Magical memories for documentary on Dorinish

Living

PEACE Dorinish is actually made up of two small islands, Dorinish Beg and Dorinish Mór, joined by a natural stone causeway. Both islands, around 19 acres in total, are currently used for grazing sheep, which share the island with a wide variety of sea birds, including puffins, cormorants and terns.

Áine Ryan

WHETHER the filmmakers will find the ghost of John Lennon singing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ or a mirage of Yoko Ono’s beehive bun under attack from nesting gulls, a proposed documentary about the Clew Bay island the late Beatle once owned is sure to be a treat for fans around the globe.
The Gambit Pictures project, which has already received funding from Screen Ireland and Screen NI, aims to produce a feature-length documentary about Lennon’s ownership of the island and the hippy colony that settled there for a time in the early ’70s.
Director Gillian Callan explains: “We are hoping to locate some of the people who lived on the island in the ’70s and see if they’d be willing to tell us what life was like then, why they joined the community, what they gained from their time on Dorinish – the good times and the hard times. We have located some people but we are still on the hunt for more.”
Callan also wants to talk to locals who may have had interactions with the hippy colony, which was led by the so-called King of the Hippies, the late Sid Rawle, who having survived some island storms and a fire in the food tents went on to help organise the first Glastonbury festival.
“We are also very keen to speak to locals who remember that period and their impressions of the Tribe. Although I realise that sadly with the passage of time some people may have passed away,” she says.  
Fortunately, there has been lots written about Dorinish, one of the many drowned drumlins in the spectacular bay and, indeed, The Mayo News understands stories from that period are still alive in many local people’s memories.
Whilst John Lennon attempted to be very low key about his purchase of the island after he saw an advertisement in a British newspaper in 1967, the bush telegraph was working well as always, and news spread pretty quickly after windy conditions during his second visit meant himself and his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, were forced to hire a helicopter back from the island to Westport Quay. There, one local noted drily that ‘Ono’s skirt as so short you could see Louisburgh between her legs’. They were staying in the Great Southern Hotel, Mulranny – these days the Mulranny Park Hotel – where during a concert by locals he played the first public recording of the Beatles hit, ‘Revolution’.
Callan hopes the documentary crew can start production in early summer 2021, but like everything, that all depends if there are continued restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, we also hope to be able to meet with people before this time to build relationships with those involved in the story and do some initial development filming,” she says.  
Naturally, The Mayo News is curious about the genesis of the idea to make a documentary.
Callan explains: “As with most documentary origins, the idea sprung from a newspaper clipping. We saw a story about the island, and it mentioned John Lennon’s ownership and the community that formed there in the early ’70s. We then found some film archive from the time and together it sparked the idea that a wonderful documentary film retelling the story could and should be made.”
Gambit hopes that when completed the film will be shown at international festivals, in cinemas and on online streaming platforms.  
“We would also hope it would be picked up by an Irish television broadcaster,” she adds.

If you have any stories to tell about life on the island when the hippy colony lived there, or about John Lennon’s visits, and would like to share them with the documentary makers, email lennonisland@gmail.com.

Five facts about Dorinish
1 Dorinish was used by the Westport Harbour Board in the 1800s to house marine pilots who guided sailing ships through Clew Bay. The remains of the pilots’ stone homes are still visible.
2 Lennon is reported to have bought the island in 1967 for £1,700, with the aim of retiring there. He is said to have arranged for a wooden caravan painted in psychedelic colours to be shipped to Dorinish from London as a temporary home.
3 As his career progressed, Lennon deferred his moving to the island and offered it to Sid Rawle, ‘King of the Hippies’, who lived there along with 30 others until 1972, when a dropped oil lamp burned down their tents, forcing them to abandon the commune.
4 Yoko Ono sold the island to two local brothers Michael and John Joe Gavin for £30,000 in 1984, and it has been widely reported that she donated the proceeds of the sale to an Irish orphanage. Dorinish went on the market again in 2012 for €300,000.
5 Celebrated Irish author Kevin Barry’s novel ‘Beatlebone’ is a fictionalised account of a trip to Dorinish by John Lennon in 1978. The surreal and darkly wry book won the Goldsmiths prize in 2015.