From the Pirate Queen to John Lennon
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 terns 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.
The largest of the islands 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.
Some 12,000 years before Granuaile, Clew Bay was covered in ice. As the temperature rose and the ice retreated, wave like patterns left sediment on the surface of the land, leaving these drumlins sloping from west to east with their massive boulder clay cliffs.
It isn’t hard to be inspired by this part of the world. It is one of nature’s great spectacles and it only takes a few minutes climb on Croagh Patrick to see why. Its swarm of drumlins is unlike anything else in western Europe. Local lore suggests that there is one island for each day of the year.
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”.
Other stories abound, like the successful opposition to Gold Mining led by people like the late Paddy Hopkins and the British environmentalist David Bellamy in 1989; the 43 shipwrecks lying beneath the Atlantic waves, including two ships of the Spanish Armada; the Tochar Padraig – a pilgrimage trail Saint Patrick was said to have followed, but which was once part of a much longer trail stretching all of the way to Rathcroghan – the home of the High Kings of Connaught – and some say even Tara itself; the southern wilderness with its Western Way and the Famine Road; then there is magical Brackloon Wood on the slopes of the mountain – with its stone circle and ringfort; and the other Bronze age remnants all around the Reek.
These and other stories are all a part of “Croagh Patrick and the Islands of Clew Bay – A Guide to the Edge of Europe”. For the first time every island in Clew Bay, their history and other details, have been explored for the armchair traveler, along with tales of the great mountain and other remarkable aspects of this area.
About the Guide
Michael Cusack first climbed Croagh Patrick at the age of six and countless times since. His grandfather Peter Hopkins was one of the last Clew Bay pilots and his great-great grandfather was the Admiralty Pilot for the west coast of Ireland. Cusack spent several years racing on the Irish national cycling team before moving to Vienna, where he worked as a furniture restorer, and later Saudi Arabia, where he became a recreation specialist and was privileged to travel to places like Mongolia, China, Kenya, Russia, Zimbabwe and then on to America, where he got married, obtained a master’s degree, raised his two sons and worked as a business analyst before returning to Ireland about 18 months ago.