European Small Islands Federation

Archive for Ireland

A place to Bere in mind

Bere island lies in Bantry Bay, in the shadow of the famous Hungry Hill though with a high point of 267m at Knockallig is no mere pancake itself.

Bere Island is the second largest Irish island when islands connected by causeways or bridges are discounted. It is outranked only by Inishmore. In terms of population it is also the second ranked according to the same criterion with 216 people (2011 census). In common with other large islands it was once inhabited by over 1,000 people and peaked in 1926 with 1,182.

Bere island school-2

Islanders and best friends, Michael Orpen and Aoife Walsh, Bere Island, West Cork, running to rehearsals in the local heritage centre for their annual Nativity School Play. Michael played the part of Joseph and Aoife played the part of Mary in this year’s schools production on the Island
Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

And where many islands have dwindling populations with few activities, the phenomenal community spirit of Bere Island binds the island together as well as bringing in many visitors for these events. The list of activities upcoming for 2018 would put many large towns to shame. Some of the events planned include a religious retreat at Easter, an islands’ festival in June, Children’s summer camp in July, A Heritage Week in August and the All-Island football tournament in September. With hotels, B&Bs, Airbnbs, bars, cafes, restaurants and its Bakehouse Cafe with its sizzling garlic prawns, the over-riding impression of Bere Island is of a thriving
island community.

Scoil Mhicil Naofa is the school on Bere Island, which in the early 1900s, once had a total of three schools. It is the ’last school standing’ in Bantry Bay’s islands with two teachers and 18 pupils.

West Cork’s islands are taking a population battering, with Sherkin Island’s school closing, after 124 years’ service to the community, in 2016. Whiddy and Dursey also had their own schools. The school on Whiddy Island closed in 1947 with seven children on the roll, and the Dursey Island school was forced to close in 1975 when there were just five pupils left.

Principal of Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada explains how, as with all small rural schools, maintaining numbers is a constant issue: ‘This year five pupils will be leaving to start secondary school in Castletownbere and we have only three children due to start school.  We currently don’t have anyone in second class, as there was no intake that year,’ she said.

Principal Ní Dhonnchada and Katrina Ladden both live on the mainland and travel onto the island every day by ferry.  Support teacher Caoimhe Healy joins them two days a week.  Katrina teaches junior infants to second class, and Deirdre teaches third to sixth classes, with school secretary Marion O’Sullivan keeping everything running smoothly.

Bere island school-1

Sonia O’Sullivan with Bere Island national school                       Photo Niall Duffy @WestCorkPhoto

Physical activity is a big part the curriculum. Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada says: ‘We were actually one of the first schools in Beara to start weekly swimming lessons.’

Once a week, the children travel to the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry for their lesson. ‘Being on an island just means it takes a bit of extra planning. Whereas a mainland school needs to organise a bus to Bantry, we need to organise a boat to get us to the bus!’

Deirdre Ní Dhonnchada feels that ultimatley teaching in an island school doesn’t pose any major challenges. ‘It all takes a little bit more planning, but the very nature of an island community means that people always rally round to help out. The school is very much part of the community here, and we know anytime we need any assistance in arranging something, we only have to put the word out, and it happens.’

See earlier blogs (Norway) and (Clare Island and Sweden).

Many thanks to the Southern Star and the Irish Examiner:

Primary schools study

Peter Gill

Peter Gill is an Irishman living on Clare Island but he is a also a Professor Emeritus in Sweden, living what he calls a ‘bifurcated life’ between Clare Island and Sweden. He has a deep interest in islands and islandness (se for example from 1994). Together with Gráinne Kelly, he has just pu blished a report entitled ‘Rural Schools as Hubs for the Socio-Educational Development for the Community’.

Dr Gill argues that ‘a classic challenge to the survival of small rural communities is the closure of the local primary school’. He has examined the huge trend of migration towards urban centres and the purchase of island properties by ‘the bourgeois for holiday homes’. The bourgeois of the urban regions have, first of all segregated themselves, by habitation segregation, usually economically, through the price of houses.

Dr Gill compares Ireland and Sweden: “In 2009 more than half the world’s population lived in urban regions, and this drag to municipal centres remains unabated. Islands are at the forefront of this demographic perturbation, which involves significant depopulation and symbolic, partial, repopulation in the process called ‘gentrification’.  While Ireland’s more-populace eleven inhabited islands have 13 schools, Sweden has 541 inhabited islands, with 39 schools on 33 of them. “The facts are hard for at least four of Ireland’s islands, with two to eight children in their schools. In the Swedish ‘gentrified islands’, for example Sandhamn which has over 100 all-year-round inhabitants but over one thousand summer residents. It has no children of school-going age.’

Thanks to the fish farm on Clare Island, there are as many families with children in the school as there were in 1963. The school is vibrant, and the evidence is overwhelming that, contrary to a supposition of educational deprivation, the children from Clare Island school have done amazingly well,” he continues.

Clare Island is one of only four of the Irish islands in the study which experienced an increase in population between 1996 and 2011 (25 percent) and the least decrease in school enrolment (23 percent) between 1992 and 2015. It had 20 pupils enrolled in 2015, as opposed to 26 in 1992.

Co Cork’s Sherkin, on the other hand, experienced a 16 percent increase in population between 1996-2011 but a whopping 86 percent decrease in school enrolments between 1992-2015. Co Mayo’s Inishturk experienced the same dramatic decrease in enrolments (86 percent), says Dr Gill, with a 36 percent decline in its population from 1996-2011.

The islands included in the study are Bere, Cape Clear, Sherkin (Co Cork); Tory, Árainn Mhór, Inis Meain, Inis Oirr, Inis Mór, Inishbofin (Co Galway); Inishturk, Clare Island (Mayo).

Thanks Rhoda Twombly for observing this interesting article which can be read in full on the Mayo News here The full study – which is still a draft – is included below.


Skellig Michael


Skellig Michael is a rock island located 15 kilometres off the Kerry coast. One of Ireland’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this spectacular peak is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, among them; fulmars, gannets, guillemots, manx shearwaters, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, storm petrels, gannets and more.

First built by an incredible bunch of hermetical monks in the 6th century, the community of aesthitics remained on Skellig until the 12th century or so though the site has continued to be a place of pilgrimage for traveller from around the globe. Today, the remnants of the truly extraordinary monastery, elaborate stairs climbing the steep faces for hundreds of metres from different sides of the island to that enclosure and it’s other-worldly South Summit hermitage is without equal in the world.

Today it has become famous through the “Star Wars”. Although the film is taking place in a galaxy far, far away, they use real locations on earth to fill in for other planets. One of the most otherworldly scenes in “The Force Awakens” was filmed on Skellig Michael. The shoot there was shrouded in secrecy, and locals were told that the crew was filming a documentary. They were shocked to find a galaxy in their backyard.

Inis Mor threatened by ferry crisis

Aran Queen of Aran II 41

A ferry crisis is facing Inis Mor as the current service to the island is set to be withdrawn on Sunday, amid controversy over an 80 cent passenger levy.

While Irish politicians are arguing about whose fault this may be, in a matter of days, Inis Mor will be left without any service – and it’s being suggested that the Irish Navy may be forced to step in.