LIAM Ó RAGHALLAIGH profiles the quiet, unassuming woman he believes was the catalyst for the John Ford classic
Cottage Island is the second largest island on Lough Gill, County Sligo, and the only one occupied in modern times. It has been known locally as Gallagher’s Island since a family of that name moved there in the 1800s, as employees of the Wynnes of Hazelwood Estate, who owned all the lands around Lough Gill at that time.
The Wynnes were progressive landlords and built cottages for some of their workers, with brass knockers on the front doors, at a time before knockers were common, and when visitors rapped on a door for attention. Those cottages became known as ‘The Goldrappers’ and down to the present day the townland of Faughts is known as ‘The Goldrappers’; a local rowing club adopted the name.
Bridget ‘Beezie’ Gallagher was born on the island on May 23rd, 1871, to John and Ann Gallagher (nee Byron) and spent some years in service with the Wynne family before returning to her island home where she would spend the rest of her days.
After the deaths of her parents and her husband, cattle jobber, James Clerkin [m.1921], she was the only one left on the lake and she was quite happy to lead the simple life, rowing her small boat into Sligo as required, for Mass, to pick up provisions and, as time went by, to collect her pension.
The island was very popular with anglers and recreational boaters, who would often picnic there, and she was well-known locally for her good natured hospitality to all visitors: those who came seeking directions to Yeats’s ‘Inishfree’ would be pointed in the right direction.