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Thursday 27 June 2019

Artist Barry Pilcher is the only resident of remote Inishfree island

Barry Pilcher, the lone resident of the remote Donegal island has an
outdoors session without any fear of disturbing the neighbours.
Barry Pilcher, the lone resident of the remote Donegal island has an outdoors session without any fear of disturbing the neighbours.
A hand bell sits outside the front door of Mr Pilcher’s home, although visitors are certainly a rarity.
Barry Pilcher at his Inishfree home, where he spends most of his time playing his saxophone and writing poetry.
Mr Pilcher
Mr Pilcher goes to the mainland once a week to stock up on food provisions.

Allison Bray

THEY say that "no man is an island" but try telling that to artist and poet Barry Pilcher.

The 69-year-old is the only resident of the remote island of Inishfree off the coast of Donegal and he seems to like it that way.

Mr Pilcher moved to the tiny windswept island off Burtonport in Co Donegal more than 20 years ago and has lived there on his own for much of it.

He lives a simple life that revolves around playing his beloved saxophone and writing poetry.


He ventures into Burtonport each Friday to collect his pension and buy provisions for the week, including tins of custard that line the shelves of his modest kitchen in the stone cottage that he calls his home.

A set of wind chimes hanging in one of the windows is the only man-made sound that can be heard when Mr Pilcher isn't serenading the local wildlife with his saxophone.

But it doesn't seem to bother him, according to a resident living on the mainland.

"He leads a very quiet life," he said.

The only routine contact he has with the outside world is with a local boatman who picks him up each Friday to take him to Burtonport, which is the only time during the week when he switches on his mobile phone, according to local legend.

But that doesn't mean that he's a hermit either.

In 2009, his home became a makeshift polling station when he opened up the doors to his living room to allow five others who live on local offshore islands to vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

He made history as the first person in Ireland to vote No to the treaty because the referendum vote was held a few days ahead of the vote on the mainland in case inclement weather prevented their votes from being tallied in time.

Mr Pilcher told a TV crew at the time that he voted against the treaty because "people in Brussels cannot understand what it's like to live on a small island".

"Donegal, especially, has its own particular difficulties that nobody else can understand, so I think we should have more decentralised government," he said.

The island itself, which is only a square mile, has an intriguing history. It was controlled by pre-Christian chieftan Niall of the Nine hostages, who went on to become a High King of Ireland.

Then in the early 20th century, it featured a close-knit community of 36 families who lived in a number of small cottages scattered on the island, which also had its own post office and school where famous authors Peadar O'Donnell and Seamus O Grianna taught.

But by the 1970s, the islanders moved to the mainland and a commune calling itself 'The Atlantis Foundation' was established by a group of so-called 'free-thinkers' in 1974, who were later given the nickname "The Screamers" by mainland residents.

They were so named for practising primal scream therapy on the island whilst otherwise attempting to live in harmony with their environment.

They remained on the island until 1988 when the commune split and they went their separate ways, some to Baltimore in Co Cork and others to Columbia.

Irish Independent

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