Red Island

Red Island has always played an important part in the life of Skerries. In earlier times it was known as Key Island and later as Haven Island. These names undoubtedly refer to the harbour on the north side of the Island. The Island, because of its position, forms a shelter and breakwater for the harbour.

Red Island despite its name, is no longer an island. Now it is a rocky headland connected to the mainland by a roadway, which forms part of the quay wall of the harbour. The island is rocky and in former times was only partially covered by a thin layer of soil. The origin of its present name is in dispute.

Some link the name with the dyeing or “barking” of sails an industry for which Skerries had a reputation. The actual dyeing took place in an old barking yard in the town. Huge pots or cauldrons filled with bark of certain trees, and a pitch-like substance called “cutch” were boiled over fires. The heat changed the mixture to a reddish brown liquid, into which the sails were dipped. They were then taken to the island where they were spread out to dry. Continuous spreading of sails, still wet with dye, caused the rocks and the soil to become reddish in colour and gave the island its name.

This seems to be a likely explanation, because the island was known as Haven Island in the 17th century, before the barking of sails was started.

Others suggest that the name comes from the time when Skerries was a large fishing centre. The fishermen used to spread hundreds of their reddish-brown nets on the island to dry and gave the island its name in this way.

A Martello Tower stands on this island. Its massive walls are two and a half metres thick and a parapet surrounds the stone roof. The door leads into the second story of the tower and was reached by a ladder and inside a set of stone steps, built into the wall as a spiral, leads up to the roof. On the roof a cannon was mounted on a pivot which allowed it to fire in all directions. This tower has been altered since its military days. Doors were added on the ground floor and windows on both floors. The tower has been used as a private dwelling, as tearooms and as part of a holiday camp.

In the beginning of this century, when Skerries became a popular holiday resort, Red Island was the centre of activities during the summer time. Angling from the harbour, the round the cliff walk, two excellent deep water bathing place i.e. The Captains and The Springboards and its facilities for sunbathing and relaxing were always the big attractions of Skerries.

In 1947, a holiday camp was opened on Red Island. The camp had comfortable bedrooms and central heating. It also had a dance hall, theatre, a miniature golf course, a sun lounge and a bar. However cheap air travel, which arrived in the 1960s, allowed people to holiday abroad. This gradually brought an end to Skerries as a major holiday resort and the camp was demolished in 1980.
Published here: November 2002