Storms attack historic structures on deserted Inishark

Winter weather swept away parts of graveyard on island off north Connemara

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 10:04

When Micheál Ó Suilleabháin witnessed his name carved in stone as builder of Inishark’s slipway and pier, he may never have imagined a series of Atlantic surges would snap it in two.

The top half of the stone marker laid by the Office of Public Works in 1937 is evidence of the strength of swells which also tore at the island’s graveyard – yet left a tiny bothy art gallery (see panel) intact.

“One more storm like that series of high tides we had this past winter and it won’t survive,” Féichin Mulkerrin says of the small cemetery, built above the south-facing harbour.

Tiny ribs protrude through the glacial deposits of boulder clay. American archaeological students, on a recent field trip with Notre Dame University, reburied some of the more exposed fragments.

Monastic sites

The graveyard was in use up to the 1930s, after which islanders were buried on neighbouring Inishbofin. It is one of some five early Christian monastic sites on Inishark.

Mulkerrin estimates the sea took at least 3m off the cliff face on its south-facing section, and 5m to the southwest, during the high tides between January and February. They also reduced Inishbofin’s 19th century East End pier to rubble.

The St Brigid’s system on February 2nd was fuelled by a 10m swell in the Atlantic, says Mulkerrin. Inishark’s battered breakwater also bears recent scars and the remains of steps leading from a pier adjoining the 1937 slipway have vanished.

Lying southwest of Inishbofin, Inishark has had no permanent residents since 1960 when the last 23 people were evacuated to the north Connemara mainland. As documented in James Morrissey’s recent book, Inishbofin and Inishark: Connemara, a combination of “weather, tides, seas and illness” defeated the six families, who were resettled in Claddaghduff and neighbouring areas by the Land Commission.

Evacuation

Two years before, in 1958, a Shark man had died of appendicitis when the island was cut off by weather; a bonfire was lit to raise the alarm. And 11 years before the evacuation, two brothers and a cousin drowned in Inishbofin, prompting the father of the two brothers, Thomas Lacey, to tell Dixon Scott of the Daily Mirror that the island “gave me only poverty and it took two of my sons”.

Pleas for a new harbour and a radio-telephone were rejected by the government which believed the resettlement option was the more economic. Islanders, whose fishermen were renowned for their boat-handling skills, left behind some of the best farming land on that part of the west coast and sheep continued to be grazed by Inishbofin farmers.