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Paddleboarder Ellen Glynn Special Guest at Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr

15th July 2023
At the opening of the
At the opening of the "Buoys” exhibition at Inis Oírr arts centre from left to right - Caomhán Pheití, special guest Ellen Glynn, Paraic Ó Conghaile and Dara McGee Credit: Cormac Coyne

One of two Galway students who survived a 15-hour ordeal overnight on paddleboards in stormy waters almost three years ago returned to the Aran islands for a unique exhibition opening yesterday.

As The Irish Independent reports, Ellen Glynn (20) was warmly welcomed by residents of Inis Oírr, who had been out searching for her on the night that she and her cousin, Sara Feeney, were declared missing at sea.

“It’s not triggering any more,” Glynn told the newspaper shortly after alighting from a bumpy ferry crossing from Ros-a-Mhíl to the southernmost Aran island.

Paddleboarder Ellen Glynn going blue for drowning prevention day at the Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr and below Ellen with one of the exhibits Photo: Cormac CoynePaddleboarder Ellen Glynn going blue for drowning prevention day at the Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr and below Ellen with one of the exhibits Photos: Cormac CoynePaddleboarder Ellen Glynn going blue for drowning prevention day at the Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr and below Ellen with one of the exhibits Photo: Cormac Coyne

Glynn was just 17 and Sara Feeney was 23 when they survived 15 hours on paddleboards in thunder, lightning and a north-easterly gale after they had been swept some 33 km from Furbo beach out the mouth of Galway Bay.

A key factor in their survival was their mental fortitude - they sang Taylor Swift songs to keep their spirits up.

In spite of exhaustion, they found the strength the following morning to secure their boards to floats marking crab pots set by Aran fisherman Bertie Donohue off Inis Oírr. At this point, they had been at sea overnight, wearing lifejackets and swimming togs.

After Claddagh father and son Patrick and Morgan Oliver located them on their fishing vessel that next morning, they landed them onto Inis Oírr pier, from where they were flown by Irish Coast Guard helicopter to hospital in Galway.

When Inis Oírr arts centre director Dara McGee decided that buoys collected by local fishermen should provide material for an artists’ exhibition this summer, he extended an invitation to the two women.

Sara Feeney is in New Zealand, but Glynn, who is studying at University of Galway, was a special guest at yesterday’s opening of “Buoys” at the island’s arts centre, Áras Éanna, along with her parents, Deirdre and Johnny.

McGee says the idea arose after the success of Áras Éanna’s “Curracha” exhibition in 2021 which saw 21 artists decorate 21 currachs displayed throughout the island during that Covid-restricted summer.

The “Buoys” exhibition came about after island fishermen had retrieved dozens of abandoned pieces of gear.

Roger Sweeney of Water Safety Ireland, who spoke at the opening, said that the exhibition “connects so well” with World Drowning Prevention Day on July 25th.

“It’s a reflection on the wonderful story that belongs to Ellen and her cousin, Sara, and it’s a remembrance of those who were not so lucky,” Sweeney said.

“It’s also an inspiring call to action through the arts that people need to make water safety part of their conversation with loved ones,” he said.

Sweeney said that 41 people have drowned so far this year in Ireland, but the overall annual figures are declining. While Ireland had 207 drownings on average every year in the 1980s, the ten year average is now 105 at a time when the population is increasing steadily.

Ellen Glynn, along with her parents, Deirdre and Johnny at the Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr Photo: Cormac CoyneEllen Glynn, along with her parents, Deirdre and Johnny at the Buoys Art Exhibition on Inis Oírr Photo: Cormac Coyne

Sweeney noted that 80 per cent of people wear a lifejacket when involved in aquatic activities, which is up from 66 per cent in his organisation’s survey of 2017.

That survey also found that four in five people say that swimming and water safety education are “necessary life skills” which the Government, corporate sector and all sectors of society “must respond to”, Sweeney said.

All of the painted buoys have been hung along the stone walls leading to Inis Oírr’s lighthouse and have also been photographed for Áras Éanna by island photographer Cormac Coyne.

Participating artists include Michael Mulcahy,who was one of Inis Oírr’s first artist in residence, Galway city artists in residence Margaret Nolan, Siobhán O’Callaghan, Páraic Breathnach, Mary Fahy and Esther Stupers.

Also participating were artists Alissa Donoghue, Aisling Nic Craith, Martin Keady, Mykayla Myers, Philip Jacobsen, Rachel Towey, Sian Costello, primary school pupil Niamh Ní Dhonnacha and Natasha Mc Menamin.

Emma O’Grady and McGee collaborated for their buoy, which is illustrated with a poem written by O’Grady, entitled “Past the point of Rescue”.

It was inspired by the paddleboarders’ ordeal, O’Grady explained, before reading it at yesterday’s event.

“Buoys” is on display as an outdoor trail from the lighthouse on Inis Oírr from now until the end of September.

A parallel exhibition, entitled “Cloch” or “Stones” at Áras Éanna involves the work of photographers Cormac Coyne, Jacqui Reed of Donegal and Hwan Jin Jo of Jeju island, south Korea.

The photography in their exhibition reflects stone wall work on the Aran island and the similar dry stone wall tradition shared by the Korean island, where the south Korean residents work with volcanic rock.

Read more in The Irish Independent here Team

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Ireland's offshore islands

Around 30 of Ireland's offshore islands are inhabited and hold a wealth of cultural heritage.

A central Government objective is to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the islands.

Irish offshore islands FAQs

Technically, it is Ireland itself, as the third largest island in Europe.

Ireland is surrounded by approximately 80 islands of significant size, of which only about 20 are inhabited.

Achill island is the largest of the Irish isles with a coastline of almost 80 miles and has a population of 2,569.

The smallest inhabited offshore island is Inishfree, off Donegal.

The total voting population in the Republic's inhabited islands is just over 2,600 people, according to the Department of Housing.

Starting with west Cork, and giving voting register numbers as of 2020, here you go - Bere island (177), Cape Clear island (131),Dursey island (6), Hare island (29), Whiddy island (26), Long island, Schull (16), Sherkin island (95). The Galway islands are Inis Mór (675), Inis Meáin (148), Inis Oírr (210), Inishbofin (183). The Donegal islands are Arranmore (513), Gola (30), Inishboffin (63), Inishfree (4), Tory (140). The Mayo islands, apart from Achill which is connected by a bridge, are Clare island (116), Inishbiggle (25) and Inishturk (52).

No, the Gaeltacht islands are the Donegal islands, three of the four Galway islands (Inishbofin, like Clifden, is English-speaking primarily), and Cape Clear or Oileán Chléire in west Cork.

Lack of a pier was one of the main factors in the evacuation of a number of islands, the best known being the Blasket islands off Kerry, which were evacuated in November 1953. There are now three cottages available to rent on the Great Blasket island.

In the early 20th century, scholars visited the Great Blasket to learn Irish and to collect folklore and they encouraged the islanders to record their life stories in their native tongue. The three best known island books are An tOileánach (The Islandman) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig by Peig Sayers, and Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years A-Growing) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. Former taoiseach Charles J Haughey also kept a residence on his island, Inishvickillaune, which is one of the smaller and less accessible Blasket islands.

Charles J Haughey, as above, or late Beatle musician, John Lennon. Lennon bought Dorinish island in Clew Bay, south Mayo, in 1967 for a reported £1,700 sterling. Vendor was Westport Harbour Board which had used it for marine pilots. Lennon reportedly planned to spend his retirement there, and The Guardian newspaper quoted local estate agent Andrew Crowley as saying he was "besotted with the place by all accounts". He did lodge a planning application for a house, but never built on the 19 acres. He offered it to Sid Rawle, founder of the Digger Action Movement and known as the "King of the Hippies". Rawle and 30 others lived there until 1972 when their tents were burned by an oil lamp. Lennon and Yoko Ono visited it once more before his death in 1980. Ono sold the island for £30,000 in 1984, and it is widely reported that she donated the proceeds of the sale to an Irish orphanage


Yes, Rathlin island, off Co Antrim's Causeway Coast, is Ireland's most northerly inhabited island. As a special area of conservation, it is home to tens of thousands of sea birds, including puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots. It is known for its Rathlin golden hare. It is almost famous for the fact that Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, retreated after being defeated by the English at Perth and hid in a sea cave where he was so inspired by a spider's tenacity that he returned to defeat his enemy.

No. The Aran islands have a regular ferry and plane service, with ferries from Ros-a-Mhíl, south Connemara all year round and from Doolin, Co Clare in the tourist season. The plane service flies from Indreabhán to all three islands. Inishbofin is connected by ferry from Cleggan, Co Galway, while Clare island and Inishturk are connected from Roonagh pier, outside Louisburgh. The Donegal islands of Arranmore and Tory island also have ferry services, as has Bere island, Cape Clear and Sherkin off Cork. How are the island transport services financed? The Government subsidises transport services to and from the islands. The Irish Coast Guard carries out medical evacuations, as to the RNLI lifeboats. Former Fianna Fáíl minister Éamon Ó Cuív is widely credited with improving transport services to and from offshore islands, earning his department the nickname "Craggy island".

Craggy Island is an bleak, isolated community located of the west coast, inhabited by Irish, a Chinese community and one Maori. Three priests and housekeeper Mrs Doyle live in a parochial house There is a pub, a very small golf course, a McDonald's fast food restaurant and a Chinatown... Actually, that is all fiction. Craggy island is a figment of the imagination of the Father Ted series writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, for the highly successful Channel 4 television series, and the Georgian style parochial house on the "island" is actually Glenquin House in Co Clare.

Yes, that is of the Plassey, a freighter which was washed up on Inis Oírr in bad weather in 1960.

There are some small privately owned islands,and islands like Inishlyre in Co Mayo with only a small number of residents providing their own transport. Several Connemara islands such as Turbot and Inishturk South have a growing summer population, with some residents extending their stay during Covid-19. Turbot island off Eyrephort is one such example – the island, which was first spotted by Alcock and Brown as they approached Ireland during their epic transatlantic flight in 1919, was evacuated in 1978, four years after three of its fishermen drowned on the way home from watching an All Ireland final in Clifden. However, it is slowly being repopulated

Responsibility for the islands was taking over by the Department of Rural and Community Development . It was previously with the Gaeltacht section in the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht.

It is a periodic bone of contention, as Ireland does not have the same approach to its islands as Norway, which believes in right of access. However, many improvements were made during Fianna Fáíl Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív's time as minister. The Irish Island Federation, Comdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, represents island issues at national and international level.

The 12 offshore islands with registered voters have long argued that having to cast their vote early puts them at a disadvantage – especially as improved transport links mean that ballot boxes can be transported to the mainland in most weather conditions, bar the winter months. Legislation allowing them to vote on the same day as the rest of the State wasn't passed in time for the February 2020 general election.

Yes, but check tide tables ! Omey island off north Connemara is accessible at low tide and also runs a summer race meeting on the strand. In Sligo, 14 pillars mark the way to Coney island – one of several islands bearing this name off the Irish coast.

Cape Clear or Oileán Chléire is the country's most southerly inhabited island, eight miles off the west Cork coast, and within sight of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, also known as the "teardrop of Ireland".
Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast, which has a monastic site dating from the 6th century. It is accessible by boat – prebooking essential – from Portmagee, Co Kerry. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was not open to visitors in 2020.
All islands have bird life, but puffins and gannets and kittiwakes are synonymous with Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. Rathlin island off Antrim and Cape Clear off west Cork have bird observatories. The Saltee islands off the Wexford coast are privately owned by the O'Neill family, but day visitors are permitted access to the Great Saltee during certain hours. The Saltees have gannets, gulls, puffins and Manx shearwaters.
Vikings used Dublin as a European slaving capital, and one of their bases was on Dalkey island, which can be viewed from Killiney's Vico road. Boat trips available from Coliemore harbour in Dalkey. Birdwatch Ireland has set up nestboxes here for roseate terns. Keep an eye out also for feral goats.
Plenty! There are regular boat trips in summer to Inchagoill island on Lough Corrib, while the best known Irish inshore island might be the lake isle of Innisfree on Sligo's Lough Gill, immortalised by WB Yeats in his poem of the same name. Roscommon's Lough Key has several islands, the most prominent being the privately-owned Castle Island. Trinity island is more accessible to the public - it was once occupied by Cistercian monks from Boyle Abbey.

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