Lennon’s ‘magical mystery’ island


BED-IN FOR PEACE John and Yoko on their honeymoon in Amsterdam where they held a ‘bed-in’.

It’s 50 years since Beatle John Lennon made front page headlines in The Mayo News

Áine Ryan

IT is no wonder the arrival on Dorinish Island of Beatle John Lennon and his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, in June 1968, ruffled a few feathers. Like the majority of Clew Bay’s tiny inner islands, it was uninhabited by humans and happened to be the nesting season for its resident gulls and gannets: a rather stressful time from an avian perspective. The fact that Ms Ono was coiffed with a beehive bun didn’t help the sense of confusion and, naturally, some of the feathered friends swooped on her assuming she was bearing new soft material for their nests.
It was a year after John Lennon had seen an advertisement in a British newspaper for an island off Ireland for sale.
Part of the maze of inner islands in the spectacular County Mayo bay, Dorinish was owned by Westport Harbour Board and had been used as a piloting station for cargo ships navigating into the harbour. But times were changing and the tidal harbour was no longer a busy port and so strapped for cash were the board that the 19-acre island was put up for sale by public auction. So Lennon despatched The Beatles’ ‘Mr FixIt’, Alistair Taylor, who easily outbid the group of local farmers interested in purchasing the island for pasture.
The Liverpool lad, who would later discover his Irish heritage, became the owner of an island for the princely sum of £1,700 pounds sterling.
When Lennon made his maiden voyage to the island the previous year, he was still married to his first wife, Cynthia, and had planned to build a getaway home there for themselves and their young son, Julian. He had sailed out to the island with local boat-builder, Paddy Quinn, of Inishscuttle. Quinn was also hired to build a raft to transport a multi-coloured gypsy caravan. Interestingly, during interviews over the subsequent decades, Quinn confirmed that he hadn’t a clue who Lennon was when he first approached him. He recalled that he was very courteous and business-like and the only tension occurred when – over a cup of tea in his house – his dog, Sandy, mistook Lennon’s long hairy Afghan coat for some exotic intruder and began to growl at it.
According to local lore Lennon visited the island twice and just spent one night there with Ono in the gypsy caravan. Apparently the weather turned nasty on one of these occasions and they were forced to get a helicopter back to Westport Quay where one droll observer, of Ono’s attire quipped: “Her shkirt was so short, you could see Louisburgh between her legs.”

Mulranny hotel
IT was on this second occasion that the Beatle made front-page headlines in The Mayo News after he, and a party of seven, landed on the lawns of the Great Southern Hotel, Mulranny, (these days the Mulranny Park Hotel) as guests for the weekend.
“Beatle Was ‘Enchanted’ With Mulranny Visit”, stated the headline by then cub reporter, the late Martin Curry.
Indeed, this was truly a serendipitous scoop as Martin confirmed at the end of his article: “My visit to the hotel on Saturday evening was to cover the arrival of the Minister for External Affairs [Frank Aiken]. Little did I expect that I would be the only pressman on the spot to cover the surprise arrival of the Beatle Millionaire.” Of course, even in the days before the world wide web, the bush telegraph was very efficient in the west, and a posse of press people arrived by the following day to check if they could get an on-the-record confirmation on whether Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia had ended but the Beatle declined to comment.
Lennon wasn’t so reticent with his hosts and the guests of the hotel, however. On the Sunday night, he participated in a concert in the hotel, organised by manager, Bob Lalor, and compered by Tony Chambers.
Curry’s report states: “Taking part were the Molloy brothers, Mulranny (accordion); Dominick Grady, Newport, who gave a selection on the bagpipes. Miss Peggy Jennings, hotel receptionist, and a native of Hollymount, gave an exhibition of Irish dancing and items were also contributed by the hotel staff.
Mr Lennon and his group were very much impressed by the singing of ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘The Rose of Tralee’ by Mrs Larry McGovern, Newport.
Later Mr Lennon played a tape-recording of a new record by The Beatles entitled ‘Revolution’, which was about to be released. It was the first time for the recording to be heard in public.
“He was enchanted with the Mulranny countryside and was very pleased with his island purchase,” the article stated.
“The fact that the area is in no way commercialised adds to its beauty,” Lennon told Martin Curry.

Island owner
A 25-minute voyage from Rosmoney Harbour, Dorinish is, in fact, two islands joined by a causeway. Overlooked on the land-side by Croagh Patrick and with the protective beacon of Inisgort lighthouse to the north-west, there is no evidence of Lennon’s sojourns there today. There are, however, a number of stone-encircled pits, remnants of Sid Rawle’s hippy commune: The Tribe of the Sun. They caused quite a local controversy when, with John Lennon’s permission, they lived on the island for a number of years from 1969, ultimately capitulating to the elemental Atlantic and a fire.
Westport may be a cosmopolitan town these days but back in the late 1960s the word ‘hippy’ was not part of the local lexicon. So many businesses refused to serve them when they came into town in their colourful kaftans and cheesecloth dresses, preaching flower power and free love. Fortunately, the then owners of The Asgard Bar, Sue and Tad Minish embraced a more open outlook and often allowed them to sleep at their quayside premises and sail them back out to Dorinish in their Achill yawl.
Another sympathiser was the late Tommy Gibbons from neighbouring Inishlyre. Whenever the hippies needed to go to the mainland they would raise a flag and Gibbons would pick them up in his little craft. On one occasion, Tommy innocently offered to share his cigarettes after he observed them passing a rather long handmade one around as they glided across the waves to the little pier at Murrisk.
The story of the hippy colony provided great copy for the international press who flocked to The Tavern Bar in Murrisk to film a tribunal of local opinion.