Lile, Sábha and I took an amazing trip last week to the wilds of Donegal. We were invited to stay with a dear and generous friend, in her ancestral home, for a few days. The house is on Rutland, a small island off the coast of Burton Port. It only takes a couple of minutes by motor boat to get from Burton Port to Rutland but once you're there you feel a million miles away from everything - in the best way possible.
Rutland is, historically, a very important place. It was originally developed, in the late 1700's, to be a large and thriving port. Both the first bank and the first pub in Donegal were allegedly situated on the island and there was also a post office, a school house, a rope factory and a fish processing plant built there. There is even, which seems so incongruous now, on an wild and overgrown island, a street of houses.
And 'Duck Street', as it is known now, was the base for our island adventures.
Technically, there is nothing to do on Rutland (or 'in' Rutland, as the locals say!). There are no shops (yikes!). There are no cafés (the horror!) There is nothing more than wildflowers, sand dunes, seashells, a vast swathe of empty beach, a herd of cows, a few foxes and endless incredible views. Yet, in all of that, Rutland has everything you need for a perfect holiday.
Plus, having nothing to do means that you can do anything you like. And we found lots to entertain ourselves. We had an adventure over the meadows to the sand dunes, which are weirdly situated in the middle of the island - completely landlocked - but are filled with seashells and sea snails. It's kind of bizarre...
The children played a game they invented, called 'dune surfing'. They buried each other in the sand and hunted for shells, animal tracks and other weird treasures
We fought our way through the chest-height beach grass (which stabbed us mercilessly!) to find the beach that stretches the whole length of the back of the island. We had it all to ourselves - something my little ones, used to bustling Bray beach, found hard to fathom.
|Looking across to Arranmore Island|
In the evenings we played games. Jenga, Snap, Go Fish and the modern classic - Pie Face! We used story cubes (these are similar) to inspire story-telling by the fireside. The children (my pair, my friend's son and her niece and nephew) all played beautifully together. Once, when the whole house fell silent and my friend and I wondered if there might be mischief afoot - we crept up to check on them. We found them all together on the top-bunks in one of the bedrooms drawing and colouring quietly. If this is the effect of being on Rutland I think I want to move there permanently. There's a lot to be said for stripping away the trappings of modern life and letting little ones run wild.
|Waving at the Arranmore Ferry on its way back to Burton Port|
On the last day (which came all too soon) the children played with the dogs that belong to the other summer residents out 'on the street', while my friend and I packed up. We were collected again by Oscar, the boatman, who kindly brought us on a little spin out by Innisfree to see the seals basking in the sun. He also let the children each have a turn driving the boat!
As we waved the island goodbye (just until next year, I hope!) I couldn't help but be kind of grateful that the bottom fell out of the herring industry all those years ago, leaving such a fascinating and beautiful place behind.
There had been many more plans for developing the island. Foundations laid for more streets, even. The arable land parceled out. But when the industry failed, quite early into the development, the plans were abandoned. The island was eventually abandoned too - though not fully, until the 1960's - and now, the houses that remain, are only used during the holiday times.
Speaking to the neighbours there, it is clear that they are all passionate about the island. Proud of its heritage and fiercely protective of preserving its unique beauty. I'm not at all surprised.
|Coming back into Burton Port|
Note: Sometimes my friend's family rent out their house on the island and are considering making it available on AirBNB. I'll let you know if they do. It's well worth the trip.
To keep the kids occupied on the long journey in the car, we brought our Travel Activity Pack - stuffed full of colouring pages, blank paper, stickers and random bits of stationery. We brought it to the island too and all of the children enjoyed using it:
Rutland is not the only northern island I've been to this Summer! To see my review of Lusty Beg island in Fermanagh click on the image below: