By Greg Aragon
I experienced a lot of fascinating sights and sounds on my trip to Ireland last fall. I drove passed rolling green hills, speckled with thousands of fluffy white sheep and herds of slow-moving cattle. I stopped by the mysterious Johnstown Castle that was built between the 15th and 18th centuries in beautiful gothic revival-styled architecture. And I visited the storybook County of Wexford where I found colorful buildings, medieval cobblestone streets and fishing boats.
One of the most interesting things I did on this trip was taking a ferry ride from the small fishing port of Baltimore, Cork County, to Sherkin Island. The 10-minute voyage across calm waters was enjoyable and cost about 10 euros.
Once we docked at Sherkin Island I was amazed at the beautiful array of landscapes. As the Atlantic Ocean sent waves crashing on sandy beaches, I admired grassy meadows and hilltops speckled with rocky outcroppings. I saw ancient structures, tiny harbors, and colorful fishing boats. I had to explore.
Stretching about 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, this tiny island has a population around 100 people and lies off the southwest coast of Ireland in Roaringwater Bay. The island boasts two hotels, a bed and breakfast, and a pub called Jolly Rogers, where I had a pint of beer and a sandwich after exploring the island on foot.
Sherkin Island has four different walking paths that can appeal to people of all hiking abilities. Each one holds stunning views exhibiting the different points of the Island. Horseshoe Loop is the shortest of the four, measuring roughly 1.2 miles roundtrip. It features rough terrain, mixed with a few roads. The walk goes around Horseshoe Harbour and offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. It also offers a few nice spots to sit and take in the island atmosphere.
After walking Horseshoe Loop I did the Sherkin 3 Yellow hike, which is almost 2 miles long. This trek heads towards the north side of the island offers wonderful views of Baltimore Harbour and passes a couple secluded pebble beaches that are perfect for a swim if you don’t mind the water a little chilly. The stroll also passes Sherkin House and The Jolly Roger, where I had lunch. While relaxing at The Jolly Roger, I read about some of the island’s fascinating history.
There are numerous ancient remains on Sherkin Island. One of the oldest archaeological monuments on the island is Wedge Tomb, located near Sherkin Point, at the western end of the island. This box-shaped, megalithic tomb is believed to be more than 4,000 years-old. This is the earliest evidence to date of human activity on the island and suggests the possibility that an established community inhabited Sherkin at that time.
Other ancient island remains include two possible Promontory forts that possibly date from 500 B.C. – 400 A.D.; the Franciscan Friary, which was established in 1460 by Fineen O’Driscoll; and Dún na Long Castle, which was built in the 1600s overlooking the entrance to Baltimore Harbour. Today, the ruin of Dún na Long is incorporated into the grounds of Sherkin House, one of the island’s two hotels.
Besides old ruins and great scenery, Sherkin also boasts interesting plants and flowers, and wild life. For bird-lovers, the island’s ocean location makes it a good spot for numerous migrating species. Other animals to look for include foxes, bats, frogs, lizards, and sea life such as dolphins, otters, seals and the occasional whale.
Fishing is also good on the island. Sherkin sits at the mouth of the River Ilen with salty ocean water mixing with the bay. This means lots of fish, such as pollock, mackerel, bass, sea trout, cod and more.
One of the island’s biggest attractions is its artist culture. Known as the Island of the Arts, the place has long been a sanctuary for artistic souls. Today, scores of artists, writers, painters, photographers, hand crafters and more live on the island. Sherkin Island is host to an artist trail with many of the artists opening their studios to the public look out for the signs on the road.