Sunday 30 April 2017

Little islands can be deadly drops in the ocean

The Ring Of Kerry
The Ring Of Kerry

Fiona O'Connell

'There is something about a small island that satisfies the heart of a man," said Welsh ornithologist and naturalist RM Lockley.

I couldn't agree more when it comes to this particular independent plot of land - even if obviously there is ample room for improvement. Though a recent global index of 133 countries only rated Ireland 12th in the world of best places to live. While the World Economic Forum's assessment, which was released in Switzerland last January, scored Ireland 18 in an inaugural list of the world's best countries.

But then, what do mainlanders know about the hard knocks and rough edges of island life - especially during this wintry weather?

Sometimes you don't have to live on one to suffer - even coming close can be calamitous. As ships in rough seas know well, little islands can land you in deep water.

Like the Keeragh Islands off the coast of Co Wexford, which are little more than two acres and one acre respectively in size. Yet these barren and exposed islets have been the scenes of serious shipwrecks over the centuries. Such as the Niobe - bound for Cork out of New York this very month in 1847, and laden down with corn and meal for famine-stricken Ireland.

It was enough to make Thomas Boyse - the only recorded owner of a house on the larger Keeragh Island, who died on this day in 1854 - take altruistic action. According to the Reverend William Hickey, writing in 1868, Boyse built a hut on the island "in which he placed stores of potatoes, whiskey, wood, candles and matches, in case of any shipwrecked people arriving there at night".

Hickey went on to note that "nothing of those provisions were ever stolen, though it was notorious that they were there, in an open space, only half a mile from shore".

Kindness was matched by courage, when this month in 1874 the Italian brig Vittorisso G was driven in past the Keeraghs in a fierce storm and wrecked in Bannow Bay. The crew were saved by Duncannon lifeboat, which had to be hauled overland for five miles and launched from Fethard.

All of which proves the richness of island life - sometimes literally.

That poor boy done well, Dick Whittington, legged it to London because he heard its streets were paved with gold. But he might have done just as well in the Keeraghs - for they say traces of gold dust can be found in the sands on the islands, thanks to the 1819 wrecking of the Demarara - carrying gold bullion.

The future Lord Mayor of London made his fortune from the ratting abilities of his cat. But the mate of the King Arthur, which sank at Ballymadder in 1847, had the good fortune to save not just his own skin but also that of his feline friend. He survived by swimming ashore with his clothes tied in a bundle on his head - and his not so unlucky black cat perched on top.

For if no man is an island, a moggy is most definitely neither.

Sunday Independent

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