An 80-acre island rich in human history and beloved by one of Ireland's most celebrated poets has hit the open market for the first time in 50 years. Called Ardoileán — or High Island in English — the small island is one of several dozen located off the coast of western Ireland.
According to archaeologists, High Island appears to have been a settlement for various peoples dating back as far as 1000 B.C. A majority of the beautiful ruins dotting the landscape date back to a 7th century monastery that was home to anywhere from 50 to 70 monks. Structures still visible include a church and altar, the earliest known example of an Irish monastic water mill, and several distinctive stone beehive huts (one of which remains intact) where monks used to live and pray.
One of the more intriguing artifacts located on the island is a large smooth boulder that may have been used as a "cursing stone." Such monuments are believed to have been used as protections against enemies such as the Vikings, who began raiding islands off Ireland in the late 8th century.
"Directly to the South of the church is a large round granite boulder, commonly known as a granite globe," the listing states. "It appears that the stone has obviously been shaped and worked smooth so it's perfectly spherical. There are similar stones found at other sites including Inishmurray in Sligo, Ballyvourney in Co. Cork and Arran in Scotland which could be used as cursing stones."
The listing is quick to add that while the monastery site, designated as a national monument, is not included under the sale, the owner will be expected to grant access to future excavation and preservation efforts.
A poet's natural muse
Some of the remains of the 7th century monastery present on High Island, Ireland. (Photo: Spencer Auctioneers/YouTube)
From 1969 to 1998, the island was owned by the late famed Irish poet Richard Murphy, who recalled in his memoir "The Kick" his intentions behind purchasing the isolated property.
"I got excited at the thought of buying this inaccessible holy island, restoring the beehive cells and oratory of its derelict hermitage and preserving the place from destruction," he wrote.
Murphy never did make the island his permanent home, but he did find inspiration in its natural beauty and crumbled monuments during periodic visits. Below is an excerpt from his poem "High Island":
Dark mounds of mica schist,
A lake, mill, and chapel,
Roofless, one gable smashed,
Lie ringed with rubble.
An older calm,
The kiss of rock and grass,
Pink thrift and white sea-campion,
Flowers in the dead place.
According to The Irish Times, Murphy — intent on keeping the island a wildlife sanctuary — offered it as a gift to the country in the mid-'80s but was met with a lukewarm response. He later sold it to a trusted friend who has since kept the island in its natural state.
A beacon for wildlife
Despite the lack of a human presence on the island, the same cannot be said for other species. According to the listing, thousands of birds make good use of both High Island's location and two freshwater lakes.
"There is an abundance of birdlife on the island with many types of gulls, fulmars, Manx shearwaters, petrels and oyster catchers and even a pair of peregrine falcons breeding each spring," the listing reads, adding that the property has been designated a Special Protection Area. "In the autumn, barnacle geese arrive from mainland Europe and winter on the island."
While there's no electricity or running water, there is a small modern building with rainwater collection, galvanized roof and septic tank. The lucky bidder willing to cover the property's $1.4 million price tag will have the opportunity to apply for planning permits to further expand this dwelling into something more substantial.
"It’s lovely, a beautiful place," Luke Spencer, of Spencer Auctioneers, told The Guardian. "A lot of birds and grasses and ferns. You’ve got Atlantic views all the way around."
To learn more about High Island and its history and natural beauty, check out the official listing here.