A few hours walking on Claggan Island near Belmullet is an escape to a magical world of tranquillity and wonderful coastal scenery on the Wild Atlantic coast of Co Mayo.
Claggan Island (Oileán Chloigeann) has the distinction of being Mayo’s newest island – having only been officially declared an island in 1991.
The tiny island is situated on the north-eastern corner of Blacksod Bay, about 12kms from Belmullet, in the townland of Bunnahowen (Bun na hAbhna) and in the parish of Kilcommon (Cill Chomáin). It has a population of just 8 people and is one of the Mayo Discovery Points on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The island is linked to the mainland by a narrow, sandy causeway that divides Trawmore Bay from Blacksod Bay and it is circled by beautiful sandy beaches in every direction you look.
Srah beach winner of a Green Coast Award
Srah beach, on the shores of Blacksod Bay, is most impressive and was a winner of a Green Coast Award in 2014. Srah is a long, curved, sandy beach where it is safe to swim – and perfect for long walks with wonderful views of Achill Island, The Mullet Peninsula and the Nephin Beg mountain range.
The view south of Achill and Slievemore Mountain (An Sliabh Mór) and Croaghaun, the most westerly peak of Achill Island, is spectacular from Srah and matched by the vista of the Mullet Peninsula to the west.
Everywhere you walk on Claggan you are surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.
Birdlife abounds and you are certain to see a few of the island’s large population of rabbits on your walk. Claggan Island is also a great spot to observe marine life such as seals and otters, often seen from the clifftop on the north side of the island.
Belmullet Coastguard Station gets new lease of life
The island has been home to generations of the Howard family who both farm and provide holiday accommodation on the island.
Lawrence and Myra Howard have restored Belmullet Coastguard Station to its former glory and transformed the lovely building, dating from the late 1700s, into luxury holiday accommodation that is proving very popular with holidaymakers from all over the world.
Laurence embodies all that is best in Erris people – hardworking, enterprising and friendly; the perfect host, who is a goldmine of information about all the visitor attractions in the barony of Erris.
Laurence and Myra spent a number of years working in Saudi Arabia before returning home to take over the family farm and develop further the hospitality business started by Laurence’s parents in the 1980s that also includes a holiday cottage with magnificent sea views.
Such is the success of their venture that the Howards have just installed two luxury camping or glamping pods for visitors that should be a big hit for those looking for the fun of a camping holiday with the comforts of home.
Sculpture embraces forgotten
One of the sculptures on the North Mayo Sculpture Trail is located on the Howard farmland, commemorating those buried in the Cleggan Island cillín – an ancient unconsecrated burial place for children unbaptised at the time of death.
Acknowledgement by Westport-born sculptor, Marian O’Donnell, is constructed from earth and stone, bisected by a narrow curved passage, opening out to “embrace” the cillín where unbaptised children and unknown bodies, including drowned sailors, were buried.
Surviving the wild Atlantic waves
Claggan Island has suffered from the damaging effects of climate change in recent years with its dunes taking a severe battering last winter.
During the devastating storm and sea surge that caused havoc all along Ireland’s west coast in January 2014, the causeway linking Claggan Island was severely flooded, cutting the inhabitants of the island off from the mainland for a number of hours.
However, the worst flooding to hit Claggan occurred in January 1991 when, what is described by Met Eireann as a Windstorm, roared in from the North Atlantic, whipping up waves of 15 metres that submerged the island’s land link for a number of days.
It was only after that weather event that Claggan (although always known as an island) was finally officially declared an island. So it can be said, in bureaucratic terms at least, that Claggan Island is County Mayo’s newest inhabited island.
The term for the bar of sand joining Claggan Island to the mainland is known as a Tombolo. The sand dunes that back onto Srah beach and comprise much of the causeway are threatened by erosion and Mayo County Council is continuing with a dune restoration project.
Coastal defences against flooding and erosion that have proven to be successful were also put in after the flooding of 1991, but the islanders are now calling for further work to be carried out following the severe damage caused during the winter storms of 2014.
Claggan Island may cling precariously to the Mayo mainland, but its beauty, and the warm, friendly welcome waiting for visitors, make it one of those places in County Mayo that you must visit.