Delving into Murrisk’s hidden history
For the tens of thousands of visitors who make their way to Murrisk each year, the village landmarks are well known and world famous. The Reek itself has attracted pilgrims from time immemorial ; the National Famine Monument is a site of profound significance to Irish people everywhere; Murrisk Abbey, founded in 1457, is replete with links to the area’s past and its connection to both native families and landed gentry.
But, as a recently launched programme of guided tours reveals, Murrisk has much more of interest to offer. Bord Failte approved guide, Brian Hoban, delves much deeper into Murrisk’s past during the course of a two-hour Loop Walk, held every Saturday, which has been attracting much interest from visitors, but also from locals who want to learn more of their native place. His is a walk off the beaten track, across the slopes of Croagh Patrick, and along the seashore in which he highlights a myriad of half forgotten details about the area.
There are the Fulacht Fia, and the Mass Rock, high up in the hills, the Barrachtai - a word which now survives only in Murrisk - the stone buildings where the harvested turf crop was stored, and the Fishermens’ Memorial to those of the village who were lost at sea.
And Brian Hoban offers a most interesting account of Murrisk’s once thriving fishing industry which reached its heights following the construction of the pier in the 1890s by the Congested Districts Board until its decline in the 1930s. Murrisk fishermen were admired as skilled and courageous mariners, and the expertise of the herring fleet provided an income for its households which few coastal villages could match.
There were also the prosperous oyster fisheries with their lucrative export market, and Brian Hoban can still point out the oyster storage ponds where the produce was kept on hold before export to Scotland.
It was this Scottish connection which in turn feeds into the social history of Murrisk, where an influx of Scotch settlers in the 17th century laid the foundation of many of today’s well established local families. They came in pursuit of oyster production, and they stayed, and local names like Campbell and Garvey, Groden, Gill and Gavin are descended from those immigrants of four hundred years ago. The Garveys became extensive land owners, and the Deer Wall - another landmark on the tour - marked the old boundary between their property and that of the Brownes of Westport.
Hopefully, Brian Hoban finds the time to recount the tale of that most intrepid of all Murrisk fishermen, Austin Burke, whose daring seamanship in 1947 made headlines around the world. Leaving his home village on a calm May day to sail to Arklow, his small fishing boat ‘Myra’ ran into mountainous and unexpected seas. Driven a hundred miles out into the Atlantic, its fuel supply exhausted, the Myra was tossed about adrift on the ocean for three long weeks, without contact with land or other craft. When all hope was lost, word finally reached Murrisk that Burke and his crew of two had been miraculously found by a Scottish trawler and were safely landed at Oban in Argyll.
Incidentally, Murrisk’s famed Pattern Day takes place this coming Sunday, and more details of the Saturday Loop Walks can be had from Brian Hoban at 087 9234504.