Omey Island (1992 and 2019)

Omey Island has been a place of burial for thousands of years and as such, the dead have
always outnumbered the living. Set at the northern edge of Connemara on Ireland’s west coast,
the island is cut off from the mainland by a tidal causeway for five hours each day.
Since the death in 2017 of Pascal Whelan, a former Hollywood stuntman of films such as
Live and Let Die, the island no longer has any permanent residents. Feted by tourists for the annual
horse race and for its spectacular wild camping, the island’s grim and tragic past is however,
never far from the surface. Severe storms over the last thirty years have resulted in the
erosion of important archaeological sites dating from the Bronze Age to the aftermath of the Great
Famine. In the summer of 1992, I was walking along the shoreline when a dog ran past holding what
looked like a large stalk of kelp in its mouth - but it turned out to be a human femur. Just ahead
in a sand dune, an initial excavation of a mass burial site from the Famine was underway,
yet bones and skulls were strewn across the beach. On the beaches of Omey, you could just as easily
stumble across disarticulated bones as you could a limpet or a scallop shell.
In the intervening years and to protect the archaeology from being lost for ever, remains have
been removed from the shores for research by Tadgh O’Keeffe at University College Dublin.
Twenty seven years later, I returned to find the island still disgorging its past and visited
a site known as Crocan na Mban - The Hill of the Little Women. Here now live the island's only
residents - rabbits, who, as rabbits instinctively are want to do, work hard to keep their runs and tunnel networks free of obstructions. As such, lying at the entrance to each burrow are the disinterred bones
of the buried bleaching in the sunlight. This year, former islanders petitioned University College
Dublin for the return of the bones removed in 1994 so they could be reburied on the island
in family graves.

45 images - a selection shown here