I love looking at maps and finding out the names of places. This is particularly true of the islands that litter the coast of West Donegal near the Rosses. I am always asking my husband, what island is that? He’s usually pretty good at knowing the names (I check on a paper map later). In the summer I spotted a house on a tiny slip of an island to the south of Arranmore. Can you see it in this photograph below?
View from Arranmore
Closer. See it now?
I thought it was just one lone house (was that another house at the other end of the island, maybe?). What glorious solitude! What must it be like to stay on that island all with the spray of the sea so close looking at big Arranmore? This is my painting of the island. I was curious about the feint outlines of ruined houses I could see either side of the restored summer house. I wondered about them and their families.
This is Iniskeeragh. Ireland (like Wales) is rich in descriptive place names. They usually describe are named after features of the landscape, such as hills, rocks, valleys, lakes, islands, and harbours. In Irish, its name is “Inis Caorach” which means “Sheep or Ewe Island”. So either sheep were kept on the island (it seems pretty small for that) or its a shape reminded people of a ewe, which might be more likely?
After some research (online and in books) back home I discovered that the island had at least 12 familiesliving there permanently, it also had a schoolhouse. I find this incredible for such a small, lowing lying island. It’s 650m x 300m (2132ft x 984ft) in size. I tried to work that out in football pitches. It’s the equivalent to 40 football pitches, so maybe its not as tiny as I think. It is very low. It’s no higher than 11 feet above sea level. Yet you can read their names in the 1901 census here.The family names of the farming families are familiar Donegal ones: Gallagher, Boyle, Sweeney, Rodgers, O’Donnell and a sole Bonner, Grace (35) who was listed in the census as a knitter, she was one of only 2 knitters on the island.
These Donegal islands may seem remote to modern eyes, but they played their part in the culture and history of modern Ireland. Gola Island, Gweedore, may well have served as the model for Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island. Two men from Gola, Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan, were aboard the Asgard, the yacht that brought arms into Howth in north county Dublin in 1914, in preparation for the Easter Rising of 1916. Tiny Inishkeeargh also had its connection with the wider world. Writer and political activist Peadar O’Donnell(1893-1986) was a for a time teacher’s assistant at the school on the island and he set his second novel, The Islanders, here. Peadar went on to become one of Ireland’s foremost radicals of the 20th-century.
Life was tough on the island. Roise Rua described her work on the island kelp-making as “tedious and exhausting”. The tenants had to pay rent of £50: £26 for the use of the land and £24 for the use of the seashore – making kelp, picking winkles or shellfish, dulse and the like.” Sadly, like many other Donegal island communities, such as Owey and Gola, the people of Inishkeeragh was forced to relocate to the mainland in the 1950s.
Sea levels played a big part as at least twice in the twentieth century an exceptionally high tide coinciding with a bad gale forced the islands to take refuge in the two houses that had lofts. They apparently spent hours “in terror, fearing the overloaded floors would collapse.” A storm in 1953 washed away the pier and the government of the day would not pay for it to be repaired. This meant that subsequent storms swept through the houses and within 5 years all the families were forced to leave the island.
There was a reunion of Inishkeeragh families and their descendants in 2015 on the island. Internationally renowned Country singer, Daniel O’Donnell, was part of the celebrations (his mother was born on nearby, Owey Island).
You can see the photos of the day on their facebook page here. You can visit the island with Arranmore Charters, be sure to book beforehand.
Addition sources for Inishkeeragh (Inis Caorachin) came from:
We are all told to stay local in Wales, until July anyway. I am still recovering from the operation to pin my broken leg so all of my journeys are very short, and very slow, anyway. I have been taking more adventurous journeys of the mind to Donegal, and to the little village of Maghery in particular.
It lies just a stone’s throw (4 miles or about a 10-minute drive) down the road from Dungloe (I regard Dungloe as the center of my universe when I am in Donegal because it has supermarkets like Lidls, Aldis, Supervalu, and The Cope). The Irish name for Maghery Glebe is An Machaire. We know that people lived here over 5000 years ago because they built stone circles, left tombs, a Crannóg, and a stone fort.
We have only ever been to Maghery twice. On both occasions, it was to visit Crohy sea arch. We failed to find the arch, but we did see some very fine sea stacks called Na Bristí on our second visit. We also found found two beautiful beaches, a Napoleonic signal tower, and Second World War look out post and my favouite, and an Éire Sign.
I would like to visit again, but instead, I can only visit online and “in paint”. The drive through the village has inspired my latest series of three paintings. (The first two paintings have gone to collectors in France and the USA). I was drawn to paint the pink and mauve old houses in particular, mixed in with the white stone cottages.
Its only now that I realise the mauve house in my 3rd painting is a very similar colour to the early morning sand on the pristine beach nearby.
Maghery Beach, with Maghery village and Napoleonic signal tower
People have been looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding land from the hills near Maghery for hundreds of years. They haven’t always been admiring the view, either. During the Napoleonic Wars, a signal tower was built on the headland in the years 1804-6.
This was one of a series of 12 towers built along the Donegal coastline, to watch out for invasion from French forces. We dont have these in Wales, although Wales invaded by a French force in 1797. That’s beacuse it was not built to protect the Irish population from the French, but because the British did not trust the Irish not to welcome the French with open arms. A few years earlier Irishman, Wolfe Tone, had attempted but failed to land a French force near Lough Swilly. The plan had been to throw the British out of Ireland. His landing failed but there was a successful landing of French forces further down the coast in Mayo. A brief declaration of an Irish Republic followed, but the Irish Rebellion ultimately failed, after a series of battles in Wexford culminating, in defeat at Vinegar Hill.
The signal tower is thus a symbol of deep mistrust by the British. This particular tower is well preserved and surrounded by walled farmer’s fields. The men who were garrioned here communicated with neighbouring signal towers by raising and lowering a large rectangular flag, a smaller blue pendant and four black balls in various combinations along a system centred on a tall wooden mast. This must have been very difficult if not impossible in poor weather conditions.
About 200 meters down the road is the Second World War Eire sign. I am not sure why but I was more excited to see this than the tower. Perhaps, because it was tucked away, designed only to be seen from the air. Perhaps also beacuse it is cut into the grass like a prehistoric chalk horse.
The letters spell the word Éire, which means “Ireland” in the Irish language. Over 80 of these numbered Éire signs were dotted around the coast of the Republic during the Second World War. I originally thought this was to warn German bombers that they were flying over a neutral country. This was important as neighbouring Northern Ireland, being part of the United Kingdom, was not neutral. I was wrong, the main purpose of these numbered signs was as a navigational aids for the Allied planes.
Although the Republic were offically neutral they were indirectly involved in the war. In the Spring of 1939, expecting another European War, the British Government had asked the Irish Government to set up a Coastguard Service. The Irish Government agreed to build a series of small concrete huts, known as Look Out Posts (or LOPs) along the coast. There is this one at Crohy and there was another on Arranmore Island near by. The letters Eire (without the accent on the “E”) were written in stone nearby to give aircraft an idea of where they were. The stones were painted white. The numbers (74 in the case of Crohy) were added in 1942 after the Americans entered the war in December of 1941. (Thank you to Séan Bonner for this information).
These huts were pre-built in parts and assembled on site by the army (as the Coastguard Service was under the control of the army). The Irish Government agreed to build the huts and set up the service but on condition that they only would supply radios to the huts in the event of a war. Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs, reporting every activity observed at sea or in the air by telephone.
Allied aircraft were allowed to fly over the Republic through the “Donegal Corridor” to airbases in County Fermanagh. These airbases were crucial to provide “cover” for the shipping convoys that came across the Atlantic bringing industrial raw materials and food to Britian. Without fear of air attack, German U-boats would operate as ‘wolf packs’, picking off the ships one by one. All flights were meant to take place at “a good height”. If any aircraft crashed, as at least six did, if they could claim they were on a non-combative mission, they would be repatriated. While it was easy for Allied pilots to make that claim, it was not realistic for Luftwaffe pilots to do so, they tended to be interned. Ireland also helped Britain in secret by setting up an armed air/sea rescue trawler called the Robert Hastie at Killybegs, Donegal, to help any shipping casualties and to supply planes that had run out of fuel.
I didn’t realise it at the time but this is just an updated version of the Napoleonic tower. The ruins above the Eire sign is that of a coast watch station. Coast watchers worked around the clock in pairs, reporting every activity observed at sea or in the air by telephone.
Further along the road is Crohy Head. I think techically is Crohy Head, South. Although there is space to park and a sign announcing its presence, you can sense that the local authority are not all wildly keen to promote this attraction in case people fall down the steep field/cliff face trying to get a good look at it.
I am sitting here with my pinned leg resting on a chair, and it’s twitching unhappily at the sight of these photos now. My leg does not like to think about rough terrains right now. I can just about manage a slow walk around my local park these days (it’s going to be a long slow build up to full recovery). We must have been mad! I thought so at the time too. Still, my husband Séamas who climbed down to the beach to take some photos whilst I sat on the hill holding onto some yapping dogs. To my shame, there was an artist with his easel painting en plein air at the top of the field. I wonder if he could hearing me hushing the dogs and telling Seamas to hurry up.
Sadly, the light was, in my opinion, in the “wrong direction” and early morning would be a better time of day to catch the sea stacks. The sea arch, was just out of sight around the corner. I think that I will save up and buy a drone to take photographs from higher up without imperilling any of my (or my husbands’) limbs! Or a boat. Things to dream about from my chair.
Here is a marvelous drone photo of Crohy Head.
As with all of Ireland, you scratch the surface and discover an ocean of history. These are some of the sites I used for research:-
I love the Donegal islands for their peace and quiet. Oh, the relative absence of cars, the abundance of nature but I particularly love their houses. You may have noticed that I painted quite a few of them, lately; lovely long strings of houses.
I love their simple clean lines. I enjoy the old-style aesthetic. In Donegal, houses were whitewashed and woodwork was painted red. You still see a few houses like this. Sometimes you might see one with a thatched roof. Usually, their thatch has been replaced with tiled roofs.
When is a house a cottage? When it’s small and old and hand-built by its inhabitant, I suppose. In England, the term cottage originates from the Anglo-Saxon term for the peasant or “cottar”, in Irish the word for these houses is “teachin” or “teach beag” which means small house. You can watch a short film on how to say “teach” in Irish here, you may think that word looks like an English word, but it’s pronounced very differently in Irish.
Cottages literally grew out of the landscape that surrounded them. It stands to reason that in the past homes were built from local materials. If the stones and wood had to be carried by donkey or man-power it wasn’t likely to come from very far away. Stone would predominantly be used in coastal and rocky areas, muddy clay in the midlands and even turf in boggy areas.
Cottages came in different sizes; from the tiny laborer’s cottage or Bothán Scóir (a one-roomed house with mud floors and often not even a window); the byre dwelling (a slightly larger cottage that was shared with the animals) to the thatched mansions – two-storey thatched farmhouses that were often extended from single-storey cottages as the occupants become wealthier.
In Donegal “direct entry” houses were typical, where the front door open directly into the room with the fireplace. The most popular form of cottage is that with the living area at the center with the hearth fireplace and a bedroom on either end.
The fireplace or hearth usually formed of stone and located at the center of the house with a bedroom behind it to further absorb the heat. Most families lived in a single room.
In rural Ireland, they did not usually own the land it stood on. This is why landlords could evict tenants for non-payment of rent (usually, if they wanted to replace people with more profitable sheep), even those the occupants had built those houses themselves. In the case of John George Adair of Gleanveagh, he had the houses pulled down after the tenants were thrown out! This was common eviction practice. Anyone who has seen the excellent film Black 47 will know that this practice, could and did, lead to the death of old and frail tenants in winter.
Houses were designed through necessity. The general rule was that the front door of the cottage faced south, to shelter the house from the prevailing westerly winds. Windows were small in order to retain heat in the winter and to keep cool in the summer. Ground floor windows usually faced to the south, not on the gable ends.
There were often small windows on the first floor of the gable walls where there were loft accommodations. The walls of a cottage were typically about 600mm thick to support the roof and beams, this led to the attractive deep window reveals found in most cottages.
You may have noticed that many old Irish houses are not one single unified block, but are made up of several extensions, a kitchen at the back, an extra room to the side. Homes were enlarged when money was available. Often this money was earnt far away from home as hardship forced family members to look for seasonal work far away in Derry, Tyrone or even in Scotland.
Modern houses in Donegal, like modern houses in most places, are comfortable, spacious with plenty of windows. Older people, here as elsewhere, I suspect prefer bungalows for their lack of stairs.
Yet, there is still a space for the old style. On Cruit Island there is a holiday village of new-build holiday homes in the “old” style.
They are single story with thatched roofs but they are large, comfortable, and furnished with wooden rocking chairs, and folksy bedspreads. They also have a beach a stone’s throw away. Obviously, there are real old houses you can stay in on Cruit Island too.
I sometimes wonder if I am painting a “fake” version of Ireland. I am giving the impression that all of Donegal is covered in little quaint white houses? It isn’t, but they are there. Especially in the Rosses and on the islands. Not all of the houses are quaint in North-West Ireland; the “bungalow blight” that affects parts of Donegal has been commented on by others. I suppose I am drawn to the clean lines of the old houses.
This is a theme I have explored in a different context, previously. A couple of years ago I explored the “Hollowed Community” of Brynmill and painted the Edwardian terraces that surround my home in Swansea. I was also interested in a lost community. The old way of life (pre-internet) that is fast vanishing, where your neighbors lived next to you for years, not for weeks or just the summer months.
Everybody loves the Georgian Houses It seems like certain styles never go out of fashion. Last year Georgian-style houses topped a poll of the most popular home styles. I suspect that people like scale of the house as well as the the pillars and generous sized windows. Nothing says lord of the manor like a […]
Northern Ireland’s Tourism is very impressive. At Whiterocks Beach, just along from Portrush, there is not one, not two but three small carparks and a public toilets which are all free to use. What’s more, there’s another car parks specially for horses and their horseboxes. I will point out though, that there is height restriction […]
We recently went to see Helen Merrigan Colfer’s solo exhibition at the Alley Gallery, Strabane. She is a sculptor & painter. She lives & works on the tip of the Hook Head Peninsula, County Wexford, Ireland. She works with resin & steel. Her work is quite incredible and very engaging. This exhibtion included paintings, many resin […]
I spent almost a month in the Cotswolds visitng with my parents recently and had a bit of time to explore. They live near Stroud which TV programmes like “Escape to the Country ” tell me is the “poorer part of the Cotswolds”. I think “poor” may well be in the eye of the beholder. […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Abanoned (Glentornan, Donegal) -Emma Cownie
Towards Bloody Foreland (Donegal) _ Emma Cownie
Across Whiterock Beach, Portrush
Low Tide, Summer Morning on Three Cliffs – Emma Cownie
Dunluce Castle from Whiterocks Beach
Boat on Inch Island Donegal
Houses at Port na Crin, Gola
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
A Road through Chalford (Cotswolds)
Painswick Yews (Cotswolds)_Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Ferry Home (Arranmore, Donegal) by Emma Cownie
Summer Morning on Pobbles Bay
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
Down to Doagh Strand (Donegal)-Emma Cownie
Lambing Season at Fanad Head
Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Down to the Rusty Nail
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen
The Walls of Derry
Painting of Derry City
Derry Walls by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Over to Owey Island (Keadue) Donegal
Lighting the way to Arranmore
Old Stone Cottage in front of Errigal (Donegal
Boat at the Pier, Gola
House on Inishbofin, with distant Seven Sisters (in studio)