A nostalgic part of Clontarf – no longer visible – is Clontarf Island. It stood approximately 150 metres off the most easterly point of East Wall but closer to the shoreline of Clontarf. We must, of course, remember that in former centuries the coastline ran by what is now North Strand, Amiens St and Beresford Place, and from that perspective, the Island stood a considerable distance out to sea.
Mapping of the Island
The famous English cartographer, Charles Haliday, while mapping Dublin Bay for his monarch, was required to map the size of the Island. He describes the island as ‘a ribbon-shaped piece of land with one end facing the Wharf, and the Island House.’
The Island took on a role of primary importance in 1650 when Dublin suffered an epidemic of the plague. During that time Clontarf Island was availed of as a retreat of isolation to combat the worst and most virulent days of the attack.
In earlier centuries there were no doubts that the island belonged to the demesne of Clontarf Castle. However, during the 1730s a bitter dispute erupted between Captain John Vernon of Clontarf Castle and the Corporation regarding ownership. The Corporation claimed that it was within their franchises and legally their property. Though listed within the city maps, it appears that the Vernon’s of Clontarf Castle continued as legal owners.
Tragedy at The Wooden House
Christopher Cromwell, a descendant of Oliver Cromwell who ran a public house on Beaver St, built a wooden house on the Island during the 1830s for the sum of £45, which he used as a summerhouse. Unfortunately, Mr Cromwell extended his summer into autumn in 1844 and was caught out in the greatest storm ever to hit Dublin Bay on the night of October 9th.
The following morning the bodies of Christopher Cromwell, and his son William, a boy of ten years, were discovered lying lifeless on the shore. The wooden house was totally demolished by the storm and dashed against the embankment of the Great Northern Railway where it then crossed the sea.
But Clontarf Island is no more. The gradual silting up of the shoreline at the East Wall side enabled people to walk across to the Island at low tide; in later decades and this development led to people taking away cartloads of sand for manure and building purposes. Despite repeated public notices from the Corporation forbidding the removal of sand from ‘The Island of Clontarf’, the practice continued, and there is significant oral evidence that, in fact, officials of Dublin Corporation were quite happy to look the other way once any money had changed hands.
The sea was also playing a starring role at this time, daily washing away fresh deposits of sand into the bay. By the 1880s Clontarf Island had submerged below the surface of the water and was scarcely visible at low tide. The lights of existence have long since gone out on one of Clontarf’s iconic treasures.