Manx shearwater puffins thrive on Cruagh Island, but dogs don’t fare well there

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Here is a mini-archipelago that has been attracting monks and poets and many others for over 1000 years. Even the occasional island hunter.

About 5km from Cleggan in County Galway are three islands of similar size which, if viewed from the mainland as the sun goes down, beg to be visited.

They are located just south of glorious Inishbofin and the now abandoned Inishark.

The lower island of the Brothers still escaped the visit of this chronicler; the aptly named High Island was the site of a surviving abbey dating back to the 7th century.

Of course, the monks are long gone, but their legacy lives on: a hermitage, a church and cross slabs testify to their piety.

The poet, Richard Murphy, owned High Island for about 30 years until 1999 and sailed these waters for many years.

Cruagh is an 83 acre island south of High Island which is extremely pleasant to visit.

The Irish for the island is An Chruach, which is also Irish for Croagh Patrick.

Over the centuries it has been written as Cruagh-ar-Nimay, Crua, Crooa and Cruadh.

John O’Donovan writes for GalwayLibrary.ie that the long name above probably derives from “air n-aghaidh Iomaighe” which would have been the “cruach” or “pile” opposite Omey Island.

He also writes that the island was referred to by the 17th century Irish historian James Ware in Latin as “Insula Cuniculorum” or “Island of the Rabbit Warren”.

Although there is no record of anyone ever living on the island, it is reasonable to assume that the monks of High Island took advantage of it, perhaps even as the location of an oratory.

There is an archaeological record for Cruagh which refers to a hut site on the north side.

This may be the same place O’Donovan refers to as ‘Caibidil na mBrathar’ or the Chapter of the Brethren, where according to tradition the brethren of Illaunnambraher (Friars Island) held a chapter (a meeting for advise the bishop).

Cruagh Island, Connemara, Co Galway, with High Island in the background. Photo: Dan McCarthy

The island was once famous for being a plague for dogs who died shortly after landing there.

The island is a renowned site for the Manx Shearwater which has been the subject of extensive study by UCC Ornithologists.

The group of islands has long been a target for day trippers from Cleggan.

The Galway Mercury The newspaper reported in 1850, in an area barely emerging from famine, how the “good, humane and charitable” owner, Dr Magee, organized a day trip to the islands.

Reverend Anthony Magee owned 203 acres of land in Connemara including the islands of Cruagh, High, Friar.

On the occasion of this trip, the writer of the newspaper did not hold back in his eulogy to the good reverend: “The good humane and charitable owner whom Connemara greets like the morning star of its prosperity had takes possession of that part of his property comprising High Island, Cruagh and Friars Island.

The Reverend invited up to 30 of his friends to join him for a “cold dinner” on one of the islands after he “carefully sent stacks of bread and plenty of beer to his lodger who, according to rumor, intended to meet him and compliment him on occasion”.

A very evocative description in ornate language described “the sea strewn with boats, some carried by the ‘winged sail’, others maneuvered by the oar and leaping under the blows of the robust native”.

The article raved about a long row of well-done mutton, “of the finest quality you could wish to see and a very large amount of beef and bacon as fine as my eyes have ever seen”.

The picnic was complete with whips of “good whisky, punch for a wash”.

It can safely be said that the provisions were of a richer price than those consumed by the monks a thousand years before this voyage, but probably not so satisfactory.

After landing on Cruagh, the reporter noted an island “of great beauty and choice pasture, though lacking the antiquarian attractions for which High Island is remarkable”.

How to get there: Inquire at Cleggan Pier or kayak from there.

Other: maps.archaeology.ie

http://places.galwaylibrary.ie/letters

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