You can get to this island from Galway on foot if you check the route and the tides

The ruin near the summit of this forgotten island in County Galway must once have inspired deep devotion. With magnificent views along the full length of Streamstown Bay – one of the narrowest inlets in the country – and a princely position as the only island in the bay, it’s a truly charming spot.

Because here, you really are the king or queen of everything you study. The views on a good day are sublime and if not quite to die for then not far.

On a bad day, like the one I chose to visit in July, the island was shrouded in impenetrable darkness that offered little appeal. It is debatable that the inhabitants of what is now a ruin must have felt a similar dejection on those days.

Out of such devouring misery, lasting impressions can be made, but for those willing to give destinations a second chance, eye-opening beauty can be found. Admittedly, the house was abandoned around 1841 and its occupants slipped into history. Its central location within the island’s 12 acres, now an ocean of ferns, had to be chosen as a vantage point, but not against the prevailing westerly winds as no tree cover was available. In this respect it is quite an unusual island in that the owners did not look for lower ground to build on, but rather chose the bay view of Streamstown.

Boolard Island, Co Galway looking out over Streamstown Bay. On the Sky Road, just west of Clifden. Photo: Dan McCarthy

Boolard Island is in the civil parish of Omey which has one of the most beautiful islands in the country as the jewel in its crown. This island, Omey, is defined by sand as it is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, while Boolard, in the benign gorge of Streamstown Bay, is entirely grass of one type or another. It is walkable at low tide, but local knowledge is required to find a suitable path, as is an up-to-date tide table booklet. It is only 60 m from the shore.

The surrounding waters were regularly used for oyster farming and for a long time the predominance of the beds was a source of irritation for the owners of the island who considered them a hindrance to access to the island. At the turn of the 20th century, legal action was taken against an oyster farmer preventing him from interfering with direct access to the island.

Boolard Island takes its name from the adjacent Boolard townland. An Bhuaile Ard which refers to the ‘high sheep pen’, although at 23m the island can barely qualify on this score. Just below its top, a collection of rocks is arranged that looks suspiciously like a prehistoric monument, possibly a corner tomb. However, that is where the perception ends, as no entry is evident in the archaeological record.

At the end of the Famine the island was in the possession of the Reverend Anthony Magee who was a bit of an islander at the time as he held ownership of Cruagh, High and Friar Islands. Whether the Reverend managed to make a profit from the grassy island of Boolard is uncertain, although quite possible.

Boolard Island can be seen from this wondrous tourist route known as the Sky Road, which meanders and winds through stunning countryside westward from the bustling town of Clifden to the rustic baronies of the Kingston Peninsula. These were the lands which were the stronghold of the Conroys in the 17th century – a name which still has strong associations with the region, as does its mistranslation “King” according to Tim Robinson in Connemara: the last pool of darkness.

Several islands that appeared in this series can be seen on the southern part of the Sky Road, including Turbot Island and Inishturk. Beyond are the glistening glories of Cruagh and the ancient monastic settlement of High Island. (And Friar’s Island, still elusive, yet to be conquered for this column).

How to get there: No tray. Kayaking seems to be the only way, as the lack of villages and even piers in Streamstown Bay prevents visits. There are several access points to the island on the northern and southern mainland.


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