Dursey Island lies off the coast of County Cork at the south westerly point of the Beara Peninsula, a mountainous promontory jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Today I have a visual treat for you. Come take an armchair tour of this lovely island with me.
Thanks to Barb, a reader in Boston, for sending me her lovely photos of this West Cork island, to share with you here on my blog.
Here’s a little video for you to enjoy.
The Dursey Island Cable Car:
The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of choppy waters known as the Dursey Sound.
Access to the island is via cable car. This aerial gondola reached its 50th anniversary this year, 2019.
This is Ireland’s only cable car, and a new €7 million plan to upgrade this system was announced this year.
This is an unusual cable car in that it actually crosses the ocean, a very rare phenomenon for aerial cars.
When I was a young girl growing up in Ireland, I boarded the cable car for a trip to Dursey Island with my granny, but lo and behold the car got stuck, and was left hanging over the Atlantic Ocean for what seemed like an eternity.
I’ll never forget my granny’s litany – a mixture of prayersand expressive words in the Irish language, as she implored the Heavens to get the car moving again.
We never set foot on the island. Once the car rattled to life and reached the island we never disembarked. We headed straight back to the mainland, and my granny swore she would never set foot on a cable car again.
She was true to her word. She never returned to Dursey Island, even though she lived to be 93 years young.
The journey on the cable car takes about ten minutes from the mainland, crossing the Dursey Sound where strong tides and covered rocks make boat journeys hazardous
Cattle Crossing The Atlantic Ocean:
The definition of a cable car is a conveyance for passengers or freight on a cable railway. And believe it or not, in the past, the freight carried on the Dursey Island cable car was often cattle.
Yes! Cows used to cross the Atlantic ocean on this aerial tramway, dangling over the choppy waves, on their way to and from the green grassy pastures of Dursey Island.
However, in 2012 the infamous, and ever changing health and safety regulations of Ireland and the EU, ruled the roost, and the poor cows were banned from the cable car for hygiene reasons.
They are now forced to cross the sound on boats.
A Dwindling Population On Dursey Island:
The cable car is the island’s main tourist attraction, but it also provides transportation for the island population – all 4 brave residents of this remote south westerly outpost.
Yes that is correct. The island population today reaches a grand total of 4.
Back in 1841 before the Great Irish Famine, there were 48 residents on the island. By 1911 there were 210 people living here, but this has dwindled down to 4 on the 2016 Irish Census.
Native islanders left Dursey through immigration and transfer to the mainland for a less harsh way of life.
Walk The Beara Way Through Dursey Island:
The Caha mountains form the spine of the rugged Beara Peninsula and they can be observed in all their glory from the shores of Dursey Island.
The scenery on a sunny day is simply spectacular.
The island is very popular with day-trippers. Many locals and tourists love to walk and stroll through the island’s highways and byways. Well, I suppose highway is a bit of an exaggeration.
Dursey island is a perfect size for walking at 6.5 km long by 1.5 km wide.
The Beara Way is a marked walk around the Beara Peninsula and a section of this signposted loop walk includes a Dursey Island trail.
Now Europe’s E8 long distance walking path begins on Dursey Island’s Beara Way walk. This is a cross-continent trail for the endurance athlete. It treks all the way from this small Irish island, across Europe and ends in Istanbul, Turkey.
If you plan a day trip to the island, please be fair warned. Dursey has no shops, pubs or restaurants.
At one point there was a post office on the island, but that was back in the day when the island population justified this service.
So pack a picnic, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the day.
And remember not to leave a trace behind. Anything you bring onto the island, take it back to the mainland with you on the cable car.
Good news! A summer bus service is now in operation on Dursey Island. If you get tired along the way the friendly driver will pick you up and bring you back to the cable car station.
Dursey Island Massacre:
At Ballynacallagh, one of the townlands on the island, there is a ruined monastic church and graveyard.
In the 16th century the O’Sullivan Beare family of West Cork held sway over this island. They built a castle and garrison here.
Oileán Beag is a tiny island lying 20m off Dursey Island at high tide. This was Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare’s garrison site at Dursey. A drawbridge linked the two islands but at low tide it is possible to clamber the rocks to the smaller land mass.
But there is a sad, sad story to tell.
From 1593 to 1603, a bitter conflict raged between the Irish and the English, known as the Nine Years War.
In 1602, the English pursued the army of O’Sullivan Beare to Dursey Island and destroyed the castle. All of the occupants of the castle were brutally murdered.
Philip O’Sullivan Beare, the son of this Irish leader wrote as follows about the Dursey Massacre…
“The English, after their wonted manner, committed a crime far more notable for its cruelty than their honour. Having dismantled the fort and fired the church and houses, they shot down, hacked with swords, or ran through with spears the now disarmed garrison and others, old men, women, and children, whom they had driven into one heap. Some ran their swords up to the hilt through the babe and mother, who was carrying it on her breast, others paraded before their comrades little children, writhing and convulsed, on their spears, and, finally, binding all the survivors, they threw them into the sea over jagged and sharp rocks, showering on them shots and stones. In this way perished about 300 Catholics, the greater part of whom were mercenaries of my father.”
After the massacre Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare gathered his people from across West Cork. They planned to seek refuge with the O’Rourke clan and set off northward toward Leitrim.
About 1,000 men, women and children started the journey and a mere, 35 survived to reach the O’Rourkes.
These poor refugees from Cork marched in convoy, but were brutally attached again and again by the English as they tried to escape.
Today on Dursey, there is little evidence of the O’Sullivan Beare castle, but watch out for the little island where it once stood.
As you pass by, do say a little prayer for the victims of this awful atrocity.
Local boatmen bless themselves as they pass the island.
Napoleonic Tower On Dursey:
During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century a signal tower was built on the island, to watch out for French ships that might try to land in Ireland.
The remains of this narrow rectangular tower still stand tall on the island.
Located on the hill furthest west on the island, from this signal tower site there are commanding views north to the Skelligs, and south to the Mizen. At least when the sun shines you can see far and near from here.
World War II Neutrality Sign:
During World War II a whitewashed sign made of stones was laid on the island. It spelled out the word “Éire.”
It’s purpose was to let fighter pilots know they were approaching Ireland, a neutral country.
We were begging the Germans not to bomb us by alerting them that this was not England . The remains of these signs are still to be found all along the Irish coastline.
A Luftwaffe plane crashed near Dursey island, in 1943 killing all the crew.
I think it would be lovely to see all of these World War II signs all around Ireland, restored and whitewashed again.
Airline passengers might be able to spot them as they traverse the skies above Ireland.
As you wander around this lovely island, do remember to watch out for birds, seals, whales and dolphins. There’s plenty of wildlife to see in this remote and unspoiled spot.
I hope you enjoyed our meander around Dursey today.
Many thanks to Barb for generously giving me permission to share her photos. I really appreciate it.
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Thanks for checking gout today’s ramblings around Dursey Island.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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