Omey Island, that small tidal island lying to the south of Claddaghduff in North West Connemara, has always held a magical attraction for local residents and visitors alike.
Understandably so, because it’s a beautiful island, accessible by foot or car from half-tide to half-tide, covered in wild flowers during the spring and summer, and with history and more than a hint of mystery about it at all times of the year.
In her new book on Omey, Dr Heather Greer explores the origins of Omey as an island – its native rock types, dominated by the 422 million years old Omey granite (among the oldest in Connemara) and by much older Dalradian psammite rock peppering the west and south of the island, dating from around 750 million years ago.
When you consider that the Atlantic Ocean only began to form, brought about by the drift of continents around 140 million years ago, that is old indeed!
Heather also draws on cutting edge research conducted in Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere, to speculate on just when Omey actually became an island.
That was around 5,000 to 5,500 years ago, when the melting glaciers from the last major Ice Age melted and the sea rose.
There were probably humans around even back then, maybe witnessing the tides meeting for the very first time, during bad weather or of a full moon, to create what author and cartographer Tim Robinson refers to as a ‘sometime island’.
Some few thousands of years before that, the land that was Omey was far inland, covered no doubt – as was the whole of Connemara – by great hardwood forests of oak and elm, animals such as wild boar living within the undergrowth
Omey Island: A Geological and Human History has been a real labour of love for Heather for the past six or seven years and more.
The book is the result of a vast amount of research – going through the old annals; historical works on the area; PhD and other academic papers addressing aspects of Omey; and discussions and conversations with scholars and with local people originating from Omey (and their descendants in Ireland or the US).
The result is a 176-page book in three parts, with lots of illustrations and photos taken by Heather herself – producing an accessible and highly readable work but packed with information.
In fact, much of the information in the book has never before been made available to the reading public, and some was in grave danger of being lost forever – one of Heather’s key motivations in producing the book.
Part one of Heather’s book explores the geological formation of Omey, including research on the flying-saucer shaped granite ‘pluton that now forms most of Omey and the outer end of the Aughrus Peninsula.
That rock was formed when a tectonic plate moved under its neighbour when two supercontinents collided. Magma was intruded into the home rock, some 8 km below the surface. Being so deep, it cooled only slowly, permitting the formation of a coarse crystalline structure typical of granite.
Although the focus of this is upon the Omey area, of necessity it also covers the geological formation of Connemara itself, so that the book will be informative not alone of Omey but also of this western region of county Galway.
Part Two covers the human habitation of Omey Island, the first of whom were immigrants originating in England and the European continent.
Following the early medieval monastic period on Omey, Heather examines the evidence to conclude that Omey very likely became a base – albeit temporary – for Viking seamen heading south or north along the west coast of Ireland.
Later, following a probable revival of monasticism on Omey and other nearby islands, there was an early wave of pilgrims visiting the holy well there – Tobar Feichín – and staying in the houses of hospitality run by successive members of the Tuathaill (O’Toole) family on the island.
Heather also documents the changing ownership of the five main townlands that form Omey Island, from about 1,150AD to the present day.
That period of a thousand years embraces a still-vibrant monastic life; a late-medieval period, dominated by the O’Flahertys and O’Tooles (and, later, the O’Malleys of Grace O’Malley fame); and the long period from the 1500s to the mid-seventeenth century when successive English monarchs attempted to subdue the last of the ‘wild Irish’ and their old ways: a task finished decisively by Oliver Cromwell.
Then, right through the 19th century, there was the time of famine and emigration, when Omey and Ireland suffered, both by the push of poverty but the pull of a better life.
Later, reform of the land laws also saw changes on Omey, resulting in much of the lands being divided into commonages, shares in which were divided between from four to eight local land-workers.
And the final section examines the ecological and human threats facing Omey Island today, speculating on the eventual demise of Omey. Heather says that the major source of freshwater on Omey – Fahy Lake, or Lough Feichín as it once was called – is likely to be inundated in a matter of decades.
Within 200 years, it will probably be all over for Omey, perhaps other than a few rocky islets protruding from a much higher ocean. But that’s the future and this reflects on a glorious past; it is a book for anyone who loves Connemara in general – or Omey Island in particular.
■ Omey Island: A Geological and Human History, by Heather Greer is available in local shops on the Aughrus Peninsula, or at the Clifden Bookshop and All Things Connemara in Clifden – or online via ConnemaraDoorstep.com
First pub in County Galway to be convicted over Covid breach
A County Galway publican has become the first in the county convicted of breaching Covid-19 regulations after 70 customers were found on his premises during the partial lockdown last year.
Tuam Court was told that when the Gardaí entered the premises at Tierney’s of Foxhall, there was very little social distancing – and no food being served, as was the requirement at the time.
Proprietor Tom Kelly was prosecuted for the breach of Covid-19 regulations which carries a maximum penalty of €5,000.
After Judge James Faughnan was informed that it was an extremely large premises in rural North Galway, he remarked that when so many people are allowed into a pub, no matter how big, it is extremely difficult to control them.
Prosecuting Sergeant Christy Browne explained that several months ago there had been opposition for the renewal of the publican’s licence on the grounds of alleged breaches of Covid regulations.
He said that, on August 30 last, there were 70 people on the premises, at a time during the pandemic when there was the requirement to purchase a €9 meal before being served a drink.
Sergeant Browne explained that when the premises was inspected, there was no social distancing, there was no food being served and no evidence of food receipts.
Defending solicitor Gearoid Geraghty said that his client ran a huge premises that can accommodate 227 customers and added that his customers were spread among three separate sections of the premises.
While there have been objections to the renewal of publicans’ licences by the Gardaí for breaches of the guidelines, this was the first criminal prosecution that has taken place in County Galway.
Tom Kelly with an address of Corohan, Tuam, the proprietor of Tierney’s of Foxhall, was charged with breaching a regulation to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19. It relates to an alleged breach that occurred on August 30 last year.
The same defendant had been the subject of an objection to his licence by Garda Inspector John Dunne a number of months ago. He was ordered to pay €500 towards a charity at the time.
The Inspector had opposed the renewal of the licences for what he said were breaches of Covid guidelines during the course of inspections carried out when the situation was relaxed during the course of 2020.
Galway recycling company run by Travellers fronts national campaign
A Galway company which employs Travellers to recycle mattresses and wooden furniture has been picked to front a national campaign urging the public to support their local social enterprises which are seen as crucial in the post-Covid recovery.
Bounce Back Recycling has this month also been nominated for top green company in the country.
Social enterprises are businesses that operate mainly to improve people’s lives and achieve a social or environmental impact. While they trade in goods and services like other businesses, the difference is they reinvest their profits to achieve core social objectives.
Bounce Back Recycling provides a mattress and furniture recycling service to domestic and commercial clients as well as several local authorities from its base in Ballybane.
There are currently twelve members of the Traveller community who manage and run the social enterprise, with plans to employ a further four workers as it expands.
Workers deconstruct the mattresses and furniture by hand, a labour intensive and time-consuming process.
The steel from mattresses is sold on to a local steel recycling company while the foam is sent to a UK company to make carpet underlay. The textile or covering is compressed and sent to landfill.
Manager Martin Ward explains that between 75 and 80 per cent of the mattress is recycled.
Mattresses that normally end up in the landfill only start to decompose after 15 years – elements such as polyurethane foam and steel springs can take up to 100 years and 50 years respectively to break down.
Since 2017, the company has diverted 50,000 mattresses from landfill.
“In Galway we dispose of 30,000 mattresses annually and they’re going to landfill through a waste company or are illegally dumped. We identified a gap in the market for Connacht and Ulster as there was nobody recycling mattresses here,” he reveals.
The company received funding to set up but is dependent on users to cover ongoing costs such as wages.
It started off with 3,000 items in its first year collecting from around Galway. Last year it processed 20,000 pieces, operating across ten counties, with plans to expand nationwide. They are also preparing to open a unit in Sandy Road where they will upcycle and reupholster furniture and sell directly to the public.
“We’re happy to be part of this ‘The Future is Social’ campaign by Rethink Ireland to support social enterprises which deliver so many other positive impacts for every euro spent.
“Everyone is much more aware of doing their bit for the environment and we hope to be recycling 100,000 items by 2025,” says Martin.
Bounce Back Recycling charges between €15 and €25 for a mattress and €10 for collection.
“We run a collection service and only charge one delivery fee, regardless if it’s one or ten items. We’ve a big demand in Connemara because there is no civic amenity site so people who want to do the right thing for the environment don’t have any access to a facility.”
Bounce Back Recycling has been nominated as a finalist in the Green NGO (Non Government Organisation) of the Year.
It is among 40 companies which have received money from the Social Enterprise Development Fund. Nationally they employ 500 people, mainly from minority groups, generating €22 million in turnover.
The ‘Future is social’ campaign will provide regional webinars, information and resources about social enterprises.
Headford’s plans for public park and gardens
Plans to create a new public park and gardens in the heart of Headford were unveiled this week.
Headford Community Garden and Headford Men’s Shed have submitted a proposal to the Headford Development Association to create the park on the lands adjacent to their gardens in Balrickard.
A rewilded, multi-habitat park would transform outdoor living in the town and provide a much-needed greenspace that would be accessible to all – offering a relaxing setting for all ages and abilities.
The promoters also hope that the project would act as a model for other Irish towns, with Headford becoming a leading example of how parkland and greenspace can help to revitalise rural settlements.
“This proposal for a park and gardens in Headford will create a quiet natural space in the centre of town for all to access and enjoy. It is a project that will benefit the people and the businesses of the town and surrounding areas for generations to come,” said Aengus McMahon, spokesperson for Headford Park and Gardens.
Within the park the emphasis will be on biodiversity; the planting of native trees, introduction of biodiverse meadow spaces with mown paths, walking trails, picnic and play areas.
The existing gardens and new parkland will serve as an outdoor classroom for use by local schools.
There are existing plans for Presentation College Headord’s Seomra Seoda to utilise Headford Community Garden for outdoor classes. The park will be fully inclusive and accessible to all.
The space will also include an outdoor cultural space for concerts, theatre shows and special events.
“During the Covid lockdowns, it was our walks in the rural countryside and wild landscapes that provided therapy for both mind and body,” said Brendan Smith of the Galway National Park City initiative.
“So, in a post Covid world it is important that, for the health of human society and of the planet, we integrate green and blue spaces into the fabric of our cities, towns and villages,” he added.
Recently Galway’s County Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to fund a feasibility study to examine the development potential of a cycleway and greenway from the Galway city to Headford. The park would be the perfect landing site for a future greenway.
Groups already sharing the existing garden area include Tidy Towns, environmental groups, Scouts, Headford Lace Project, Yarn Bombers, Meals on Wheels and Ability West.