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Clare Places: Islands
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Mutton Island or Enniskerry
Mutton Island belongs to the parish of Kilmurry Ibrickane. It takes its name from "Iniscaorach". Samuel Lewis writing in 1837 describes it as; "half a mile from the shore, on the western coast It lies off that part of the coast which, from its rocky and dangerous character, is called the Malbay, and contains 210 statute acres of excellent land for feeding oxen and sheep, particularly the latter; hence the name "Mutton Island" from the fine flavour of the mutton. Mutton Island is the largest island off the Clare coast. Quilty is the nearest mainland village.
According to the "Annals of the Four Masters" the island was once called Fitha Island and it formed part of the mainland until the day "the sea swelled so high that it burst its boundaries, overflowing a large tract of country, and drowning over 1,000 persons." This happened on March 16th, 804. Some reports describe it as an earthquake, others as a tidal wave when "the sea divided the island of Fitha into three parts." These three islands are Mutton Island, Inismattle (or Illanwattle) and Roanshee (or Carrig na Ron). There is a fourth island in the area called Carraig Aolacan.
Lewis gives this account of Mutton Island; "On its shores are some curious natural caves, formerly used by smugglers for storing contraband goods. Here are an old signal tower and the ruins of an ancient structure, said to have been founded by St. Senan of Inniscattery." This small oratory, dedicated to St. Senan has since fallen into the sea.
There are two promontory forts on Mutton Island which were probably used as defence systems. In the north-east corner of the island are the graves of unknown sailors, believed locally to have belonged to a ship from the Spanish Armada fleet, "The Sao Marcos." The Signal Tower or Watch Tower is situated on the cliff edge. It was probably built because of the threat of a French invasion early in the nineteenth century. Local tradition has it that they were used in an effort to curtail the activities of smugglers. A cave on the north side of Mutton Island is called Poul Tabach, a reference to the contraband dealings that went on there. During the hectic days of the Sinn Fein courts the island was used as a detention camp. These courts operated outside the jurisdiction of the British legal system and continued to do so until the Free State courts were established.
The island was inhabited up to the 1920's but little remains of the village today. It is believed to have been home to twelve families in the nineteenth century. Names such as Gallagher, Kelleher, Griffin, Scully, Power, Boyle and Egan were associated with the place. They made a living partly from fishing. They also harvested kelp, dilisk and carrageen. Potatoes and vegetables were grown and they kept some domestic animals. The island, as its name suggests, had a long tradition of sheep farming. They also cut turf and hay was saved. Much of the island is good grassland, some is rough pasturage. A lake on the island covers an area of three to four acres.
Ownership of Mutton Island was in the hands of the Archbishop of Cashel in 1215. He was granted it by Donchadh Caibbreach O'Brien, though it later passed back to the O'Briens, then Earls of Thomond. William Stackpoole (1743-1796) was the agent and he sold his interest in the place to a Mr. McDonough. It was later owned by Mr. Griffin, an Ennis victualler. He sold it to the Casey family from Mullagh, who in turn sold it to Mr. Hafa, an American. In recent years it was bought by Pat Egan from Liscannor. Today, Mutton Island is inhabited only by wild goats, seals, rats, rabbits and birds.
T.J. Westropp, the antiquarian and surveyor, visited the island several times. In more recent times Eamon De Buitlear, an environmentalist, has spent some time here. Dick Warner from R.T.E. included Mutton Island in his television documentary. The island is a quiet, unspoilt area of natural beauty, rich in history, geology, archaeology and botany.