Inchydoney Island near Clonakilty, West Cork, is an award-winning beach with an interesting history and a local legend revolving around a supposed appearance of the Blessed Virgin, writes Mary Rose McCarthy.

Inchydoney, three kilometres to the west of Clonakilty, West Cork recently earned the accolade of the best beach in Ireland. It consists of two long stretches of sandy beaches fringed by marram grass dunes. A finger of rock which stretches into the Atlantic separates the two beaches. This rock is known as the Virgin Mary’s Bank owing to the legend that the Madonna came there to pray. The blue flag beach is popular with swimmers, walkers, and surfers, among locals and tourists from all corners of the globe.

The Hungerford family, from the house of Hungerford of Farley, in Somerset, came to Ireland with the forces of Cromwell. They left England in May 1647. As was customary at the time, Earldoms and fiefdoms were bestowed on loyal subjects after battle. Thus, Captain Thomas Hungerford was installed at Rathbarry four miles west of Inchydoney. They did not remain long in Rathbarry. Richard Hungerford went to Inchydoney in 1690 where he owned a substantial part of the island. Another Hungerford moved to Cahermore near Rosscarbery.

The Hungerford’s played a prominent role in life in Clonakilty until the early 1900s. Richard, a descendent of the first Richard to live in Inchydoney, played a part in dealing with the 1798 rebellion. Subsequently he rebuilt Inchydoney House on the site of the first house built there a century earlier. William Hungerford lived in what is now Emmet Square, in Clonakilty, and took an active part in the politics of the town.

Margaret Hamilton, of Rosscarbery, married into the Hungerford family. As a widow with three young children, she wasn’t accepted by the family and went to live in what is now Overton House near Bandon. To support her family she wrote novels. The most famous of these is Molly Bawn, which gets a mention in chapter 18 of Ulysses by James Joyce.
Margaret Hungerford published in the name Mrs. Hungerford and at times under the pseudonym The Duchess. She is credited with coining the phrase, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. She wrote over fifty books in total, the last, The Coming of Chloe was published posthumously. She died of typhoid fever in 1897 and is buried in the Hungerford vault in Rosscarbery.

In 1905, the Hungerfords attempted to block all people using a public path through their estate that led to Inchydoney beach. Mary Hungerford refused to back down, which resulted in a group of angry locals tearing down the gates and asserting their rights to the public path.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own