Ireland’s Eye: 15 minutes from Howth, but it could be on a different planet
The Trip: It is less than a mile off the coast of north Dublin, yet Ireland’s Eye is very remote, atmospheric and great for spotting wildlife. It is also home to a – gulp – murder cave
Children arrive on Ireland’s Eye. Photograph: Alan Betson
Seals bask in the sun. Photograph: Alan Betson
Grace (7) and Ellen (10) with their mother, Pauline O’Shea, on board the boat from Howth. Photograph: Alan Betson
‘Is this England?” asks a little girl as she steps unsteadily from the fishing boat on to Ireland’s Eye. The peals of laughter from her fellow travellers cause her lip to tremble slightly, but we may as well be on the moon right now, as a thick sea fog has swept in over the course of the 15-minute crossing and Dublin has completely disappeared.
Before the tears can come, she is distracted by the mystery island shrouded in mist. She and the other children climb up the rocks used as steps at its main docking station with all the agility of mountain goats, while their parents and guardians follow slowly behind with the agility of adults all too aware of the fragility of their hips.
We are being deposited here by Ken Doyle, who runs an hourly ferry over and back to the island less than a mile off the north Dublin coast throughout the summer. This journey is in his blood. He captained his first boat when he was just 12, more than four decades ago. A gap of nearly 40 years followed, in which he took some time out to work as an accountant with the ESB. He returned to the boat after taking early retirement.
“We’re kept going this summer for sure, but it’s a different story when the weather is bad,” he says. “When I was a child on the boats it was a different time. We didn’t have to wear life jackets or anything. I was lucky though: the first and only time I fell into water was in the pond in Stephen’s Green.”
The first passengers arrive at the pier, three children being shepherded by Pauline O’Shea. She has lived in Howth for more than seven years, but today is the first time she will make it out to the island.
“I’ve looked out on it for all that time and always wanted to see it. I reckon it’s a nice thing to do,” she says. She is the mother of Grace (7) and Ellen (10). Their friend Caitlin (10) has also come along.
Next on to the boat is Brendan Lowe. On a whim, he strolls up to the pier and asks how much the trip will cost him. After a brief haggle, he gets a discount for his children Ian (8) and Laura (6) and their cousins Aoife (7) and Emily (11).
Like Pauline, he is a first-timer. “I grew up in Sutton but I’ve never been out to Ireland’s Eye,” he says, somewhat shamefaced. “One of the things I love about coming home for the holidays is that you don’t have to queue up for anything or make plans in advance. In Spain everyone goes on holidays in July and August, and things can get a bit stressful there. Here it is way more relaxed.”