Inishbofin Island, Sunday 23rdJuly 2023
Another great day out to Inisbofin Island with our host Seán Boner.
We set sail on the Boffin Ferry, Saoirse Na Mara (Freedom of the Sea) from Machaire Rabhartaigh (Magheraroarty) on the 10 minute trip to the island.
Owner, Harry Coll skippered, with his brother Owenie Coll as deckhand. The boat was suitable for those of restricted movements as you could walk on board without having to climb over the gunwale. The fare is €12 for over twelves and €5 for under twelves.
Arriving at the harbour on the island, the bright sunshine provided a magnificent view back across the water from the coast at Horn Head, the Derryveagh Mountains with the Errigal as it’s crown, Muckish Mountain and west to the Bloody Foreland.
A short stroll to the west of the village, past an example of the houses built with funds from the Congestion District Board, larger that you would see in the rest of Donegal as funds were more generous for the islands.
At the far west of the village is the ruins of the National School.
Our guide, Seán, spoke of the standard design for a National School but how unsuitable a design for the weather conditions here on the island; with over-hanging eves and the door leading straight into the single classroom.
Modifications had made the school less prone to the weather with a chimney to allow a fire in the classroom and a partition to create a hallway to prevent the Atlantic winds from cooling the legs of the children unlucky to be seated at the back of the class.
The Island Field System
To this day you can see the fields laid out in long strips of land, this was the replacement of the rundale field system. Rundale on Inisbofin involved a village in the North East of the island that now no longer exists.
After a short stroll back to the harbour and onto to the east end of the village, we met at the church.
Arthur Kingsley Porter
Sean told the story of Arthur Kingsley Porter seen in his passport photo above with his wife Lucy.
He had a holiday home on the island and he disappeared there on the 8th of July 1933. He was a Harvard Professor who owned Glenveagh Castle and Estate. He was a troubled soul arising from the fact that he was gay but a married man who took a male lover Alan Campbell at the suggestion of his psychotherapist Doctor Havelock and with the agreement of his wife.
The new relationship did not seem to work. Kingsley Porter probably committed suicide by drowning but his body was never found.
The Island Church
We visited the Church, Muire Na nGras (The Virgin Mary of the Graces), on the island. It is a simple and attractive church. It could have been designed by an Architect who believed in Architectural Minimalism who had the mantra that ‘in minimalism less means more’. A local man Gerry Gallagher designed the church and we imagine he was more constrained by what money was available to build the church than any desire to build in a minimalist style. Nevertheless, it turned out very well.
The commencement of the building of the church began in December 1963 and was done, dusted and blessed on the 23rd of June 1965. The driving force behind the building of the church was the Parish Priest of Gort A’Choirce, Canon Shields and he is spoken of with much affection by older people from Inishbofin. And by all accounts deservedly so.
There seems to be a definite interest in Lourdes and the apparation of Lourdes. Canon Shiels probably had been to Lourdes. There is a photograph of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes and the Stations of the Cross are in French as well as English. They may have been bought in Lourdes.
Constable Charles McGee, RIC
Sean spoke of Constable Charles Mc Gee a young man in his early twenties from Inishbofin Island who was a member of the Royal Irish Costabulary (RIC) and who was killed at Castlebellingham, County Louth on Easter Monday 1916 on the first day of the Easter Rising.
We have more on Constable Charles McGee in Other Resources / Further Reading
Paidir Inis Bó Finne
Dr Lochlann Mc Gill, who is no stranger to Inisbofin from his days of medical practise, produced a copy of Paidir Inis Bó Finne (The Prayer of Inisbofin). Seán read the prayer and translated it to English.
While our views today across the water to Magheraroarty and beyond are indeed scenic, these waters are treacherous in bad weather with many lives endangered in these waters.
Salmon Fishing Tragedy, 1929
The story told of this tragic event is told on our website in Other Resources / Further Reading.
Daring Rescue from the Stowijk, 1940
Seán told us the story of the Stolwijk a ship that was grounded on a rock near Inisdooey. To read more of this daring rescue see the story on our website in Other Resources/ Further Reading.
Seán went on to tell of the hard life here on the island with no turf of their own, it was all carried from the bog beyond Magheraroarty and then by row boat to the island; at a time before the harbour was built. Although with the right spring tide, you can walk to the island on the stone beach causeway but local knowledge is essential.
There were no more than 120 souls on Inishbofin in the 1960s before they melted away to take up residence on the mainland; well before the harbour and church as we see them today were built.
After a short stroll over the island to admire the sands of the east beach we returned to the harbour for our ferry trip back to Magheraroarty.
Many thanks to Seán Boner for introducing us to this island, it’s history and the story of the people that called this home.