The great 19th century author William Thackeray wrote of Clew Bay, “…the bay and the Reek, which sweeps down to the sea, and the hundred isles in it, were dressed up in gold and purple and crimson, with the whole cloudy west in a flame. Wonderful, wonderful!”
Local legend has it that when Yoko Ono had a different experience when she first stepped on the isolated island of Dorinish in the late 1960’s. She was swooped upon by nesting seagulls and swore never to return.
John Lennon had earlier arranged for a wooden “gypsy caravan” painted in psychedelic colours to be brought from London and floated out to the island on a purpose built raft as a temporary home. He later agreed to allow Sid Rawle, the “King of the Hippies” to establish a commune on the island.
Dorinish (pronounced ‘Dorinch’ locally) is just one of 142 named islands and large rocks in Clew Bay, and many more anonymous patches of land above the Atlantic waves, as well as countless ‘drowned’ drumlins.
The largest of these is Clare Island, home of the “Pirate Queen” Grace O’Malley. This 16th century legend imposed her will on countless ships in the area. As a result, she was famously invited to meet a curious Queen Elizabeth. O’Malley refused to bow before Elizabeth because she did not perceive her as the Queen of Ireland. Their discussion was carried out in Latin, as O’Malley spoke no English and Elizabeth spoke no Irish.
The most striking icon around this jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way is Croagh Patrick, known locally as “The Reek”. This beautiful mountain dominates the landscape as seen from the vibrant town of Westport. It is on this 765-metre summit that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days even while vanquishing the snakes into Lugnademon – the “Hollow of the Serpents”.
Such stories are a part of “Croagh Patrick and the Islands of Clew Bay – A Guide to the Edge of Europe”, the new book by Michael Cusack. This is the first time that every island in Clew Bay, their history and other details, have been explored for the armchair traveler, along with tales of the great mountain, shipwrecks, the magical Brackloon Wood, and other remarkable aspects of this area.