Inishkea (south) Island National School, Inishkea south, Co. Mayo
NGR: 55721, 321451
Getting to the Inishkea Islands off the west coast of County Mayo can be difficult. There is no ferry service or regular connection between the mainland and the two offshore islands. Located out beyond Blacksod Bay, apart from flocks of free-roaming sheep and a thriving seal colony, the islands have been uninhabited since 1934.
The Inishkea Islands have lain almost untouched since the last permanent residents left. Visitors are infrequent by all accounts, though a man has reportedly been living on the north island for two years without contact, electricity or even a boat.
Pulling into ‘the anchorage’ at Porteenbeg on the sheltered eastern side of the island, you pass the diminutive Rusheen Island where there are the remains of an old whaling station. Ahead on the shore is a line of crumbling stone houses overlooking a white deserted beach. The sea is clear and turquoise, calm and sheltered on the eastern side of the island, even though waves can be seen crashing silently in the distance on the western shore, that coastline being exposed to the wild Atlantic.
The story of the Inishkea Islands and how they came to be abandoned in 1934 is a sad one. The islands supported a population for thousands of years. The earliest evidence of settlement dates back at least 5,000 years and there are numerous archaeological sites from the Neolithic period and several Early Christian monastic sites. In 1946, the French archaeologist Françoise Henry excavated evidence of a seventh-century dye workshop on Inishkea North where monks were producing dye from the shells of the dog whelk. But in more recent centuries, people were primarily engaged in fishing and farming. The population was enough to support schoolhouses on both the north and the south islands.
However, on 28 October 1927, the men from the islands were night-fishing in the clear waters surrounding the islands when a sudden, violent storm blew up, which caught them unawares. Some of the currachs managed to reach home but several failed to return. One reputedly was taken all the way to the mainland, where it fetched up with its crew unharmed. In the morning, it was discovered that several currachs and ten young fishermen had been lost. The island community was devastated and never fully recovered from the tragedy. By 1934 most of the inhabitants had been voluntarily rehoused at Glosh and Faulmore on the Mullet Peninsula. At that time, the national school at Aughlem on the mainland was extended to accommodate the resettled island children but it signalled the demise of traditional life on the island. The old schoolhouses on Inishkea North and South were left to fall apart.
The schoolhouse is made of local granite stone. Today it is but a shell and nearly nine decades of exposure to the Atlantic have taken their toll. There is no roof, there are no remaining distinguishing features, the fireplace in the gable wall has been robbed-out, and if there was ever a name and date plaque, it is gone, too.
In form, it is very similar to the example on nearby Achill Beg Island; the rubble-and-brick construction comprises a detached, single-storey, two-bay, one-room schoolhouse with a tall, single-light window at its northern gable. The schoolhouse at Achill Beg dates to 1903, and this schoolhouse is likely to be of a similar date.
Among the final school teachers at Inishkea South was Eugene Judge, (1910-1998) who taught in the school between 1930-1933. I don’t know if there is anyone still living today that attended this school, but if you or someone you know attended this national school, please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have. You can do so here. If you would like to purchase the book The Deserted School Houses of Ireland, visit the shop page here.