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Discovering hidden history

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MAYO'S MARK The Éire 64 marking at Downpatrick Head. Pic: Conor Corbett

Belfast man Conor Corbett has spent the last number of weeks photographing the World War II Éire markings in Mayo

Anton McNulty

EARLIER this year, a huge gorse fire in Bray Head in CoWicklow caused untold damage to the landscape of the area and led to the evacuation of several homes. A joint operation between firefighters and the Air Corps eventually quenched the blaze, but the aftermath of the fire revealed a long forgotten feature, etched into the landscape.
Having been hidden from view by the overgrown vegetation for over half a century, the words Éire could now be clearly seen from the air. The words were marked into the hill using stone in the early 1940s as a way to allow World War II pilots know they were flying over Ireland - which was a neutral country during the war.
There were over 83 such markings and look-out posts erected all around the Irish coast during the war and each was given their unique number. They started with Éire 1 at Ballagan Point, Co Louth, and make their way right round to Éire 82, at Inishowen Head, Co Donegal. Éire 83 was installed at a later date and further south at Foileye Head in Co Kerry.
Many were located in remote areas and could only be seen from the air. With the passage of time, many like the Bray Head marking have long been forgotten, but in recent years efforts have been made to make a record of their locations around the coast.
One man who has undertaken his own personal project to locate and photograph each marking is Belfast native Conor Corbett. He recently photographed markings in Mayo and Donegal using drone technology. His interest in the markings was aroused in June when he came across one while flying his drone around Malin Head.
“I had seen three whilst flying and photographing different locations. Éire 80 at Malin Head, Éire 74 at Crohy Head [Donegal] and Éire 59 at Moyteogue Head [Achill]. That’s when I decided to look deeper into the meaning of the markers and what they were for.
“My interest really took off from there and I decided, why not capture some history and build a collection of the markers. The long term goal is to document what is left of the markers. I have tried to make this a creative project and blend history with scenery and creativity,” the amateur photographer told The Mayo News.
Donegal and Mayo
The most Éire markings are located in Donegal, which has 14, and Mayo, with nine and with the majority still intact, the two counties were the obvious starting points. Since June, Conor and his girlfriend Emma have travelled most weekends to some of the most remote parts of the counties to locate and capture the markings.
“The Donegal set took us three months to complete. It was a mixture of early mornings, late nights, weather setbacks, mechanical problems and some brave windy flying! Mayo took about seven weeks to complete, we had learnt a lot from the Donegal project so it was a bit of a learning curve for Mayo.
“It did prove to be just as difficult, the wind on some of the heads can be very fierce, but it was a great adventure all round,” he explained.
With the help of Treasa Lynch, who has located and documented many of the markings using satellite imagery for her website eiremarkings.org, they were able to locate the majority of the markings.
The nine Éire markings in Mayo were located at Roonagh, Currane, Moyteogue Head near Keem Bay in Achill, Blacksod Bay, Annagh Head, Erris Head, Benwee Head in Portacloy, Downpatrick Head and Kilcummin Head. Unfortunately the markings at Roonagh and Kilcummin Head are no longer visible.
While researching the markings, Conor said that he received information that there may be a second marking on Achill Island but he was unable to find it. They also made another interesting discovery while at the Éire 62 marking at Erris Head when Emma found a coin dating from the World War II era.
“We think it’s a half crown. So it could have belonged to one of the watchers in the look out post,” he wondered.
The discovery of the Bray Head marking after last year’s fire was good timing for Conor who said that it raised the public’s awareness of the markings. While researching the markings he says that most communities are aware of them in their locality but more should be done to restore them before they are forgotten.
Getting around Mayo and Donegal may have been long and arduous but the real challenge starts next year when the couple continue their journey south, where many of the markers are not visible.
“Next year will be massive challenge as we intend to travel further south to capture some more. Some of them are on small islands and there will be brave treks over mountains - so the story isn’t finished yet!
“I’ll admit at times it can be a real struggle and nerve wrecking but I am looking forward to the adventure. I would say it will probably take the best part of next year to complete the project and hopefully then we will have a unique collection of some of the country’s glorious history,” concluded Conor.

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The photographs of the Éire markings in Mayo can be viewed by visiting Conor’s Eirespace Facebook page.

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