EXPLORING OMEY ISLAND

 

There are beautiful wild flowers to enjoy on Omey Island, right through the late Spring and the whole Summer!  Click the thumbnails below to see a tiny sample of what's on offer right now; these photos were taken on Omey on 1st and 2nd April - just a few days ago. Our page "Wildlife and More" has a much more extensive gallery of the wildflowers we've seen during early Springtime. And we'll be adding to that Gallery as time passes. Many of the wildflowers need your help with identification - if you know the missing names or can correct ours, we'll cheerfully acknowledge you and your help! Just mail us from the CONTACT US page.

Omey Island lies off Claddaghduff, and is a well-worthwhile destination in itself. 

The island suffered from a considerable amount of coastal erosion during the storms in early 2014, so that if you've been to the island before, you'll notice some debris - grass and peat and boulders, torn from the ground and tossed about. There are low cliffs where before there were none. Do watch out if you're walking round the island near the edge of the grass (especially on the western edge) - there was so much rain and spray that rabbit burrows in some cases turned into underground streams.  This washed away some of the underground sand; in places, you'll see that the grassland has collapsed near the edges; and you should watch out for these.

The island can be reached on foot or by car, from approximately half-tide to half-tide.  Make sure you check the tides before you head out, to make sure you aren't cut off and have to wait for some hours to get back to the mainland!  This group of visitors got it just wrong, and reached their waiting bus by wading across - we DON'T  recommend this unless (a) it's a very calm day, (b) you know the water is still not too deep, and (c) you're a strong swimmer!                     

MUCH BETTER TO... .... Ask the well-informed staff in Sweeney's shop/bar, who are always very well informed about when Omey Strand will be 'open' or 'closed').  Note that this website has a link to printable tide tables - just click on the "Useful Services" link in the menu, and scroll down.  Note also, though, that northerly winds, and conditions out at sea, can have a considerable effect both of tide times and on the tidal range.

 

Please note that Omey Island is a designated Special Area of Conservation (S.A.C.), because of its ecological importance. Visitors should refrain from any actions that would damage to the environment. For example, campfires lit on the ground damage the very sensitive environment for years, destroying the natural balance, and sometimes killing off rare species of plant or other creatures. Omey is home to a number of rare and important plants and creatures, including unusual staghorn beetles, for example. Help to protect and preserve this special place.

 

 To reach Omey strand and island, look out for the large Church of Our Lady The Star of The Sea, very close to the centre of Claddaghduff, and drive down the small road beside the church.  You can either park your car in the car-park at the end, and walk across (please don't park on the side of the road, blocking the view from the houses there, as they are holiday homes, and the occupants won't thank you for spoiling their view!), or you can follow the signs on the sand by car, and drive across slowly.

Much of Omey Island is available for walkers to ramble freely. HOWEVER, note that there are quite large tracts which are private, and which are used for farming purposes. Please respect fences and keep away from fenced-off areas and from livestock.

There is a road running across Omey, from Omey Strand across to the Atlantic shore, with a sandy beach in a deep bay beside it. Interesting and beautiful walks include:


  • Walking across the sandy Strand, and on across the island on the small road - you will pass a freshwater lake, Fahy Lake, on your right-hand side as you cross (the photograph to the right above shows how it looked during the Big Freeze over Christmas 2010!).
  • A complete circumnavigation of the island, around the shore-line.
  • If that seems too far, a half-circumnavigation, either of the north half of the shoreline or the south, using the road as a return route.
  • But before you 'land' on the island itself, and are still crossing the Strand, note on the right-hand side a large Cemetery, which contains some very old graves of local people and families, but which is still very much in use today. A respectful wander around the cemetery will give you an idea of many of the local names, as well as a poignant reminder of just how short many people's lives have been; and of the many local people who had to travel far away, returning only to be buried on their beloved peninsula.

Further along to your right and past the modern-day cemetery, right on the shore, you will see the signs of ancient 'middens' - dumps of shells and other detritus, from thousands of years ago, now exposed by constant erosion of the shale banks. Nearby to there is an ancient cemetary from which winter storms frequently dislodge old human remains dating back from two hundred to a thousand and more years.

In the early seventh century, St Feichin founded an important monastic settlement on Omey Island (with an outpost on nearby High Island). In recent decades, the ruins of St Feichin's Church were excavated from the moving sand of Omey, and you will find it today (photo on left), not far from the shore on the mainland side, its ancient granite stones pink in the sun.

Half-way across the island by the road, look carefully and you'll see a rough track to the left (not far after a private driveway to a modern house); this leads to a very beautiful steeply sloping beach (see left). It's a lovely place to sun-bathe or swim - but be warned that the sea deepens quickly on this beach, and there are treachorous currents for those who are not strong swimmers. On no account leave children unguarded on this beach, to swim without supervision.

When you reach the far (Atlantic) side of Omey, the views are beautiful.

One of the most striking islands offshore you may  remember from driving the Aughrus Loop - this is Cruach Island, very distinctive with its sharp crags on its northern end...

 

 ...While looking back towards the mainland - to the left, the view is over Fahy Lake, with the mainland  and some of the Twelve Pins mountain range in the background - the views are equally lovely...


From higher ground on Omey, looking across Fahy Lake, note the tiny dry-stone-walled fields on the promontory - see the photo below:

 

 

 

 

In winter, or during storms, the island and the view are still very beautiful, but in a different way: now you will see the real power of an Atlantic storm, having crossed an ocean and driving ashore on Omey's granite shore and off-lying reefs. 

 

 

  

Not far beyond the beach at the end, and to the right, of the road, is St Feichin's Holy Well (now dry), still revered - many people leave  objects and notes in memory of  departed loved ones, in the small alter.

The Well is still revered, and each year on St Feicin's Day (14th January), people still go to the Well to pray and offer their devotion. So tradition lives on.

Sadly, the wooden cross which for many years was placed above the alter, gradually rotted (as you can see in the photo to the right), and in a vicious winter storm in late 2011, it was carried away (though, as you'll see, the pieces were fashioned together into a crude cross again). AND...during Summer 2012, someone made and put in place a brand new cross - so now there are two crosses on the well itself. The two small crosses near the well are in memory of Betty McKinley, who used to own Norah's Cottage (last house on the left on the way down to the strand, and to Aileen Judge, who tragically died at age 22 from a fall from a pony on the Strand. We knew her; she was a lovely, lovely young woman. There are now other memorials in the vicinity of the well, to others who have passed on.

The violent storms of early 2014 caused much erosion right around Omey Island, and indeed very nearly undermined the Holy Well - after 1,300 years! But it's still there, and still safe.

In early 2016, thanks to the good work of Feicin Mulkerrin and with the help of John Joe Corbett, the sea side of the well was protected by a large quantity of boulders placed there, and back-filled, giving much-needed protection to the well itself. We understand (mid-January 2016) that the Office of Public Works is currently examining the well to see what can be done to repair the damage on the other three sides, caused by underground erosion due to run-off from the intense rainfall experienced in recent times.


This is a lovely place - a place for reflection and simply to enjoy the beautiful vista before you: the Atlantic right in front, Slyne Head, with its lighthouse near the end, jutting out into the sea. Slyne Head's outlying rocks make it just the most westerly point in Connemara - and almost in the whole of Ireland - though many of us would say that Aughrus is the most westerly inhabited point of Connemara!

During the summer months, the island is strewn with many and varied wild flowers growing in the short grass; the soil is almost pure sand, and with its good drainage it is ideal for salt-tolerant alpine and shore plants. From mid-summer, the low-growing wild thyme is in flower; walking over it, its fragrance will fill your nose with delight!

Look out for all those rabbits, which abound all over Omey. Look out for their burrows, too; they could break an ankle!

Walking further along to the right brings you to the extreme North-West end of the island. Along with broad beds of ancient granite, warmed by the sun (if you're lucky!), you'll find a secluded and usually empty sandy beach. Here, on the right, is the beach on a breezy day; on other occasions you'll find it smooth and inviting, the water crystal clear, and the swimming safe.

There are so many other things to tell you about Omey - and things to see as you walk - but better to leave it to you to explore for yourselves.

NOTE THAT HEATHER GREER AND MARY LOVETT ARE CURRENTLY WORKING ON A BOOK ON OMEY ISLAND - ITS NATURAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY - AND THIS SHOULD APPEAR IN 2017, IF NOT BEFORE. SO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THIS NEW BOOK. WE HEAR TELL OF ANOTHER BOOK BEING WRITTEN ABOUT OMEY; SO YOU SHOULD SOON HAVE A CHOICE OF READING MATTER ABOUT THIS LOVELY ISLAND.

Don't forget to remember: there is a flood tide as well as an ebb. Check the times in Sweeney's for crossing and returning, before you head for Omey, and keep an eye on your watch.

 

We hope you will really enjoy your visit to Omey Island. It's a special place; and one you will never forget.