Thursday, 15 April 2021

Copeland Islands

EDITED EXTRACTS FROM THE PARLIAMENTARY GAZETTEER OF IRELAND, PUBLISHED IN 1846


COPELAND ISLANDS, a cluster of three isles in the parish of Bangor and barony of Ards, and off the south entrance of Belfast Lough, County Down.

They are called respectively Copeland, Lighthouse, and Mew islands.

They are now the property of Mr Ker of Portavo; but they have their name from a family who settled in Ards, in the 12th century, in the time of John de Courcy, and who were long ago extinct.

The largest is called Copeland or Big Island; it lies 1½ miles north-east of Nout Head Point [Orlock?], 2¼ miles north of Donaghadee, and 4½ north-east of Bangor; and it comprises 230 acres of arable land, and 40 acres of rough ground.

It contains 15 houses.

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The sound between it and the mainland, though foul near the latter, is aggregately very safe for navigation, and has a depth of from 7 to 8 fathoms.

The east side of the island is a cliff; but Chapel Bay, on the west side, offers good anchorage in from 2 to 3 fathoms of water, and shelter from all winds except the south-west.

The remains of a church with a burial-ground are near Chapel Bay.

Two coves in this bay were used in their natural state as fishing harbours, and possessed, 10 or 12 years ago [ca 1830], five herring fishing smacks, 7 yawls, and two large lumber boats; but Mr Nimmo recommended to the Fishery Board artificial improvements upon them which he estimated would cost respectively £300 [about £40,000 in 2020] and £273 12s.

The following account of the economy of the island, written almost exactly a century ago [ca 1750], is interesting, and exhibits a very early instance of the exclusive and ruinous dependance upon fuci [seaweed] for manure, which has since become so general over all the Irish seaboard:- 

"It produces plenty of oats, barley, peas, and beans, being fertilized by an inexhaustible fund of alga marina [kelp], which is cast up every tide."

"From this manure, they have three successive crops, one of barley, and two of oats."

"They have no fences on the island; but to preserve their corn from trespasses, they fold their cattle within enclosures raised of sods, and let them out to graze at proper seasons, and watch and herd them, as it is here called."

"The island is likewise remarkable for a very large breed of tame poultry, as geese, turkeys, and hens, and also with sea-fowl, as the gull and pyrmaw [tern?], who build in the rocks, and hatch vast quantities of young ones."

"Nor is it deficient in exceeding good fat beef and mutton; and abounds with springs, and fresh water; and has a tolerable good slate quarry in it."

THE population about ten years ago [1830] was 75.

A long ledge of rocks runs out from the west end of Big Island, bears the name of Kaddy-karne or Ketty-kerne [Carn Point], and is the site of a small stone beacon.

About half-a-mile north-east of the island lie several rocks called the Pladdies, which render the navigation of the sound between Big and Lighthouse islands unsafe for strangers; yet that sound, though swept by a rapid tide, is otherwise thoroughly practicable, and has a depth of between 7 and 24 fathoms.

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LIGHTHOUSE or Cross Island lies rather less than a mile north-north-east of Big Island; comprises about 42 acres of arable land; and has a coastline of about a mile in circumference.
This island, two miles off Donaghadee, was acquired by the National Trust in 1967 and is managed by Copeland Bird Observatory. The bird observatory has accommodation for up to 23 overnight visitors.
A lighthouse upon it is a square tower, 7 feet thick in the walls, and 70 feet high to the lantern; its light is distinctly seen at Portpatrick and the Mull of Galloway in Scotland; and the expenditure connected with it, during 1840, amounted to £605 1s 10d. [About £63,000 in 2020].

A perennial spring bursts from a rock on Lighthouse Island, at a point about 60 feet above the level of the sea.

MEW ISLAND lies about 10 perches [55 yards] north-east of Lighthouse Island; contains 7 or 8 acres of low, rocky pasture land, and is deeply peninsulated, or nearly cut into a series of islets of skerries by three sets of small marine indentations.

the narrow passage between it and Lighthouse Island, though only 10 perches long, and though swept by a rapid tide, and dangerously interspersed with rocks, is the frequent retreat, sometimes to the number of 30 yawls at once, of the Donaghadee fishermen, who fish in the sound between Lighthouse and Big islands for cod and pollock.

A great tide, commonly called the tide of Stranygore, and occasioned from a collision of tidal currents from the North Channel and from Belfast Lough, runs off from the eastern extremity of the Copeland Islands, to the north-east and the Mull of Galloway.

Off this island the Enterprise, of Liverpool, a homeward-bound vessel from the coast of Guinea, was totally wrecked in 1801; she is said to have had onboard £40,000 in dollars, which, with all her cargo, lay buried in the sea, till 1833, when Mr Bell, by means of a diving apparatus, succeeded in recovering about $25,000, five brass guns, and other valuable property.

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