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This deserted island is up for grabs at €1.25m - and some people think the government should buy it

Madigan says it would require ‘considerable resource commitments’ to buy the island off the coast of Galway.

The Green Party wants Minister Josepha Madigan's department to buy the island which is for sale for €1.25m.
The Green Party wants Minister Josepha Madigan's department to buy the island which is for sale for €1.25m.

A DESERTED ISLAND two miles off the coast of Galway is up for sale for €1.25 million – and the Green Party thinks the government should buy it. 

Once home to Iron Age settlers and medieval monks, the 80-acre rock mass known as High Island, or Ardoileán, has ancient monastic sites dating back thousands of year, as well as being bountiful in horticulture and wildlife.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the island “is of great archaeological importance” and said that it all could be lost if the government does not purchase now. 

“The State has invested significantly in the restoration and maintenance of the site, which is one of the smallest and not insignificant monastic settlements, which is an important asset for the State,” he said. 

“There is at present a benign ownership system under which the current owner has cooperated and facilitated the management of the site and of scientific research on the island. That could be lost. The island is for sale today.

If we do not buy it there is a real risk that someone else will, who may have a different perspective on how it should be managed. It would be a tragedy if what is exceptional about this island was lost to the State.”

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan said the government takes this issue “very seriously”, adding that High Island is a “spectacular island, there is no doubt about that”.

However, she ruled out any idea of the government buying the island.

She said the early medieval monastery dedicated to St. Féichín is a national monument which is in her ownership as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The church is located in a small enclosure, which lies in the northern half of the ecclesiastical enclosure on High Island. It comprises a conserved single-cell church, dedicated to St Féichín, and is one of the smallest of the Atlantic island churches, she added. 

The day-to-day care of this national monument falls under the remit of the Office of Public Works on behalf of Madigan’s department, she said, adding that the OPW works in close cooperation with the National Monuments Service, which has overall responsibility to ensure long-term conservation.

National monument 

“As a national monument in State care, the monastery as it stands is fully protected under the provisions of the National Monuments Acts. Any works at or in its vicinity may only be carried out with ministerial consent under Section 14 of the Act.

“There are also a number of recorded monuments on the property which are protected under national monuments legislation as well. These monuments are in private ownership,” said Madigan.

The minister said that in the interests of the preservation, conservation, management and presentation of archaeological heritage, the State sometimes buys up certain heritage properties and monuments.

“From time to time, these may come onto the open market, may be bequeathed to the State or may be offered to the State for purchase or free of cost. I might also add that there have been no recent invitations to our department to purchase the site from anybody,” she said, adding that “any such acquisition is the exception rather than the norm”.

In the case of High Island, the national monument and the recorded monuments are already well protected, she said.

Public access, even if the whole property were in public ownership, would continue to be hazardous, said Madigan, stating that the site is unsuitable for large-scale visitor exploration.

Value for money

She said value-for-money principles must be carefully considered where any acquisition is proposed to her department. 

The national monuments in State care already number some 1,000 sites at over 760 locations around the country and these command considerable resource commitments in terms of both funding and personnel allocation, Madigan told Ryan.

She added that there are in excess of 120,000 monuments listed in the Record of Monuments and Places that are not maintained by the State.

“Suffice it to say that while I understand what the Deputy is saying, there is no exceptional case in this instance that would merit an acquisition of this nature,” she said. 

Ryan said for the wildlife alone the island should be acquired, stating that the most recent research by the University College Cork shows it is a very important scientific site.

Scientific research

“What is happening to these seabird populations, which are the most threatened and most in decline, indicates what is happening not just in the local area but right out to the Atlantic. It is cheaper for us to buy this island and maintain that scientific analysis than to send ships out with monitoring systems to research what is happening in the north Atlantic. We can do it here by tagging the seabirds as UCC is doing. This is very important. It is exceptional,” he said.

Magidan said that if there was an approach made to the department to buy the island, it would have to be done in a formal way, stating that her office will support all initiatives to study ecology including those of UCC. 

The State is only in a position to acquire, maintain, conserve and present a limited number of heritage properties and monuments, she repeated. 

The minister said any acquisition of the whole of High Island would require “considerable resource commitment”, not just on the part of the department but also from the Office of Public Works.

“Whether or not the island is privately owned, my Department will continue to protect the national monument there. It should be said that access to the island is extremely difficult, and therefore any acquisition would bring very little benefit in terms of access to the monuments for visitors,” she concluded. 

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