If you have read some of the recent (not that recent in that they are from four years ago, but the most recent) posts on this long-neglected blog you will know that over the last five years I’ve been working to restore my family’s farmhouse on a small island in the Shannon. Known as Low Island to locals and Inishloe to cartographers, it’s a magical place. Uninhabited but still farmed, the 50 hectare island is a wonderful retreat from the world.
The long-term plan has always been to save the house from the encroaching vegetation which had a pretty firm hold of the eastern end of the house to the point of collapsing the roof in one room. We have cleared the surroundings of the house pretty well and have started – slowly, ever so slowly, nothing happens quickly here – to repair/replace the roof. The goal is, as it has been for the last few years, to get the roof done before the end of the summer. We might even have a chance of getting it finished this year if everything works out.
The island is a very challenging place to get to. It’s a 5km journey from Crovraghan Pier, the mainland hub for the islands of the Fergus Estuary, weaving up and down the channels that separate the islands. Some of these islands have piers or slips that allow access at all states of the tide, but not Low Island, it’s only possible to land close to high tide. The rest of the time the island is surrounded by vast amounts of silty, sticky mud. Treacherous stuff, you don’t want to set foot on it.
It would be very easy to cut it too fine with the tide and get beached, you would then have no alternative but to wait – a long, cold wait it would be – for the tide to rise. This has happened to my relatives and we have got close to it on occasion. So unless you own a hovercraft – which would be awful in the lumpy sea conditions anyway – then the window for access is very narrow.
The combination of the currents created by the large tidal range (up to 6m on a big spring tide), the river’s flow and the wind make for tricky crossing conditions. Ok there isn’t a big swell like you would get out on the west coast but the currents run fast, creating steep short-interval waves, particularly when the wind is strong. All this means that you can never but sure of getting to the island or getting back. The farmers have made provision for getting stuck on the island and in the past people have been stranded by the weather.
Another aspect of the island which niggles in the back of the mind is its vulnerability to rising sea levels. The hint is in the name I suppose. The highest point of the island is a mere 13m above mean sea level, which is about like 10m above high tide. The higher ground lies on the western side of the island and the eastern side, and the southeastern side in particular, is very low-lying. To the point that a long time ago drystone walls were built to protect this shoreline from erosion by the advancing seas.
Apparently in the past high tides and storm surges have penetrated deep into the centre of the island via the exposed southeast corner which faces the prevailing wind.
The above screenshot is a scenario taken from floodinfo.ie, the dark green represents the extent of the flood water in a 1 in 10 year flood. Not great.
Currently, the island is a very peaceful place; a couple of the local farmers visit every few days, we are there maybe six weekends a year, and the very occasional kayaker lands to stretch their legs, that’s it.
Thanks to the farmers the land hasn’t become completely overgrown, and the lanes are still passable. The north end of Canon Island serves as an example of what the land would look like if left completely to its own devices – in spite of the presence of a massive herd of goats there.
The island and the waters that surround it are part of the River Shannon and River Fergus Estuaries SAC (Special Area Conservation). Thanks to its unique habitats and the wildlife (particularly birds) that it attracts, the waters around the island are also part of a SPA (Special Protection Area). These designations give the island legal protection and hence there are significant restrictions on development.