Islands of Ireland: A deserted Irish island with beaches to die for

Islands of Ireland: A deserted Irish island with beaches to die for

Resisting all puns and pushing on to the end, this island could be the start of your island-hopping adventure. A deserted island with a tangible feel of the past and with beaches to die for, there are few more attractive islands in the country. A bold statement, but there is something irresistible about Feenish that draws back people who have visited it again and again. It is possible to walk to the island at very low tide following in the sandprints of the islanders who made this journey for generations. The 154 acres of Finish (Feenish, or Oileán Finis) is connected by a tombolo — a low ridge of shingle and sand.

It is to be found in southern Connemara, not far from the village of Carna. An aerial view on Google Maps shows deserted houses lying all along the old boreen which runs the length of the island, north to south. There are now a couple of holiday houses and occasionally a currach can be seen gliding past the island but apart from that, this is an island marooned in its past.

Beach on Finish Island, Carna, County Galway. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

The island’s chief geographic attractions are its glorious beaches that curve to the sea on its eastern side. With dazzling white sand, turquoise sea, and a mountainous backdrop straight from a Paul Henry painting, the beaches of Finish are peerless. Approaching these beaches by kayak from the island of Birmore that lies to the east, a thin white line gradually grows to produce an outstanding spectacle with teeming birdlife and a lovely breaking surf.

Roisín na Mainiach, Carna💙 #Conamara #connemara #sheep #feenishisland #Ireland

— Aoife Dowd Artist (@Aoifedowdartist) November 30, 2022

However, with the abundant sand and strong Atlantic gales comes the inevitable drifting of sand — and many of the old ruins, the roofs of which glow with patches of lichen, are being partially submerged. They will eventually sink beneath the sand and all traces of the old community that lived here will have vanished. An identical process is devouring former dwellings on Inishkea South, County Mayo.

Though it is very close to the mainland, Finish’s neighbours are further out to sea. In addition to Birmore, are the orchid-packed Inishmuskerry, Duck Island (scene of a tragic boat sinking in 2005), and the former island of Mweenish which has been attached to the mainland by a chain of causeways. Just to the east is the mouth of Kilkieran Bay and a passage to many more islands, some of which were populated up to the 1970s. The east of the bay is known as Ceantar na nOileán (District of the islands), several of which are tethered to each other by causeway. All but a couple of Kilkieran Bay’s islands are now abandoned to the oystercatchers.

People inhabited Finish from at least 7,000 years ago in the Mesolithic period and many shell middens testify to this. They are generally comprised of limpet, periwinkle and oyster shells. Near the kitchen middens there is also a holy well known as Tobar Cholmcille. There are dozens of holy wells all along the south Galway coast. Finish also had a church and a national school to serve the religious and educational needs of the islanders.

Siúlóid Oileán Fhínise , ceann do ná siúlóidi mar pháirt do Fhéile Siúlóid Charna 9-11ú Mean Fómhair. Feenish Island walk, one of the walks during Carna Walking Festival 9-11 th September

— Carna Walking Festival (@CarnaWalking) August 12, 2022

The houses “were constructed of stone, brick or concrete walls .. [while some] had only thatch, wood or other perishable materials for roofing and the other houses all had slate, iron or tiled roofs”. Names of the people included Conneely, Ridge, King, Mulkerrin, Nee, McDonagh, Mannion, and Madden. The population peaked at 66 people in 1841, and the last person left in 1987.

There is even a cilín, or children’s burial ground, lending a whole other dimension to the story of the island, in microcosm of the nation.

Historic names for the island included Fyene

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