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3800 b.c. - 1990 a.d. An island chronicle of habitation

2nd Annual Clare Island Symposium - 15, 16, 17, 18 June 1990

Symposium1990An island's islandness is axiomatic: it exists because it is surrounded by water. Clearly marked on a map as much as in our minds, an island is an undisputed entity, a place whose territory has a beginning and end, whose geographical and geometrical coordinates need no further proof. An island, though, is anything but static. It is not immune to change however much it exudes a timeless quality. Even its coastline is forever being readjusted by the encroaching sea, its hills honed down by Atlantic storms. The metamorphosis of the island landscape by both man and nature, if one learns how to read the hieroglyphics which are etched into the terrain, can reveal an astounding chronicle of flux and transformation within the bounds of an intensely concentrated environment.

An island, by virtue of its self-containment, begs the question of origins: when did life first appear on the island? the first human? the first rabbit? After the first Clare Island Symposium (June 1989), a number of archaeological finds were made which pushed back the date of initial human habitation dramatically. The discovery of a megalithic tomb, (a court cairn), extensive pre-bog field systems and over twenty fulachta fiadh during 1989 gave overwhelming evidence to the fact of human settlement nearly five and a half thousand years ago. That T.J. Westropp missed these sites during the Clare Island Survey, conducted on the island between 1908 and 1911 in conjunction with Robert Lloyd Praeger and the Royal Irish Academy, made such discoveries all the more exciting in 1989 and 1990.

Clare Island's spectacular landscape has served as a palimpset for the 5,000 or so years of human habitation. Even areas of the island which might strike one as wilderness, upon closer inspection reveal themselves to have been intensively touched and retouched by human hands. As farming practices change, as population pressures fluctuate dramatically, as lifestyles radically alter, the components of the island's environment change accordingly. The challenge, and it is a huge one, is to both monitor the changes and responsibly direct the future effects in a positive way.

With the starting point of the first human settlers to Clare Island, the 1990's Symposium aimed to focus on various points along the island's time-line of habitation to attempt to illuminate the history of both man and the islandscape. The format for the weekend was multidisciplinary, combining lectures with illustrative fieldtrips to various sites on the island.


  • Professor Frank Mitchell, former professor of Quaternary Studies, Trinity; past president of Royal Irish Academy, spoke on islands in general, Valencia Island in particular.

  • Timothy Collins, librarian, UCG covered the Clare Island Survey and Robert LLoyd Praeger.

  • Dr. Peter Coxon, paleobotanist, TCD examined Man and Vegetation on Clare Island,

  • Paul Gosling, archaeologist, UCG explored the island's Prehistoric Settlement.

  • Professor Roger Stalley, Department of Medievil History, TCD, spoke on the Cistercians and finally

  • Dr. Kevin Whelan, Newman Scholar, Dept of Geography UCD, talked on Settlement and Society in the Nineteenth Century on Clare Island.


Symposia GroupThe fieldtrips on the island were conducted under the tutelage of the above speakers along with Gordan Darcy, ornithologist, Dave MacGrath, marine biologist, Adrian Phillips, geologist,the late Tony Whilde, environmentalist.


Sponsored by: Allergan, BP Nutrition,Clare Island Sea Farms, The Derrylahan, Keohanes Bookstore, MacGreevey's, the Mayo News, McKeon Stones, Mitsui, Denman & Ulster Bank.


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