Inishbofin & Inishdooey (Co. Donegal)

Inishbofin / Inis Bó Finne (“Island of the White Cow”), (winter pop. 8, summer pop. 50) is situated 3 km / 2 miles (ten minutes by boat) from the pier at Machaire Uí Rabhartaigh / Magheroarty / Gortahork,   from which a regular ferry service has run since 2004.

Covering 300 acres, this island has two halves connected by a narrow, sandy col. The southern half of the island is fertile and was cultivated in the past in the traditional “clachan and rundale” manner, involving communal usage of scarce arable soil and cattle pasture. The ancient field boundaries are still in place, though the fields have now reverted to grassland, providing essential habitat for geese and especially corncrakes – flourishing here, unlike in the rest of the country.

There are two former villages on the island, one near the harbour of An Clachan, and the other a short distance away at An Garradh Ban.

The first inhabitants are believed to have been of Scandinavian origin, who arrived at the time of the Viking raids on Ireland’s coast in the C9th and C10th. Their descendants are thought to have been exterminated by Cromwellian soldiers in the mid-C17th. Subsequently the island was settled by mainlanders from Donegal escaping oppression, pvert and famine. It is said that the islands potatoes were unaffected by the blight which destroyed the main food source of Ireland’s peasantry, leading to the illnesses, deaths and mass emigration caused by the mid-C19th Great Famine.

Inishbofin has witnessed a number of maritime tragedies. In 1929 an island fishing boat was cut in half by a larger boat in thick fog, and all but one man drowned. In 1940 a ship by the name of Stulwik crashed into rocks and 10 people perished. In 1929 Arthur Kingsley Porter, a professor of Fine Arts at Harvard University, bought Glenveagh Castle in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountainsand made it hiss home. He also built a house on Inishbofin which he used for weekend breaks with his wife. On the morning of 8th July 1933 Kingsley Porter disappeared after going for a walk the morning after a massive storm, and was never seen again. Some of the islanders speculated that his wife might have done away with him.

As recently as the 1960s, a population of roughly 120 islanders enjoyed a tranquil, if tough, existence, fishing and farming. Nowadays, only a few hardy souls spend all year on the island, farming on a part-time basis.

However from March to October many of the former inhabitants return to fish for lobster, crab and Atlantic salmon, or to gather shellfish and pick edible seaweeds such as cairrigin (carrageen) and creathnach (dulse) from the rocks. Other families move back for the duration of the summer school holidays.

Many of the houses on the island have been renovated, mostly for use as holiday homes.

Until recently, there were no visitors’ facilities of any kind on the island.  The summer of 2002 saw the arrival of electricity and running water, and the opening of a 30-bed hostel at An Clachan. Most visitors come to spot birds and / or explore strange rock formations around the coastline.

The islanders enjoy speaking to visitors (preferably in Irish Gaelic) and like telling stories about the island and its history. Linguists have commented on their unusual speech patterns, involving “echo” repetition, said to have been typical of story-telling communities.

Inishbofin viewed from the mainland.

Chris Duff, an American kayaker, wrote about his visit to Inishbofin in his book On Celtic Tides (1999). An extract can be read here.

Inishdooey / Inis Dhubhnach is a small uninhabited island, especially noted for the magnificent arches and caves on its eastern side.

The island is named after, and features the ruins of a church supposedly founded by, the legendary C6th Saint Dubhthach / Dooey. The remains of stone enclosures built with great effort over many years are also visible.

The three masted Loch Ryan was shipwrecked here in 1942.

Joe Ferry‘s romantic description of Inishcdooey is available here.

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