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Donegal Islands

Soak up our fascinating Irish heritage and explore our intriguing islands.

Gola Island (Oileán Ghabhla)

Co. Donegal

The island of Gabhla (Gola) covers about one square mile (500 acres) and is situated about one mile from the pier at Machaire Gathlán, or two miles from the pier at An Bun Beag.

The island is hilly on its west side, rising to 238 feet at Cnoc an Choillín and 212 feet at An Mhaol Mhór, and these hills shelter the houses that stretch in a ribbon along the east side.

The census of 1841 recorded a population of 68 prior to the Famine. This rose steeply to 169 by the time of the 1911 census, in response to a boom in the fishing industry.

The schoolhouse, built in 1846, is situated west of Port an Churraigh. At one stage, in the 1940s, it held as many as 70 young pupils.

But there is evidence of life in Gabhla prior to this. The remains of two kitchen middens - large heaps of shells discarded over centuries - are found near the lake and probably date back to prehistoric times.

Two men from Gabhla, Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan, were aboard the Asgard, the boat that brought arms into Howth in north county Dublin in 1914, in preparation for the Easter Rising of 1916.

In the late 1960s the island suffered a major population decline. This was due largely to the closure of the school in 1967. Fishing and farming at subsistence level had sustained them for centuries but could not compete with the attractions of mainland living or the better opportunities it now afforded.

Gola islanders are renowned for their skills as mariners and fishermen and story-tellers.

In the last ten years Gola has enjoyed a new lease of life. The launch of a regular ferry service, The Cricket, is a great boost to the tourism industry of the island.

There is new-found interest in the ecology of the island, its scenery and the possibility of living close to nature.

Places of interest

• Original examples of Gabhla longhouses, the island’s vernacular cottage architecture, can be seen among the newer, renovated houses and among the ruins.

• A small lake, Loch Mhachaire na nGall, nestles mid-island in the hollow between the hills. At one time it heaved with wild eels.

• There are five or six freshwater springs or wells around the island. It is from these that the islanders lifted their drinking water.

• Beautiful white sandy beaches at Tráigh na Béicí and at Port an Churraigh.

• Leac Cuimhneacháin an Asgard.

• Reilig na bPáistí. Children’s Graveyard.

• Prehistoric kitchen middens.

• Suíomh dreapadóireachta. Steep seacliffs rim the western side of the island.

Their rough granite surfaces appeal to experienced rockclimbers.

• Sea-arch at Scoilt Uí Dhúgáin.

• Cladach na Croiche (‘hanging rock shore’).

• An Teach Beag - Ionad Eolais

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