One of my favourite places in Ireland thus far is Dalkey Island. The island lies about 300m off shore and was made habitable by a fresh water spring, though it is currently unpopulated. It does, however, have a long history of occupation that stretches into the nineteenth century. As well as several goats, rabbits, and sea-birds.
Two structures remain; the Martello tower dominates, sitting at the summit of the island, and St Begnet’s church which lies closer to the shore. The small church, dedicated to St Begnet, likely originates from the 12th century. Martello tower, however, is a much newer rendition to the island. It was built as a direct response to the increasing tension between France and Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Irish, looking to secure themselves against French invasion, built a number of defensive posts into the landscape around the coastline. Martello tower was one of these and was completed in 1805.
To get there, I took the Dart from Tara station, a few minutes walk from O’Connell Street Lower on the south side of the Liffy, to Dalkey station (as seen below). From the station it’s a 15 minute walk to Colliemore Harbour from which the ferry departs. And in speaking of the ferry, I ask you to cast your mind back to the origin of the word; ‘to ferry’ is to ‘carry by boat over a body of water.’ Do not make the mistake I made and imagine a large boat.
I was rather nervous when I saw the ferry. I’d imagined the ferry to be a smaller version of the Eastbourne Ferry back home in Wellington. What I saw, instead, was more of a motor boat. And whilst there’s nothing wrong with a motor boat, nor the ferry itself, it just wasn’t what I expected, and that threw me off.
The ride over to the island was short; it took about seven minutes during which we saw a sunbathing seal. We arrived at the newly built pier on the west of the island and, upon arrival, traded life-vests with those waiting to leave. Within five minutes we, a friend I’d made during the wait, were alone and feeling a tad stranded. It was a little scary to consider the informality of the process meant we had little idea when the next boat would arrive. Our stay on the island was indefinite.
We didn’t ponder that for long, and quickly made our way up to the tip of the island where the Martello tower rests. From there, you could see the Wicklow mountains in the distance and, turning back, Howth in the distance. Sitting there, we spent a good hour taking in the sun, sea, and sights whilst sharing stories. It’s funny how a stranger can become like a best friend in the span of hours.
We explored the island some more, bushbashing a little to get through the thicket whilst being mindful of rabbit holes and the goats in the distance. Heading round to the north side, we were greeted with views of Howth, a place I’d yet to see. There were a number of rocks tumbling into the sea; the length of the island extended into the sea like a snail’s foot.
Before long we were heading back to the dock. I felt as though I was burning in the early-afternoon sun, a fact that would be confirmed within hours, and was ready to explore Dalkey the town. We didn’t have to wait too long for the ferry to reappear, and this time there was another group of people waiting with us. On our way back to the mainland we saw four planes in a diamond formation streaking through the sky, so we delayed our arrival to watch the show. It was amazing.
Dalkey island was, in a word, peaceful. It was so far outside the reality of everyday life, like an island refuge in the sea of modernity. It’s a place removed from the hustle of the city, a homage to simpler times, a nod at the past. If you're in Dublin, and you've a day to explore the coastline, I highly recommend heading out to see Dalkey Island for yourself. Though the sailing times are unpredictable, the island is well worth the wait and visit. If you've been, I would love to hear your experience and your stories - please do comment below!
Thanks for reading!