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Poll Na Mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats), Arranmore Island

Poll Na Mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats), Arranmore Island
Poll na mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats) Arranmore, Ireland.
Poll na mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats) Arranmore, Ireland.


Here is my latest Donegal painting. I am delighted that it will be going to its new home in California, USA, very soon. 

A narrow lane curves down to a shining white cottage and outbuilding and to the right.  This is not a public road but a lane to the house, just around the bend. Here it is bathed in glorious winter light. The low sun creates long dark shadows along the lane. The sheep look up, they are not used to strangers (not like the sheep on the Gower that barely give visitors a second glance). On the horizon, you can make out the tiny but distinctive shapes of Muckish and Errigal mountains . You can just make out a line of fence posts that lead down towards the small natural harbour that gives its name to this place: Poll Na Mbadaí or Poolawaddy. The meaning of Poolawaddy (also spelled Pollawaddy) is often disputed.  In irish Poll a Mhadaigh, could mean Poll – the harbour, a Mhadaigh – of dogs or Poll na mbadaí, Poll – the harbour, na mbadaí – of the boats. I suspect that the harbour of the boats is more likely, as it is a natural harbour and pier, but I could be wrong. I only have a basic understanding of Irish but I like to try and read it because place names are very descriptive (as they are in Welsh too) and often poetic. A harbour of dogs is just as possible, after all, there are tiny islands nearby named Calf, Duck and Gull Island.

Arranmore Island map

It feels like it has taken me 7 months to get here. The last painting I finished just before I broke my leg in eraly March was also a painting of this area (see below). It has taken me so long to recover my “painting stamina” and gradually paint larger canvases (although some artists would not consider 80×60 cm “large”). I don’t think I will go any larger for now. I feel exhausted after finishing a large painting these days.

Landscape painting Donegal
View From Poolawaddy (Private collection) painted in early March 2020

I like to understand what it is that I am painting, to get a sense of its history and the people who live/d there. I might call a building an “outhouse” for example but very often that building was once a family home, a newer bigger one having been built next to it. It matters to me to know that. It helps me make sense of a place.  I only know only a little about the History of Arranmore, however, so what I have written here has been taken from articles I have found online (I have included links and a list of websites at the end). 

Life on the east side of Arranmore Island, where Pollawaddy is located, is marginally easier than on the west side. This is because Cnoc an Iolair, the highest peak on the island (reputedly once home to golden eagles), provides relative shelter from the prevailing westerly Atlantic winds.  This side of the island certainly seems more sheltered, gentler. 

Poolwaddy,Arranmore, Ireland
Poolawaddy, Arranmore, Ireland (from the other side of the bay). Calf Island is to the right of the bay.


After the Protestation plantation in the 17th century, Arranmore Island, Donegal’s largest island, like other large parts of West Donegal, had been given to the English Lord Conyngham. However, when the terrible potato blight leading to the Great Hunger (“an Gorta Mór”, in Irish) spread during in the mid-1840s he declared the island, which he had never set foot on in his life, as unprofitable and sold it to a Protestant man John Stoupe Charley of Finnaghy, Belfast on 29 June 1849. The new landlord came to live on the island, building a “Big House” (now the Glen Hotel) after 1855 just down the road from Poolawaddy. Very near Poolawaddy, RIC police barracks were built, presumbably built around at the same time to protect the landlord’s property. Interestingly, the RIC left the island after about 40 years and there is still no police station on the island (although the Guards do visit on a regular basis). 

Ruins of the RIC barracks: Image from


Landlord Charley decided to clear as many starving tenants off the land, so he demanded them to present the receipts of their rent payments or face eviction. Of course, few if any had been given written receipts, let alone kept them since most of them could not read or write. The choice they were faced with was either the poor house in Glenties or to emigrate to America in a ‘coffin ship’.  Many of these subtenants were evicted in 1847 and 1851. Many who made it into the new world settled on ‘Beaver Island’ (Lake Michigan, USA ). The two islands are twinned. The Árainn Mhór & Beaver Island Memorial, built in 2000, and the sign that Beaver Island is 2,750 miles away, is a memorial to this link. Many of the first islanders who emigrated to Beaver Island were from Poolawaddy.  Evictions carried on after John Charley’s death in 1879, when his widow Mary and his brother Walter Charley MP were left to manage his lands. The British government even sent a gunboat, “Goshawk” in 1881 to “assist … the serving of ejectment processes on the tenants in the island of Arranmore”!

Poolawaddy Pier, image from


The Islanders who left for America emigrated permanently, but seasonal emigration was a more common feature of island life, with many young people working as labourers for farmers in the Lagan, a fertile area in northwest Ulster, and also in Scotland as ” tattiehokers” for the summer.  Rósie Rua was one such youngster. She was born in 1879 and was reared on Aranmore Island by her mother and her step-father, the Butcher. In adult life, she gained renown as the best traditional singer in Aranmore and wrote a memoir of her life with the help of Padraig Ua Cnaimhsí. Unfortunately, the memoir seems to be out of print, but I could read some sections of it on google.books.

Róise Rua

In her memoir she describes how at aged nine she was hired out to farmers in the Lagan.  Her family home was not far from Poolawaddy and she describes catching the boat to Scotland to work as a farmworker or ” tattiehoker” for the summer.  She wrote that “the steamer had dropped anchor off Calf Island, and we saw the boats pulling out from the shore with their passengers. In no time at all, we were all down at Pollawaddy ourselves and one of the small boats brought us out. Lily was the name of the steamer.I was amazed at the size of her…just about a hundred passengers in all boarded the Lily at Calf Island.”

Róise Rya’s Home:Image


Rósie Rua has a singing festival, Féile Róise Rua held in her name on Arranmore. The first was held in 2019. Sadly the pandemic distrupted the 2020 festival. The festival went online on facebook and you can watch some of the performers here.  Fingers crossed the next one can go ahead in 2021!  I will leave you will a clip of Jerry Early singing “I’ll Go” (5.55 onwards). Just look at the view out of his window!


To find out more about Arranmore 

About Róise Rua

A website showing the harbours in the area

Getting there from Burtonport:- (blue ferry) (red ferry)

See also a German site (google will translate into English) 

20 thoughts on “Poll Na Mbadaí (Harbour of the Boats), Arranmore Island

  1. A lovely post and beautiful painting. Glad that you are now recovered enough to paint. Loved the video and singing…and congrats on the sale. Janet 🙂

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, thankfully I can paint and rest the ankle (that’s taking forever to recover!)

  2. Another great painting, Emma, and a very interesting post! I will have to take time and read more about the tragic history of Arranmore.

    1. Thank you, I hope I haven’t made Arranmore seem like a tragic place because the people are very friendly and cheerful!

  3. Who would think such a tiny place would have such a rich history? I love both this painting and it’s March predecessor. And I also love how you have intensified the colors as compared to the photos of the area. Blue, orange, violet, yellow—can’t go wrong with this combination! So nice to hear your most recent painting has found a home on this side of the pond!

    1. Thank you, Alli. Yes, I like to “intensify” the colour as you describe it. I think it conveys the sense of the Donegal landscape better.

    2. I have thought about your observation, Alli, I would just like to add that Ireland is incredibly rich in history. People revel in remembering and telling stories about people and events from the past. My blog post only mentioned a few stories that I have read online. There’s much more!

  4. This is an interesting history. And it is not so unusual. I remember when I was in Winnipeg I learned the Scottish crofters had been evicted from their land and ended up in Winnipeg.Many of them perished due to the extreme cold. I have always felt sorry for them. Winnipeg winters are severely cold. Arctic and with brutal winds. Thanks for sharing the story of this island.

    1. Yes, sadly such evictions by landlords were common in the Highlands of Scotland and the West of Ireland, as well as in Donegal. They had a terrible impact on the lives of the tenants.

  5. I love the painting. Is it sometimes difficult to say good-bye? I’ve knit with Arranmore yarn, but knew nothing of the island. Thanks for this little backstory to your work.

    1. Yes, it is difficult to part with some paintings. If I have a chance to lookat it awahile I am usually OK with it going to a new home. It can be tough with a commission I really like as it has to go pretty promptly! I am afraid to say that there more than one set of Aran Islands – there an Arran Isle in Scotland (sort of near Glasgow), there is this one off the NW Donegal, Ireland and those off the West coast of Ireland (Galway). Its the Galway Aran Island that the knitwear takes its name from. Just to confuse you further Donegal is also famous for its Donegal tweed and knitweed, which is sometimes called Aran because of the style of knitting (lovely chunky cable knit)!

  6. Nicely done, Emma. It is amazing what a toll an injury can take on us, isn’t it?
    The history of this place is so sad. With wealth concentrating in the hands of a very few here, I fear this sort of exploitation could begin to take place once again. I don’t know how the landlord could look himself in the mirror.

    1. Yes, there’s a lot of very ugly history of landlord’s “improving” land by kicking tenants off after the Great Famine of the 1840s in Ireland and the Highland clearances in Scotland 1750-1860,. It’s a large part of the reason why so many Irish and Scots came to North America, looking for a new life!

      1. Donegal is a wild and mostly untamed place. It’s harsh but natural beauty is a true feast for an artists eye. Your paintings do the county justice and thank you for capturing its colours and different impressions in light levels so wonderfully. The history is a hard and sometimes sad one. Having finished reading “Paddy the Cope” recently it makes ones heart ache for its people, but they are as spirited and tough as they need be to live in this scenic landscape. Please continue to capture county Donegal’s beauty and do it justice as you do. Living in a different part of Ireland my heart will always be set in Donegal. Thank you Emma for bringing a tear to my eye with your beautiful art and story about the place.

      2. Thank you Heike. The landscape is both stunning and brutal and I know that as an outsider that I don’t understand it. I have realised that just stepping off a path can be a dangerous act, not all ground is as solid as it looks (says the woman who broke her leg tripping over some sticks in a wood!!) but that harshness means that people do look out for each other because they need to! I haven’t read “Paddy the Cope” yet but reading Patrick MacGill’s “Children of the Dead End” made me feel for the children who were had to work away from home in brutal conditions.

      3. We’re glad to have them now, but I fear that at the time they came they were not welcomed. 🙁

  7. As a blown in and not a native Irish I understand what you mean. Hope your leg will be better soon again, Emma. Sending you all glorious autumn sunshine from the Middle of Ireland. ☀️

    1. Thank you so much! Where did you “blow in” from, Heike?

  8. Hello Emma, I was delighted to discover that there was a book with Art prints available on Amazon from you. I am really looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful art with us all. Poll na Mbadaí is my favourite though. I don’t know, it just caught my eye whilst browsing on Google and it is so lovely to look at. I am sure it’s new owner looks at it with a smile all the time. I am a blown in from Germany. Have a lovely evening and enjoy the colours in autumn on a sunny day.

    1. Lovely to hear from you Heike. I think that many of us are “blow ins” from somewhere! The book on Amazon is focused on my paintings of South Wales, the Gower in particular. It is my ambition to write another book and fill it full of paintings of Donegal. I already have plenty of images to go in it.

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