Rockall: ‘The most isolated speck of rock in the world’


Rockall? Wasn't there something about a recent air-sea rescue there a few days ago? It's an odd place. A tiny cone of granite, like a haycock bent over by the wind, only 70 feet in height and once decribed by a Captain Basil Hall, who had visited it, as the "most isolated speck of rock in the world." It is not so far away - about 200 miles directly west of the outer Hebrides, and more or less the same from Killybegs, heading north-west, as did our old and respected friend Lloyd Praeger with some other savants from the Royal Irish Academy in 1896. He writes about it in his wonderful book The Way That I Went. The boat they were using was the Congested Districts Board steamer Granuaile. The adventure began at midnight on June 3rd, 1896. Aims of the trip were to investigate an unknown phenomenon, to find out if it might take a meteorological station, to find if this was the unknown breeding place of the Manx Shearwater, and if there were any plants on the rock. Much else, for which they had trawls and a rope ladder, a harpoon which would throw a ladder up the face of the rock and. . . At first they couldn't find the rock, then suddenly did. All in foul weather. Coal was getting low, so they had to go back to Killybegs. "I can still remember my extravagances of seasickness," writes Praeger. But they were to have a return in less than a fortnight. A calm run to the area of Rockall, but around the rock conditions made it impossible to land. The dinghy was twice lowered and the seas were such that those in the dinghy couldn't keep the top of the masts of the Granuaile in sight. Two days of rolling and pitching and they steamed eastward to St Kilda. They learned something of Rockall, however. They learned that a met station was not possible there, that no very rare birds bred. But they did get some interesting results from dredging. Praeger says of the rock that he felt deep affection for it because of his fellowship throughout with some of the best companions he had been privileged to know. A good heart.

And while this haystack of granite had been known of for long - Kerguelen's map of this island area published in 1771 shows `Rockal' clearly and, even earlier, a 1606 map by Willem Janson shows `Rocol'. Then on September 18th, 1955, "at exactly 10.16 a.m.", Britain took over and the Union Jack was flown on the island. In 1956 James Fisher published his very detailed book Rockall (Geoffrey Bles Ltd, London). Aircraft made so much possible. The Irish State would have hardly any territorial interest, Would it?