Omey is a tidal Island in Connemara off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland. From the mainland at Claddaghduff the island is inconspicuous and almost hidden. In fact you could drive along the coast road and not even realise the island exists in the panoramic view below you.
Sweeney’s bar of Claddaghduff will be your first port of call. There’s a nice shop there and a post office, beer, wine, petrol, diesel, gas and briquettes. From there you can check the tides and take in the view. Omey will come alive before your eyes. The size of the strand will become apparent if the tide is open. Be careful with the tide though, it can close with remarkable speed. Cross the strand by car or foot to enter Omey Island.
When the sea surrounds the island the atmosphere changes as if everything is at peace and in harmony. Poets, philosophers, writers and artists have been inspired by this sensation. Omey is as much a part of the spirit of the community as the people are. This is a place of joy and sorrow, of life and death. Don’t be fooled into thinking that time stands still here. Everything is constantly moving and changing with shifting sands, water, rocks and skies. This is a magical and mysterious place.
The first time my wife and I stayed on Omey we camped by the lake. We had come across the island by pure accident on a tour of Ireland in 2003. Our intention was to do the whole west coast but as soon as we found Omey that was it, we were hooked. An eventful few weeks, pottering around the island by day and lounging by a campfire at night.
It was a very peaceful holiday until something very strange happened one night. We were asleep in our tent when we heard a strange noise coming from the direction of the lake about 20 metres away. We listened for a while but curiosity got the better of us. I strapped on my little head torch and we crept out in the pitch black. Close to the shore I turned on the torch.
What a shock! A vicious snarl right below us, like a loud hiss, followed immediately by a huge splash. We were both nearly knocked over with the fright but I tried my best to keep my head steady to see what it was. It swam the width of the lake from west to east in what seemed like a matter of seconds. It moved quietly but left a fairly big wake.
When it got to the other side it clambered up onto a boulder at the waters edge. It turned around, stood up on its hind legs (that appeared to be orange) and gave the most haunting screech. My wife account of the incident is give or takes the same as mine. Its body was dark, and I’d say it was about the size of a large Labrador, and about five foot tall when standing. It turned and disappeared into the darkness of the area I call the Heart.
We scrambled back to our tent, completely stunned. This was something very strange, it wasn’t a swan or an otter or a badger. The next day we went across to Sweeney’s bar. Malachy served us and there were a few lads at the counter. I casually explained about the creature and there was nervous chuckling.
A man at the bar looked down into his pint of Guinness and said “There’s strange things over there on that island”. That was the first time we encountered the infamous Pascal Whelan, for nearly ten years he’s been the only full-time resident of the island. A character we have come to know and love. He was born on the island but left at an early age and had a colourful life and career around the world. A professional wrestler, a stuntman in the movies, he lived the life, returned to Omey and became a fisherman.
We now have two kids. Our three year old girl Matilda had a magical and no doubt memorable two weeks there with us recently. I asked her what her favourite thing about Omey was and she simply said “Running”. The limitless freedom that the commons offers is a rare spectacle these days. No walls or boundaries just open grassland with sandunes and boulders. It creates a surreal other world landscape. Little Alfie enjoyed the fresh air and humps and bumps from the comfort of his buggy. We were joined this time by my brother in law David and two of his kids Hugo and Abigail who have also become frequent visitors.
There is an abundance of rabbits, birds and flowers and a virtually wild herd of cows roams freely. A bit closer to captivation a 26 year old donkey called Snowy patiently grazes a little field with an occasional carrot from his admirers. From Pascal’s home I witnessed (and photographed) a black back gull devouring a whole rabbit in one swallow much to the annoyance of two grey hooded crows. During our stay a beautiful black calf was born and the lives of two horses were enlivened by the arrival of their foal.
On the morning of our departure the corncrake announced its arrival onto Omey. Some years back we spent an entire night with the piercing soundtrack of the birds call. A bit like a hoarse duck continuously calling creak creak rather than quack quack. Despite this the Corncrake is a much loved guest that also brings financial reward to land owners who delay the hay harvest to maintain the endangered birds’ habitat.
Things to do
Walking, swimming, snorkelling, fishing, bring a boat or canoe? You’ll amaze yourself at how much entertainment you can squeeze out of one little sandy island. We always bring our dogs, they love it, they can run for miles. Before long you’ll find yourself collecting yellow shells or white quartz stones. When was the last time you caught a crab? Explore the shore and rock pools at low tide. Boulder hopping, how’s your balance? Watch the sun set or the tide close or the moon rise. Simple things that we often overlook.
Make sure to get to the two rock mounds on the highest point, the eye as I call it is mesmerising. Above the lake see if you can identify Love Heart Rock not far from the poet Richard Murphy’s Octagonal Retreat. Bring a kite to catch the wind or some golf balls and clubs to meander to the head. Hire a bike or there’s pony trekking locally.
The landscape is ever changing; no two photographs will be the same. There is some visible history including the Sunken Church, the Holy well and ancient middens. There’s not much in the way of broadband, telephone reception or TV signal so prepare yourself for DIY entertainment. I’m currently reading Tim Robinson’s new book, Connemara, the last pool of darkness which is very enlightening and the fruit of over 20 years work.
The Star of the Sea Church is a stones throw from the island and there’s also a Community Hall. There’s often music on in Sweeney’s bar so make sure to catch up with your neighbours for a sing song! Once a year the strand plays host to the Omey Races, an amazing spectacle. Horses, jockeys, bookies, punters and spectators come from far and wide to the temporary racetrack in the sand.
If you want to spread your wings a little bit further, Cleggan is only around the corner where you can take a ferry to Inis Boffin. If you fancy someone cooking a good meal for you then head to Letterfrack which is also a good place to plan a mountain hike from. Take a day trip to Clifden, a bustling little country town about 10 miles away.
Places to stay
There are two houses currently available for rent on Omey Island. This time we stayed in John and Marion Mc Donagh’s comfortable and well equipped 4 bedroom bungalow. It’s the house with the horseshoe garage door overlooking the lake. It can be rented through www.shamrockcottages.co.uk
Next door is Anne Mc Loughlin’s original 1950’s cottage complete with simple open fire and white washed walls. Back to basics with a little kitchen and 3 bedrooms. Phone Anne on 00 353 (0)95 44779.
Alternatively plenty of visitors park up for a day or two in their camper vans or its ideal for camping. There are also many other houses available on the mainland if you want a handier base to explore Connemara. July, August and September are the busiest months for bookings but Omey is every bit as dramatic in the winter.
Photographer Kevin Griffin: www.kevingriffinphoto.com
Cleggan Beach Riding Centre: 00 353 (0)95 44746 or www.clegganridingcentre.com
Inishbofin House Hotel and Marine Spa: 00 353 (0)95 45809 or www.dayshotel.ie
Connemara National Park: 00 353 (0)95 41054 or www.connemaranationalpark.ie
Kylemore Abbey: 00 353 (0)95 41146: www.kylemoreabbey.com
Ireland’s Official Tourism site: www.discoverireland.ie
Connemara Heritage and History centre: 095 21808 or www.connemaraheritage.com
Books from Clifden Bookshop: 095 22020 or www.clifdenbookshop.com
Connemara, the last pool of Darkness by Tim Robinson
Connemara Wild Flowers, Introductory Guide by Dieter and Jane Stark
The Shores of Connemara by Seamus Mac An Iomaire
Connemara, Land of Contrasts published by Clifden Bookshop
Birds of Inishbofin by Tim Gordon
Collins Complete Irish Wildlife Introduction by Derek Mooney
Playing Dead. Outbreak. Malpractice by Rory Mc Cormac
Omey Island Map+Guide+Dvd available from;
Sweeney’s Bar (proceeds to Community Hall): 00 353 (0)95 44345
Community Council: proceeds to Claddaghduff Community Hall
Clifden Bookshop: 00 353 (0)95 22020 www.clifdenbookshop.com
Or phone me: 00 353 (0)87 2524657
Or my website: www.seancorcoranart.com
Special thanks to: Pascal Whelan, Malachy and Mary King, John Mc Donagh, Terry Minogue, Kieran Kelly. David and Jacqui, Hugo and Abigail, James, Miranda, Matilda, Alfie, Dermot Walsh, RTE Nationwide.
Please note that the placenames shown on the map are not the commonly used names. Scale is approximate. The contents and information are based on my studies of the island between 2003 and 2009. All rights Reserved. © Sean Corcoran 2009. The DVD Video contains over 370 photographs with a soundtrack by Moby, courtesy of www.mobygratis.com. Duration 17 minutes 44 seconds. It is best viewed with a 4:3 screen and uses PAL System. This format will not work in some countries or on all equipment, any difficulties please view the film in it’s entirety on my website www.seancorcoranart.com.
Sean Corcoran. 2009
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