Seven small islands in West Cork

Down in Ireland’s southwest corner are seven inhabited islands: Cape Clear, Sherkin, Heir and Long Island in Roaringwater Bay and Whiddy, Bere and Dursey in Bantry Bay. The Atlantic is the mother of these islands and Ireland is their father. She meets his shores, his beaches, jetties, piers and lighthouses with her demanding embrace and the result is these children, these seven wild, beautiful islands. They are hard to reach and difficult to manage. Their father the mainland provides them with goods and supplies, keeps contact through ferry lines, wires and cables, gives them grants, rules, admonitions and punishments. They lament and grumble and wishes for more from their father. With their mother, it is different. She just encloses them with her warm gulf stream, infinite, mysterious and beautiful.

I’ve been here for just a week. The week before, a severe storm raged over the islands, destroying ports and beaches, houses and boats. Tough weather is coming back next week. I have been lucky to get five calm days, some with pouring rain, some bright and sunny.

I’ve been here to discuss and plan energy solutions within the framework of a project called SMILEGOV which has member islands from Italy, Sweden, Finland and the Aland islands. We have used a method called Six Thinking Hats.

West Cork islands

The seven islands

Each island is special, each island has its own character:

Oilean Chléire: can an island be more beautiful? I met with Michael John and Máirtín O’Méaloid (who was on my home island Kökar in the Baltic Sea this summer with ESIN) and learned about the cooperation that operates nursery, carpentry, the public bus, the Summer Colleges, hoping to get the contract to build the new water supply systems the island, and who is one of the shareholders of the ferry that skipper Duncan operates in most weather conditions.

Sherkin is an almost car-free island with lovely walks and cycle routes 5×3 kilometres big. It has more than a hundred residents, a school, a pub and a hotel. There are remnants of a Franciscan cloister – just as on my home island Kökar. The island has no local refuse disposal facilities, so you are encouraged to take your litter back to the mainland or recycle cans and bottles on Sherkin pier.

Heir is sometimes called Inishodriscol ie O’Driscoll’s island. It is a surfers, swimmers and divers island with 6 all year round and 150 summer residents. The restaurant offers shrimps, lobster, crab and salmon and there is a summertime bakery on the island. You can see otters, seals, basking sharks, dolphins and whales, and an extravagance of wild flowers and birds.

Long Island is only a five-minute trip by boat from Colla Pier over the Long Island Channel. The island is five kilometers long and only 800 meters wide, with ten permanent residents and a large sailing school.

Whiddy has 22 residents and a pub open in the summer and on weekends during the winter. Here, the oil tanker Betelgeuse exploded in January 1979 and took 50 people’s lives. I ask Jackie O’Sullivan, who was there, about the catastrophy. He replies: ” I ​​worked there as a pilot, boy. It was terrible . Terrible. ” The giant oil terminal that gave so many jobs, that was the whole future of the area, is now used to a very limited extent mainly for the Irish oil reserve.

Bere Island is a 11 km long, narrow island with 200 inhabitants . The island consumes 5,885,582 kWh in a year of which ¼ is diesel in agriculture and ¼ is the ferry’s bunker. Gas accounts for only 1 percent and briquettes for 1 percent, coal for 9 percent and wood for 3 percent. Heating oil accounts for 19 percent and finally electricity for 17 percent. The per capita energy consumption per year is 29 kWh per year, very good for being a small island!

Dursey finally is the little sister in the crowd with a special transportation solution: the cable car was built in 1969 across the 374 meter wide Dursey sound. Inside the cabin with room for six passengers (up until two years ago, you could also take cattle and sheep) is a bottle of holy water next to the emergency telephone. I wonder which one I should use first.

Six Thinking Hats

Using the Six Hats, we had a workshop on the islands’ energy use and supply, from six different perspectives. Some of the findings were:

White hat: an island like Cape Clear is importing energy for the cost of 200,000€/year summing up to € 2 million in ten years. That’s a lot of money leaving the island!

Black hat: the islands are threatened by (a) emigration, (b) public funding being cut down and cut down and cut down, (c) telecommuting which does not want to take off, (d) not having a sharp and effective marketing of islands as a residential area, and (e) not being part of the renewable energy revolution.

Green hat: there is great potential in improving households’ own energy production (heat pumps, solar, wind, collectors) and in lowering household energy consumption (isolation, household energy monitors) including transports. A testing project for electric cars could be of interest.

More broadly, there are a large number of houses that could be sold / rented if they were in better condition.

Health issues are important. The district nurse Margaret on Cape Clear will soon retire, who will replace her? Transport issues are likewise important. Rosarie, born on Dursey, says that when you are no longer allowed to take the cows and sheep in the cable car to Dursey, how can one be a farmer there? What will happen to the islands’ 500 sheep and 80 cattle?

Planning for the Future

Because of small populations and geographical remoteness, key infrastructure facilities and services are costly to support. As Michael John says: “We are an expensive but valuable population”, and adds: “Islands are cheap to live in but expensive to operate from.”

The seven islands have developed a common integrated strategic plan for the next ten years. They have become a priority in the County Cork. They have an Islands Community Council where Robbie Murphy from Sherkin is president, and they have the West Cork Islands Agency headed by County manager James Fogerty .

“We want to make the islands a better place in which to live, work, visit and do business.”

A small island is typically led by a local community. The road ahead includes long walks through the corridors of power. In Ireland there are townlands and baronies and there is the Community Council and the Islands Interagency Council organised under County Cork which belongs to the Munster Province which is part of the SouthWest Region in the Ireland nation and, at the end of the corridor, the European Commission.

This is the same for all small islands. All levels must taken into account and that is why this project deals with ”multilevel governance” = the many levels of applications and argumentation and lobbying and decisions, trying to find ways to get energy projects all the way through to financing.

The Irish are active in European Small Islands Network (ESIN) and generally have a talent for collaborating, creative funding and smart managing of projects. There are 9.5 million islanders on Europe 1967 small islands. These are seven of them.

Christian Pleijel


Bere island

Foto Chuck Kruger

The ferry comes to Cape Clear in rough weather (photo Chuck Kruger from the Cape Clear homepage)


Patrick O’Drisceol is a deckhand on the Cape Clear ferry




The cable car to Dursey


Margaret the nurse of Oiléan Chléire (to the right)

Dursey island

Dursey coastline


Jackie O’Sullivan


County Cork manager James Fogerty


Mairtin O’Mealoid and Michael John


Syd Cheatle on Sherkin island


Rocks on Cape Clear


View towards Fastnet lighthouse on Oilean Chléire

Rosarie och hennes man

Rosarie and her husband walk towards the cable car on Dursey


  1. Thanks Christian

    Sound like a fun time!

    best regards

    Mike Craigie +44-7802 916577 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Craigie Engineering Sales & Services Ltd 45 Hamnavoe, Stromness, Orkney Islands KW16 3JQ, UK Tel: +44-7802916577

    Specialists in the Valuation, Marketing, Sourcing & Relocation of Surplus Power Plant and Auxiliary Equipment.

    Linked IN: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Mike Craigie’s interview with Howie Firth:

  2. Nice read. Just a few corrections you may know about already. Duncan does not skipper the ferry he is a deckhand, Fachtna is captain. The picture of ‘Duncan’ is actually Patrick O’Drisceol, a farmer and also part-time deckhand on the ferry.

    • Thank you David. I have been told this already by Mairtin O’Mealoid but have failed to correct it here on the ESIN webpage. But I will, now.
      Regards, Christian

  3. Would love to work as a Public Health Nurse (with Midwifery experience)
    on the islands
    ,,,,,Should be a delightful &unique experience

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