On the eve of Connemara’s Omey island races, relatives of islanders have initiated a petition seeking the urgent return of bones removed during an archaeological excavation writes Lorna Siggins
Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has also been urged to intervene to ensure that the bones, excavated in the 1990s, can be brought back for a Christian burial.
Ms Maggie Coohill, whose father was born in Omey, says she has spent the last five years seeking action and has now initiated the petition.
“Islanders were promised 30 years ago that these bones of their relatives would be returned,” she said.
Omey, a tidal island off Claddaghduff, lost its last full-time resident when stuntman Pascal Whelan died in 2017. Poet Richard Murphy built a hexagonal granite studio on the island.
Its annual Omey island races across the strand at low tide take place this Sunday from 1 pm
The island has evidence of occupation from the Bronze Age, up to 2000 BC, up to the Great Famine, when there were 400 residents. Its monastic site dating from about the 6th century is named after its founder, St Feichín.
The medieval site, which included one of the few reported burials of a woman within monastic ground, was excavated in the 1990s by Prof Tadhg O’Keeffe of University College, Dublin (UCD) after concerns that rabbits and erosion were causing damage.
The site was one of a number of west coast archaeological features damaged during severe winter storms of January 2014.
Ms Coohill said she was on holidays on Omey with her father when the excavation began on the north side of the island.
“My uncle, my dad and other locals were not in favour of the bones being taken off the island, but were assured that after they had been examined they would be returned to Omey and given a Christian burial,” she said.
“On January 16th, 2014, I contacted Prof O’Keeffe, and he informed me that it was always his intention that the bones would be returned to Omey,”
Ms Coohill said she now believed that “more than enough time” had been spent to conclude the research. She contacted Ms Madigan several months ago and asked her to intervene, and was told the decision was one for the National Museum of Ireland.
The Department of Cultural, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said the excavations in the 1990s were “commissioned by this department due to the damage and irreparable loss that was occurring to the human remains buried at the location”.
“The archaeological excavations confirmed large scale disturbance of the remains on account of erosion and burrowing activity,” it said.
The excavator in UCD is overseeing the completion of the various specialist analyses of the remains,” it said, and “this post-excavation analysis has benefited from advances in analytical and scientific techniques”.
“The department expects to receive final excavation reports later this year, subject to final completion of the specialist analysis, which will ensure that the story of the inhabitants of Omey is told”, it said.
“Any decision on reburial would then ultimately be a matter for the National Museum of Ireland to adjudicate on,” the department said.
The museum’s decision would be predicated on consideration of “all relevant factors.. as per the conditions of the excavation licence issued by this department”, the department said.
Prof O’Keeffe said the full report was almost complete and ready for publication, and as many individuals as possible had been identified by two professional osteologists (bone experts).
He said it was his personal hope to have repatriation in consultation with the National Museum of Ireland.
Publication of the findings would take place in the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society's journal, he said.
Retired stuntman Pascal Whelan was found at his home on Saturday (5 February) after a long illness, bringing to an end centuries of continuous habitation on the West Connemara tidal island that saw a steep decline in population over the last 100 years.
Whelan was the subject of a book by photographer Kevin Griffin two years ago, according to TheJournal.ie, which charted his rugged lifestyle.
A more recent book plots the remarkable history of Omey Island itself, which at its peak had over 100 residents a century ago, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.
As The Irish Times reports, the rare kite brooch was discovered by chance by McKenna McFadden while on a field trip with fellow New York University students led by Michael Gibbons, a local archaeologist.
It's since been identified as being 900 years old, and will be offered to the collection of the National Museum.
Omey Island is also the subject of a new book charting its remarkable history, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.
Strands of Omey's Story by Bernadette Conroy shows there's much more to the lands off Claddaghduff than the annual beach horse race, as Galway Bay FM reports.
Despite not being a true island, as its only cut off from the mainland when the tide is in, Omey has seen its population dwindle from over 100 a century ago to just a single resident in more recent years.
The 13-metre whale carcass has attracted thousands of onlookers to Omey Island in Co Galway.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the sperm whale was found beached with a broken lower jaw and shed of its skin.
The whale carcass was towed out to sea west of High Island on Thursday after being deemed too large to bury on land.
"Chances are it died offshore and got washed in with the wind," said Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
The IWDG added that such strandings were relatively common, although as reported on Afloat.ie last year there has been growing concern over the rising number of dolphin deaths along the south coast in particular.
Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group confirmed that reports had been received of a bottlenose whale on White Strand in Co Clare, a pilot whale on Fintra Beach in Co Donegal and a dolphin in Silverstrand, Co Galway - all found dead.
The latest find was a male sperm whale stranded on Omey Island in Co Galway, shed of its skin and with a broken lower jaw.
"Chances are it died offshore and got washed in with the wind," said Berrow.
The IWDG said such strandings were relatively common, although as reported on Afloat.ie earlier this year there has been growing concern over the rising number of dolphin deaths along the south coast in particular.