Ireland’s Eye (Inis Mac Neasáin), directly north of Howth, is a small uninhabited island adjacent to a range of rocks and an islet called the Thulla. The cluster is a Bird Sanctuary & nature conservation site.
The Eye’s main importance is as a breeding ground for seabirds. auks, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Shag, Cormorant, gulls, and others.
Straight off the boat the visitor encounters rabbit burrows, some of which are used by nesting Shelduck. Off the east side of the island there are rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills, and with luck a few Puffins. Further along, heading for the high ground, are cliffs teeming with the nests of auks, kittiwakes and fulmars. Lower down the cliff near the tide line, shags sit on their nests or feed their screeching offspring. The noise is phenomenal and the smell only adds to the atmosphere! Great black-backed gulls will dive bomb any intruders near their nests. Herring gulls also nest on the open ground here. It is good policy to stick to the trodden paths as it is only too easy to walk on well camouflaged chicks or eggs.
Undoubtedly the most spectacular feature is the huge freestanding rock called the Stack at the northeastern corner of the island, which plays host to a large variety of seabirds, including Ireland’s fifth largest gannetry (the only significant such colony between the Saltees off the south coast of Co. Wexford and Ailsa Craig in Scotland). There is a large cormorant colony on the Thulla. Grey seals are abundant in the sea around the island.
According to Dublin folklore, Ireland’s Eye was originally called Eria’s Island, but that woman’s name became confused with Erin, the Irish Gaelic name for Ireland. The Vikings used the Norse equivalent of Island, which was Ey, and so it became known as Erin’s Ey and ultimately Ireland’s Eye.
Cill MacNessan, an C8th church, was where three monks penned a manuscript similar to the more famous Book of Kells, also preserved in Trinity College, Dublin. The church long functioned as parish church for Howth, eventually being replaced by a more modern one in the village due to the limitations of having to take a boat for every service.
A ruined Martello Tower is the only other sign of previous habitation. The tower’s window entrance, 5m above ground level, can be accessed by a hanging rope.
.On 6th September 1851 the island was visited by day-trippers, Mr and Mrs Kirwan, who lived in Merrion St. and had a summer residence in Howth. He was a successful painter from Mayo, and she was the daughter of a British Army officer in Clare. As evening drew in, she was found lying face downward in a cove, apparently drowned. After a sensational trial in Green St. courthouse in December 1852, at which he was defended by Isaac Butt, Mr. Kirwan was convicted of his wife’s murder, and hanged on 18th January 1853, the first execution in Dublin in “more than a dozen years” according to the New York Times.
Ireland’s Eye is a townland in its own right, with a registered area of 53 acres. It is currently part of the county of Fingal, for administrative purposes, but was at one time part of the city of Dublin. Althoughacces is not controlled, the island is private property, forming part of the Howth Estate.
The Eye is served by two small boat companies from Howth Harbour in the summer months, but visitors should agree a return time before paying, in order to ensure sufficient time to enjoy their trips.
Visitors should note that there is no fresh water on the island.
Ireland’s Eye can be accessed from Howth Harbour.