It’s ten years now since I interviewed Pat Rua Reilly, of Glenlara on the Mullet. Although he passed away in 2008, just days short of his 101st birthday, I still think of him.
Pat was born in 1907, to William and Bridget (O’Donnell) Reilly. He was, at the time of my interview, the last living survivor of the terrible fishing tragedy of the night of October 28, 1927, which took the lives of 10 Iniskea fishermen, including two of his own brothers.
Of course, Pat was interviewed many times in his later life, becoming a living recorder of what life was like on the long since abandoned islands off the western side of the southern Mullet peninsula. Much of the interview I carried out with him is perhaps of little value, but over the coming days, I will transcribe here some of the more interesting passages from that day back in the year 2000.
There was something magical about Pat Rua Reilly. He had a way with words and his voice sang with lovely lilting and music, even though Irish, of course, was his native tongue. Despite the years passing since I interviewed him, I still regularly listen back to the tape as I drive, impersonating the wonderful way he would say little things, like “not a bit” (in response to what difference it made to move to the mainland from the islands) and “you wouldn’t know how they were” (when asked to explain an island custom).
The Iniskea Islands :
Lying 4 km west of the southern Mullet peninsula, the Iniskeas North and South were re-inhabited from the late 18th to the early 20th Centuries. An earlier Bronze Age to early Christian settlement had long since left.
The islands’ population grew steadily through the 19th and early 20th Centuries, even during the period of the Great Famine in the 1840s.
The second half of the 19th Century saw major land management and other changes on the islands, with the result that emigration took place and, perhaps, the hitherto tight social structure began to unravel. Outside influences multiplied and the islands were to change.
The night of October 28, 1927 wreaked havoc on the western seaboard, with over 40 men drowned in a fierce storm, of whom 10 were Iniskea fishermen. Within a few short years, the Iniskeas would be abandoned.