and hall as well as outdoor storage. There’s an abundance of hot water, thanks to some expensive looking plumbing and water storage facilities.

The island could have commercial potential. The Firehouse Bakery, for example, on nearby Heir Island is fully booked for the summer, hinting at what might be possible.

The guide price is €1.5 million through Charles McCarthy estate agents. The owners are coy about what they paid for the property in 2003, but taking into account what they invested in its upgrade, they expect they will make a small profit if the guide price is achieved. If it doesn’t sell, they’ll be quite happy to keep swimming, fishing and disconnecting (to a point) here in this idyllic retreat.

Three to buy: other islands for sale

Dorinish Island, Co Mayo
Sherry FitzGerald, Westport, €300,000.
One of the most westerly of Clew Bay’s reputed 365 islands, Dorinish has a colourful past. It was once owned by John Lennon, who purchased it in 1967. Yoko Ono sold it after Lennon’s death to its current owners.

Carbery and Cold Islands, Cork
Dominic J Daly, €900,000
Situated on the south side of Dunmanus Bay, the land area of the islands totals 34 acres. A new two-storey four-bed house on the main island is finished in west Cork stone. The smaller Cold Island is home to a seal colony.

Shore Island, Co Clare
Dominic J Daly, €900,000
About 1km from the mainland, Shore Island contains some old ruins, so planning permission may be possible. The total area is 30 acres, and currently the land is used for grazing.

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