Michael Cusack is the author of the book “Croagh Patrick and the Islands of Clew Bay – A Guide to the Edge of Europe”. He first climbed Croagh Patrick at the age of six and countless times since. He has led several multi-week cycling and hiking trips for The Biking Expedition in both Europe and the United States. His travels have included several treks in the Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal, as well as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. A former member of the Irish National Bicycling team and Olympic Squad, he raced extensively in Europe and the USA. He holds a Master’s degree in communications.
Hear the interview with Tommy Marren of Midwest Radio on May 6th, 2016 about “Croagh Patrick and the Islands of Clew Bay – A Guide to the Edge of Europe”:
Inspiration for the book
It isn’t hard to be inspired by Clew Bay. It really 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. So when I returned home I scoured the Mayo libraries and the Internet and was surprised to find that while Clew Bay is often mentioned, especially as having an island for each day of the year, virtually nothing had been written the social history and geography of these islands with the exception of Clare Island – with Clare the most famous island in the bay, especially its association with Granuaile, or the Pirate Queen, but there are another 141 named islands in the bay, along with countless unnamed tidal islands and drowned drumlins. So these may well make up the 365, but as I said in my book, I leave that argument to those better informed!
In fact, I discovered that only those with strong associations with the bay know more than a handful of the island names, apart from John Lennon’s island of Dorinish (or Dorinch as it is called locally), and places like Inishraher, which is now a “Maharishi Capital of the Global Headquarters of World Peace” for the Transcendental Meditation organisation, and Inishturk Beg, which was bought and developed by the millionaire Nadim Sadek.
I found other curious stories about the smaller islands of the bay – like Inishdaugh with its legend of hidden Danish gold; Inishgowla with its valley and lake of fresh water; the lobster so big it has been trapped for thirty years in the cabin of a sunken ship off Inishgort; the commune led by ‘King of the Hippies’ Sid Rawle that survived on Dorinish for two years..
Using references like ordnance survey maps from 1848, field research and interviews, the national archives, and dozens of Internet sources, I was able to piece together what I think is the first complete picture of the bay. Having said that, the one thing I have learned is how little we really know about life on the islands.
I tried to relate some of the incredible stories around this part of the Wild Atlantic Way and Croagh Patrick, or the Reek as it is locally known. Like the successful opposition to Gold Mining led by people like my late uncle 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.