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Connacht Tribune

New book looks at history of Omey island

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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

Connacht Tribune

Man in his 70s killed in South Galway crash

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A man in his 70s has died following a crash in South Galway on Tuesday afternoon.

Gardaí are currently at the scene of the two-car crash, which occurred at around 3.35pm on the N18 at Kiltartan.

The driver and sole occupant of one of the vehicles, a man in his 70s, was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was taken to University Hospital Galway where a post-mortem examination will be conducted at a later date.

The driver and sole occupant of the other vehicle involved, a man in his 30s, was taken to University Hospital Galway for treatment of his injuries which are believed to be non-life threatening.

The road is currently closed and will be closed overnight awaiting an examination by Garda Forensic Collision Investigators have been requested.

Gardaí have appealed for any witnesses or road users with dash cam footage to contact them. 

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Connacht Tribune

Schools and colleges in Galway advised to close for Storm Barra

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Schools in Galway have begun informing parents that they will not open tomorrow, following advice from the Department of Education.

The Dept said this evening that schools, colleges and universities in areas where a Status Orange or Red warning apply for Storm Barra should not open.

A spokesperson said: “Met Éireann has advised that there is a strong possibility that the status of parts of these counties currently in Status Orange are likely to change and escalate to Status Red.

“Due to the significant nature of Storm Barra, as forecast by Met Éireann and to give sufficient notice to institutions of further and higher education, the department is advising that all universities, colleges and further education facilities covered by the Red Alert and Orange warning from Met Éireann should not open tomorrow, 7 December.

“All schools and third level institutions should keep up-to-date with the current weather warnings which are carried on all national and local news bulletins and in particular any change in the status warning for their area.”

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Connacht Tribune

Galway Gardaí: ‘Stay at home during Storm Barra’

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Gardaí in Galway have warned people to stay home tomorrow (Tuesday) as Met Éireann forecasted a ‘risk to life’ ahead of Storm Barra’s expected landfall tomorrow morning.

At a meeting of the City Joint Policing Committee (JPC), Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath said the City Council was preparing for the ‘high probability’ of coastal flooding.

A combination of tomorrow’s high tides with the forecast high winds and heavy rainfall would likely lead to a flooding event, he said.

Chief Superintendent Tom Curley said the best advice available was to stay at home but refused to comment on school closures – advising that was a matter for the Department of Education.

Mr McGrath said a number of meetings between local and national agencies had already taken place, with more set to run throughout the day as preparations got underway for this winter’s first severe weather event.

“High tide is at 6.45am tomorrow morning and at 7.20pm tomorrow evening. There is currently a Red Marine Warning in place for the sea area that includes Galway and an Orange Storm Warning for Storm Barra for 6am Tuesday morning to 6am on Wednesday morning,” said Mr McGrath, adding that it was possible this storm warning could be raised to Red later today.

With high tide at 5.45 metres and a forecast storm surge of 1.05m, the risk of flooding was significant. In addition, winds were currently forecast to be South-West to West, said Mr McGrath, conducive to a flooding event in the city.

“It is potentially problematic . . . the hope would be that the storm surge doesn’t happen at the same time as high tide,” he added.

The flood protection barrier had been installed at Spanish Arch over the weekend and storm gullies had been cleaned. Sandbags were to be distributed throughout the day, said Mr McGrath.

Council staff would be on duty throughout the weather event and Gardaí would be operating rolling road closures from early morning. Carparks in Salthill were closed today, while tow trucks were on standby to remove any vehicles not moved by their owners before the high-risk period.

Chief Supt Curley said it was imperative people stayed home where possible.

The best way to say safe was to “leave the bicycle or the car in the driveway” from early tomorrow morning, and to stay indoors until the worst of the storm had passed.

Met Éireann has warned of potential for flooding in the West, with Storm Barra bringing “severe or damaging gusts” of up to 130km/h.

A Status Orange wind warning has been issued for Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork from 6am Tuesday to 6am Wednesday, with southerly winds, later becoming northwesterly, with mean speeds of 65 to 80km/h and gusts of up to 130km/h possibly higher in coastal areas.

“High waves, high tides, heavy rain and storm surge will lead to wave overtopping and a significant possibility of coastal flooding. Disruption to power and travel are likely,” Met Éireann said.

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