approx. 5.6 km / 1 to 2 hours / Omey is a tidal island, accessible on foot 2 hours before low water to 2 hours before high water (check tides beforehand on sailing.ie).
Omey island is a magical place only 600 metres offshore, nestled beneath the projecting prow of the Aughrus peninsula and sheltered from the worst of the Atlantic swells by the islands of An Cruach, (Cruach), Ard Oilean (High Island) and Oilean na mBráthar (Friar Island).
It is composed almost entirely of intrusive granites covered by wind-blown sandy soils. In the mid 19th century the island supported a large population of over 400 people who lived of the rich fishing around the island and from cattle raised on the fertile, lime-rich soils. There is no better place for a leisurely, interesting and invigorating walk than St Feichin’s sacred island. It was the ancestral home of the Connemara O’Toole’s, who moved westward with the O’Flahertys in the middle ages.
The walk starts either at the car park at Claddaghduff Church or on the edge of Omey Strand, where there is also a car park for visitors. Step out across the strand following, for the first 300 metres, the line of signposts in the sand – Connemara’s only sub-sea road. The island, one mile square, is stretched out in front of you. We will return on the road ahead of us, but for now will strike out to the right and head across 600 metres of sand towards the north-east edge of the island and the beautiful graveyard built on a former monastic site associated with Brendan the Navigator. The site serves as the last resting place for the people of Omey and the surrounding mainland.
Following the beach and keeping the low, black rocks on your left, you are heading now along the northern edge of the island. Don’t be tempted to venture inland as the rocky shoreline edged with sand cliffs is particularly beautiful. A series of eroding midden site, ancient rubbish heaps, cascade onto the beach as you go along. The most obvious sign to look for is groups of fine cracked stone at your feet. You pass a tiny stream and up onto a small but prominent round-topped hill called Crocán na Mban. The site was an early Christian period monastic site. The route westerly from here is a clear, huge panorama; westward to the cliff-bound High Island, where a relatively intact monastic site survives.
A short detour inland just past the last fence on your left brings you to the buried medieval church of Teampaill Féichín (Feichin’s Church), which was built in a hollow to protect it from raiders and, no doubt, the stormy prevailing winds. In the 19th century a substantial village existed here, orbiting the church. The ruined house can be traced on the ground and in the sand cliffs around the church. Like many settlements, the island was devastated by the famine. The walk to the north-west tip of Omey is on a grazing sward, soft in places. The tip of the island is a good place rolling Atlantic surf, dolphins and choughs, with their distinctive red beaks and feet.
You are heading south now, along the beach and rocky shore, with the beautiful Richard Murphy poem ‘Sailing to an Island’ whistling through your head. Within ten minutes a U-shaped bay cut inland, above which St Feichin’s Holy Well is perched. Sores and skin blisters were said to be cured here and new-born children were dipped into the well in order to protect them. Crossing another stream draining Fahy Lough, which takes up one third of the interior of the island – home to swans, ducks, brown trout and the occasional pair of otters. At low tide a buried buoy is visible, an indication of an earlier climactic regime when sea levels were lower and Omey was connected to the mainland by a land bridge.
Meeting a paved road for the first time, return eastward, overlooking the lake. Another panorama unfolds; Inishturk and Turbot to the south and Streamstown Bay with the Twelve Bens forming a magnificent backdrop. The road, laid out in the 19th century, brings you back to the beach, passing a series of small farms now largely abandoned although some are now used as holiday homes.
Walk text courtesy of archaeologist and walking guide Michael Gibbons.