Ireland’s Ancient East has only one inhabited island, a truly ancient volcanic stump worn down by aeons of ice ages, tropical storms and the wild waves of many oceans and seas. Our Stone Age ancestors came there to fish its waters and farm its land – and found and fashioned Lambay’s beautiful porphyry into ceremonial axes. Much later, Romanised British merchants got to know this “edge of the known world” while on trading missions, perhaps for Irish leather. Later still, in 795AD, a Viking raid on Lambay’s tiny monastic settlement shattered the nerves and psyche of our peaceful “island of saints and scholars” – which had been spared the misery and chaos of then “Dark Ages” Europe!
Lambay has long attracted curiosity from land, air and sea. From the long north Dublin coast, it's been a familiar feature out there on the Eastern horizon; air travellers have noted its little harbour and beach and ring of surf. The active boating communities of north Dublin have sailed around it and happily picnicked aboard vessel in its sheltered bays. And people on Dublin's south side have remarked on it from Three Rock Mountain and the Hellfire Club, expressing the wish to go there. But up to three or so years ago, only archaeologists, botanists, geologists, ornithologists and other special interest groups have walked its rocky eminences or heard birdsong in its sunny gardens and little woodland.
Now, thanks to the generosity of the Barings family, limited numbers of visitors are welcome to come and walk the island, with Gerry Grimes of skerriesseatours.ie as guide under an exclusive arrangement with the family. And, as if to underline the novelty of a visit to Lambay, the exhortation of skerriesseatours.ie is “do something different”!
On a sunny warm Mayday, Gerry led a group of us from the lovely little harbour to the renovated old coastguard school, briefed us on the plan for the day and took us up past the walled gardens and enclosures of the 16th century castle, through the working farm and out on to the wild heath-land that makes up most of this little island. Along the way, he told us fascinating stories of the island, its history and its people, some tragic and some happy, showed us the healthy seabird colonies of the east coast and the site of the sad loss of the “Tayleur” in 1854. Though beautifully sunny, a haze turned mainland coasts into distant mystical outlines across a shining sea, accentuating the island “feel” of our visit.
Then he brought us down to the beautiful island chapel, pointed out the resting places of the island folk, told us the stories of the beautiful 1933 “White House” and the “real tennis” court and served up a welcome cup of tea and biscuits in the old schoolhouse. Then it was back across a sunny sea to the mainland and Malahide Marina, truly “something different” done in great company!
Walk: Lambay, Co Dublin
Map: OS Sheet 43 or available from skerriesseatours.ie
Effort and suitability: slow guided walk of about 4kms and about 120mts of climbing, easy
Start/Finish: the island's harbour
Conditions: island is privately owned; direction and guidance of representative of skerriesseatours.ie to be respected at all times.