Introduction to Skerries

Inasmuch as I was asked to blog about Skerries for the Antenna House Japan blog, I figured that I might as well include the original here.

I am Tony Graham, and I work remotely for Antenna House from Skerries in Ireland.

Skerries is a small town beside the sea. It is about 30 km north of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Unlike being 30 km from the centre of Tokyo, Skerries is surrounded on three sides by farmland, and it is about 5 km to the nearest town.

Skerries is now mostly a dormitory town for people who work in Dublin city. I have lived in Skerries only since 2001, but Skerries has a long history as a holiday destination, a fishing village, a monastery, a Viking settlement, and as the home of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron Saint.

‘Skerries’ comes from the Irish ‘Na Sceiri’, which in turn descends from the Norse word ‘Skere’, meaning ‘the rocks’. I don’t speak Norse, so I can’t say for sure, but ‘the rocks’ is generally understood to mean the three island just off Skerries (along with another two further out plus Red Island that is now connected to the mainland). The official history of Dublin Castle notes that the Viking’s settlements extended to Skerries. A website about Skerries says “Stone axes found in back gardens and flint tools during field walking show that people have lived in and around Skerries from earliest times.” but all that I have ever unearthed in my back garden is rocks and builder’s rubble.

St Patrick lived for a time on St Patrick’s Island, one of the islands just of Skerries. Legend has it that St Patrick and the people of Skerries didn’t always get along. A plaque in the town centre recounts the story:

Plaque recounting the Skerries Goat legend

When St Patrick was expelled from Wicklow by the Paman natives, he sailed northward and landed on a small island off Skerries. In his honour it became known as St Patrick’s Island. When the Saint arrived on the island he was accompanied by a goat which provided milk. From the island, St Patrick would come to the mainland to convert the people. While the Saint was ashore on a missionary trip, the people of Skerries visited the island and stole his goat. They killed, cooked and feasted on it. When St Patrick came back to the island he found his goat missing.

St Patrick was very angry and in two giant strides he reached the mainland. The first step took him to the back of Colt Island. The second to Red Island where he confronted the people of Skerries. They tried to deny having seen his goat but found they could only bleat. When they told the Saint the truth about his goat their voices returned.

To this day, St Patrick’s footprint where he stepped onto the south side of Red Island can be seen in the rocks at the bathing area, While the nickname Skerries Goat is given to the people of the town to remind them of this deed.

In 1988, the 50th anniversary of the building of the adjacent St Patrick’s Church, it was decided to commission a bronze goat’s head and mount it on the wall, thus giving St Patrick back his goat.

Relations are obviously now somewhat better, since the town has a church dedicated to St Patrick, but the goat is still the symbol of the Skerries Rugby Club.

St Patrick’s footprint on Red IslandSt Patrick’s footprint on Red Island

Slightly closer to modern times, Shenick’s Island and Red Island each had a Martello Tower built on them in the first half of the nineteenth century as part of a defensive system against an attack by Napoleon. The attack never came, but the towers are still there. The tower on Red Island was used as a laundry and as staff accommodation where there was a holiday camp on Red Island from 1947 onwards. Skerries was quite a popular holiday destination for a time, and I have met many people who said they used to go to Skerries for holidays, but that changed in the 1970s once there were cheap flights to resorts in sunnier locales. The holiday camp site is now a car park and the Martello Tower is now closed up, but there are perpetual promises from the local council to redevelop the tower as a tourist spot.

Martello Tower on Red Island. Shenick’s Island, with its Martello Tower, is to the right. Colt Island and St Patrick’s Island are to the close left, with Rockabill Island on the left horizon. Three pigeons are on the parapet of the tower.

The Martello Tower on Shenick’s Island fared slightly better. Shenick’s Island was used as farmland, but it is now a sanctuary for migrating seabirds. The most (human) activity that the island sees each year is the annual early-morning guided visit organised by BirdWatch Ireland. Many people, including children, gather on the beach at South Strand then walk across when the tide is at its lowest. The only requirements are waterproof shoes and to make sure that you return to Skerries before the tide comes in again.

Walking to Shenick's Island on the BirdWatch Ireland guided walk

Skerries is no longer mainly a holiday destination. As I said before, it is now mostly a dormitory town for people working in Dublin. It is also increasingly a place where people come to eat good food. The ‘Eating Europe Tours’ website recently made the quirky choice of including Skerries in its ‘10 of Europe’s Most Beautiful Cities‘ list [10]. The restaurants that now line the road at Red Island attract a lot of people, particularly on a warm summer evening when you can sit outside and the sun doesn’t set until after 10 pm. However, to me, possibly the best food of its kind in Skerries, or anywhere in Ireland, is the warm apple tart at the Watermill Cafe in the restored Skerries Mills complex.

Apple tart at the Watermill Cafe

I had it the first time that I ever visited Skerries before moving here. I won’t say that it’s the reason why I live in Skerries, but I do have friends and relatives from other parts of the world who feel that a trip to Ireland is not complete until it includes having apple tart at the Mills.