Find traces of Sherkin island’s past as you explore its trails and coastline.
The oldest archaeological monument to date on Sherkin Island is a Wedge Tomb, which is located at the western end of the island
Of course, the island may have been inhabited before this; the earliest date for human activity in Ireland is approximately ten thousand years ago.
Other archaeological remains include two possible Promontory forts (defended headland sites). These forts have traditionally been dated to the Iron Age, c. 500BC-400AD, although this date has not yet been established by direct evidence.
The Franciscan Friary
The Franciscan Friary, known locally as ’The Abbey’, is located overlooking the pier and was established in 1460 by Fineen O’ Driscoll, chieftain of the area. Evident from the now ruin the Franciscan Friary had a turbulent past. In 1537 the Friary and its residents found themselves at the forefront of a reprisal on the O’Driscoll Chieftain. Most of The Franciscan Friary was laid to ruin and by 1601 the building only consisted of a croft, a cemetery and a few ruined buildings however it continued to function.
That is until 1650 when it was confiscated by Cromwellian soldiers. It was then given to the Beecher family who became the islands most prominent landlords. In 1895, Sir Henry Beecher handed it over to the Board of Works and it is now under the protection of the National Monuments Service.
Dun na Long castle was built overlooking the entrance to Baltimore Harbour. It has been suggested that an earlier castle may have been built on this site by the Norman family called Sliney and destroyed after the Battle of Callan however the earliest recording of the castle appears on Petty’s Down Survey map of 1658. This map had a basic sketch of a crenellated (this refers to the shape of traditional tarpits for defence) tower house. It is widely believed that the castle was a much larger complex then as it’s ruins stand today with blockhouses, a sloping pier and defensive walls.
Dun na Long was also badly damaged during the reprisals on the O’Driscoll Chieftain in 1537,
Today, the ruin of Dún na Long is incorporated into the grounds of Sherkin House. The friary has been used as a cemetery since its foundation and the local burial ground is still located within its walls.
Sherkin under attack in 1537
The year was 1537 the residents of Sherkin Island were busy living their normal routines, unknown to them an attack was imminent. It had been an unsettling time for the Irish people especially those who lived and worked in the eastern ports. The Anglo-Normans had taken over these ports much to the anger of local chieftains and ancient clans that inhabited them. Acts of piracy and destruction were common on both sides.
Ships destined for eastern ports, and those owned by the eastern peoples, were fair game for the O’Driscolls and, likewise, the same piracy was committed upon the O’ Driscolls when caught unawares at sea. Reprisals developed into outright warfare at various times during the 14th and 15th centuries.
One act of piracy by the O’Driscoll Chieftain was the catalyst for the Sherkin Attack of 1537. The Santa Maria de Soci, carrying wine from Lisbon, came into Baltimore Harbour for shelter. On hearing this the O’Driscolls tasted the wine and came up with a plan. “The Gentry and Peers of those parts had tasted the wines they forgot their safe conduct and invited the merchants to dinner in the castle, seized and clapped them in irons, manned their Irish gallies and took the ship and distributed 72 tuns of the wine amongst their neighbours.”
But by early March, the Santa Maria de Soci was recaptured by the Waterford authorities along with the remains of her cargo and the crew.
On the 27th of that month a reprisal was launched against the O’ Driscolls which resulted in a five-day attack on Sherkin Island, during which the castle, the Friary and probably every standing structure on the island was either badly damaged or destroyed.
The O’Driscoll Clan suffered greatly. When the attackers left they took with them the fine galley ship belonging to Finghin O’ Driscoll along with eighty pinnaces (smaller vessels used for fishing), all the stores they could find plus the bell, chalices and other valuables from the friary.
The O’Driscolls were devastated but they did have a brief period of recovery when they began reconstruction of both the castle and the friary.
However, it seems that things were never quite the same again, and on February 23rd, 1602, Fineen O’ Driscoll handed over his castle to the local British Commander, Captain Harvey, without resistance.
However the O’ Driscolls may have hung on to some power as the death of Donagh O’ Driscoll in 1638 is recorded as having occurred in Dun na Long castle.
Sherkin Island history comes to life
Sherkin Island has been the site of a number of archaeological digs the most recent finds being exotic Chinese porcelain dating back to the 16th century which was discovered in an excavation of The Franciscan Friary on Sherkin Island.
Details of this discovery are shared in the most recent volume of the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society
Sherkin Island Traditional Boats
Sherkin Island is also home to two traditional boats An Run and Hanorah. These boats were lovingly restored and built by resident Nigel Towse. They not only provide an insight into the past but they also provide for an excellent photo opportunity.
The boats are located at the Dock on the north side of the Island which can be reached by following the road past the Jolly Roger and Sherkin House
Is a replica of a traditional Mackerel and sailing boat it is 32ft and was built in 1998
This boat is a gem for history lovers built in 1892 and painstakingly restored in 2002. An Hanorah is a traditional boat native to neighbouring Heir Island. It is 25ft and was used for lobster fishing in the past.
The Sherkin island guide
Welcome to Sherkin Island! The ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan is the most accessible island in Ireland - only ten minutes by ferry from the fishing port of Baltimore.
The area boasts a wonderful array of landscapes, Atlantic views from the hilltops, fuchsia-scented byways and the finest sandy beaches.
Download our free guide which includes a map and
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