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The Old School, Owey Island

I sounds mad, but I didn’t have a map when I was driving around Donegal. I sort of hoped I could buy one in a petrol station but I never did. The Hire Car people lent us a Sat Nav but I could not be bothered to plug it in and it stayed in the boot the whole week.

I am very lackadaisical when it comes to planning holidays, I think all my energy goes into the logistics of getting there. Anyway, I assumed that my husband would tell which places were worth visiting. Afterall, he had spent hours “flying” up and down the roads of Donegal on StreetView. I sort of knew where I wanted to go; Bunbeg, Bloodyforeland, Falcaragh, Dunfanaghy, Derryveagh,  Kincasslagh and Dungloe and the distances between them were not very great.

Donegal Islands Map
Donegal Islands Map

On the only properly sunny afternoon we had in Donegal, I took a left off the road from Dungloe to Kincasslagh. The sign said “Cruit Island Golf Club”.  I reasoned that golf clubs are usually located in beautiful places, near the coast. So I followed a single track road and over a small concrete bridge on to Cruit Island. If you look at the map above, you can see that Cruit Island is long, three miles long, in fact.

Bridge to Cruit Island
Bridge to Cruit Island

Cruit Island at Low Tide

Cruit Island at Low Tide

After a pleasant drive along a single track road, and passing what can only be called mansions at the north end of the island, we reached the golf club. Now in the UK golf clubs can be funny about other people coming onto their property, but there was nowhere to turn the car so I kept driving. Eventually we reached the golf club car park which looks out across wild waves to an island. This was no calm inland lough. This was the Wild Atlantic. The wind was fierce and the waves crashed and boomed.

Owey Island, Donegal.
Owey Island, Donegal.

It was mesmerising. The island was just across the turquoise water. It was dotted with houses, some clearly derelict, others in good order. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Owey island.

Quay on Owey Island
Quay on Owey Island

It turns out that Owey island is uninhabited for much of the year, having no permanent residents, but people do live there in the summer months. It was last inhabited on a full-time basis in the mid 1970s. The last residents were three old boys who were moved to the mainland of Donegal, or as the islanders call it, Ireland. All the houses were built on the south side of the island, facing Cruit Island Golf Club. The north of the island is too rocky and too exposed to the north Atlantic Ocean gales.

Buildings on Owey Island
Buildings on Owey Island

My eye was drawn to one building in particular. Standing on the brow of a hill, its missing roof caught my attention. It had also had a walled yard behind it. I was too far away to be able to tell whether this was a derelict old building or an incomplete new one. There are many incomplete “new” buildings littering the Irish landscape.

Painting of the old School, Owey Island, West Donegal
Old School, Owey Island

This turned out to be the old school. The walled yard was the play ground. It was a tiny school with just one teacher who would have to teach all ages of the small number of island children.  It was a school for the younger children, and when they were old enough the children would then be sent to the mainland for their secondary school education.

Apparently, the school children had to bring a sod of turf to school each morning. The turf was fuel for the fire and the idea was that they provided the heating for the school room in the cold months. It has been pointed out that as the teacher’s table and chair were at the front of the room, they would usually sit right in front of the fire. When I used to be a teacher, I used to teach in a “temporary” demountable  classroom (it had been there for 40 years) and in winter, I would often stand next to the gas fire, myself. So I liked that idea!

Available landscape paintings can be seen here:

To read more about life on Owey Island see:

19 thoughts on “The Old School, Owey Island

  1. like you, i stumbled my way through ireland, but discovered many amazing places –

    1. I think that’s the joy of the place, so many “small places” of great beauty, as well as the obvious tourist traps. The great thing about Donegal in autumn is that you were pretty much on your own in these amazing places.

  2. That old school was beautifully painted!

    When travelling, I have maps, GPS, brochures, etc. Most of the time I only use the GPS for driving, and the rest remains unused. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Hein. I love looking at maps, but not when I am driving or walking, before or afterwards. I enjoy using my “sense of direction” when I am out!

  3. Wat een mooi plekje.Waarom staat dat schooltje er nu zonder dak?Laat men het verkommeren?

    1. Ja, het is triest dat het geen dak heeft. Het is niet langer een school, maar ik had gedacht dat iemand anders het gebouw kon gebruiken!

  4. The old school has many memories. I always think it is sad to see a building without a roof as it will not be able to remain standing for too long. But you have immortalized it with your painting.

    1. Yes, I agree, a roof is so important for a building to survive. Its such a shame.

    2. In the 1911 census, Thomas O’Kane, is down as a teacher. I’m 99.9% sure he was my Granddad

      1. I wonder how long Thomas as the teacher there? I was reading a bit from Roise Rua’s Memoirs of growing up on Arranmore Island near by and she said that teachers did not often stay long on the small islands. Have you visited the island?

      2. I suspect he was not there long as he came back to Inishowen and got married. He died in 1969 and it’s now over 20 years since my Dad died so it is hard to find much out. I’ve not been to the island but am intrigued by it and what life may have been like at that time.

      3. Life must have been very remote, although the island is pretty close to the mainland (or rather Cruit Island which is connected to the mainland by a bridge). Have you seen this old RTÉ film about the postman’s visit to the island? The old schoolhouse is featured too

  5. …incomplete “new” buildings…made me laugh!

  6. Oh there are quite a few of those around, people run out of money (think 2008 financial crisis), get jobs elsewhere or find there’s a “problem” (like a big crack) and leave them half done.

  7. whats the smallest village you’ve discovered on your wanderings Emma?

    1. That’s a tough question, Wayne. That’s hard to say….Size is relative I think there are plenty of big “villages” or “hamlets” in Gower like Bishopston with (3,200) thousands of inhabitants and tiny “towns” in Donegal, Ireland, like Dungloe (1,100) .

      1. I grew up in a city about 70,000 but prefer small towns like Tofino (1700).
        I once saw a place so small that there was one house on each corner of a country road intersection.

  8. […] Owey Island, lies just a short distance off Cruit Island near Kincasslagh in west County Donegal. Strictly speaking there have been no permanent residents since the 1970s. […]

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