Inishkea (south) Island National School, Inishkea south, Co. Mayo
NGR: 55721, 321451
For two months I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to make my way out to the Inishkea Islands off the west coast of Co. Mayo. There is no ferry service or regular connection between the mainland and the two islands. Located out beyond Blacksod Bay, nobody lives there anymore; in fact the islands have been empty of human life since 1934, with the only inhabitants these days being flocks of free-roaming sheep and a thriving seal colony. I’d been out to Blacksod on the Mullet peninsula twice in April and May only for my possible lift to Inishkea failing to materialise. But late one Friday evening I got a phone call to tell me that a boat would be leaving in the morning from Termon Pier, and if I could get there I’d be able to hitch a lift out to the empty islets – they couldn’t say when exactly I might be coming back. Nonetheless, I took the chance and left for Blacksod early the next morning.
After several disappointing attempts to get to Inishkea over the preceding months, the straight burn across the Bangor stretch toward Belmullet was familiar. I made it to the pier, and to their word, Geraghty’s boat was, thankfully waiting there. Pulling out into Blacksod Bay the sun sparkled on the calm seas, and the north side of Achill Island and Slievemore Mountain was a hazy shadow on the horizon. The islands were only about 45 minutes out to sea though I could have watched the passing coastline of Achill in the glistening silver waves for hours.
The Inishkea Islands have been empty of a permanent population for about 85 years, and in that time they have lain almost untouched. Visitors are infrequent by all accounts, though the skipper tells me that one man has been living on the north island for two years without contact, electricity or even a boat. The skipper delivers him a food package once a month. Although this sounded intriguing I knew that in reality it must be tough – but I hadn’t seen the islands yet.
Pulling into ‘the anchorage’ at Porteenbeg on the sheltered eastern side of the island we passed the diminutive Rusheen Island where could been seen the remains of an old whaling station. Ahead on the shore were a line crumbling empty stone houses lined up like a deserted street overlooking a white deserted beach The pier was arranged for livestock arrivals rather than people, and I began to wonder that perhaps maybe this place was perfect, so perfect that even though I might go ahead and photograph the abandoned school house on Inishkea south, I might not post about it on this Blog for fear it might encourage any more visitors to this perfectly empty place, this empty island with it’s white beach that was almost blinding in the strong sunlight. The sea was clear and turquoise, calm and sheltered on the eastern side of the island, even though I could sea waves crash silently on the western shore in the distance: that coastline being exposed to the Atlantic.
However, on the 28th of October 1927, the men from the islands were night fishing in the clear waters which surround the islands and a sudden violent storm blew up which caught them unawares. Some of the Currachs managed to reach home but several failed to get back and one was reputed to have been taken all the way in and thrown up on the mainland 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, never fully recovered from the tragedy, and by 1934 most of the community had been voluntarily rehoused at Glosh and Faulmore on the Mullet Peninsula. At that time, the national school at Aughlem was extended to accommodate the resettled island children but it signalled the demise of traditional life on the island. The old school houses on the Inishkea North and South were left to fall apart. Below is a a photograph of the teacher and the island community outside Inishkea National School c.1920.
The school house was made of local granite stone. Today it is but a shell and 85 years of exposure to the Atlantic has taken it’s 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’s gone too.
In form it is very similar to the example on nearby Achill Beg Island; the building comprises a detached, single-storey, two-bay, one-roomed school house of rubble and brick construction with a tall, single-light window at it’s northern gable. The school house at Achill Beg dates to 1903, and this school house is likely of a similar date.
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.