The Homes of Owey

The glittering Altantic of west Donegal offers the perfect conditions for jumping into a small boat and away to Owey Island

Owey Island - with Errigal mountain beyond

Owey Island – with Errigal mountain beyond

Owey Island – Oileán Uaighe – which means island of caves

granite cliffs of OweyFormed from pink granite into dramatic cliffs on all sides,  except for the south where the island slopes gently, its agricultural past evident in low-slung walls & overgrown pastureP1040794 This island once supported a hundred people but became uninhabited about fifty years ago, when what remained of that dwindling population opted to resettle in less arduous fields

granite gable on Owey Mainstay livelihoods of small cattle farming, poteen making and fishing stocks declined – new ways of life ‘improved’ beyond remembranceP1120250 All was left to the mercy of the elements – save for a few sheep that island people kept maintained here in order to continue to hold a valid claim on their land and ruined houses P1120310Happily now Owey enjoys a revival.

owey homes

Mick Mc Ginley’s

With many cottages restored, although no resident is yet permanent, the island is used extensively during  summer months. Native islander Mick McGinley was among the first to restore the old family home-place. Now his sons prevail at the task


Niall McGinley

of first digging out these ruins – which tend to be several feet deep in debris

P1120167then using what materials are at hand, field boulders and shore stone

Rebuilding on Owey

to put a shape upon these battered walls

Fireplace in granite

Fireplace in granite

 So Owey re-establishes itself without fuss


Hugh ‘Slug’ Cowen’s cottage

P1120264 P1120272 P1120262With no mains water or electricity,  islanders rely on gas light, water from spring wells & composting toilets


Cottage of Frankie ‘Perth’ Gallagher


P1120289 P1120290P1120284 Looking at the old walls, some are pointed with Lime but otherwise filled by a mix of sandy gravel and what seems to be fire cinders P1120234chicken shed

An Owey chicken shed

Where once young island boyos would scale the cliffs in search of wild beetroot, down by the shore women would congregate to wash heavy woolen blankets, taking advantage of a summer’s day and a spring which ran warm fresh water across flat rocks

womans place

Bun an struhan uilt – below the clear stream

While men would gather seaweed because another winter was coming after the summer, and the soil would need nourished if potatoes were to grow once more




46 thoughts on “The Homes of Owey

    1. Hello piggywhistles – shown here to it’s best advantage as we are enjoying a wonderful spell of weather – but an entirely different story during the winter months, knocks the romance out of Ireland quick enough!

    1. A fisherman, he certainly shares your Scots brogue & likely his people are originally from Owey. The connections are incredibly strong between west Donegal particularly and Scotland, forced by economic circumstances, first as ‘tattie hoakers’ and herring gutters then as workers in Glasgow factories, but most famously the ‘Donegal Tigers’ were fearless tunnellers who worked on all types of projects from railways to mines in Scotland in the 40s and 50s & still in demand today apparently!

      1. Would that I could, but I cannot claim authorship of the article. Instead I am a Galwegian in search of inspiration ! We have a 250yr old cottage in need of restoration – A simple two up two down. I want to restore it, to extend it and to have our kids live in and enjoy it. I come to these pages for inspiration and affirmation ! God bless your great work.

        1. Notions (widely held I’ve discovered) that lime is a difficult, weak, treacherous and generally defunct material, can only be a hangover from hardships of the past, which Ireland needs to get over quickly if our built heritage is to survive at all. I hope your cottage brings you rewards. Thanks for tuning in. We are insulating now, soon to be reported.

  1. As usual, another beautiful article, Louise. It is great to see new life being introduced to the island once more and well done to all concerned.

    1. It really is a big achievement with minimum help from the powers-that-be, and when you consider that every single building material has to be brought in by sea in small boats, no heavy machinery or electric for power tools – well done indeed to the Owey community.

  2. What a superb photo essay. The gable pic (#4) shows the originaL THATCH roof line, that , almost circular hump shape, so particular to west & north Donegal, then overlaid by the straight line of later years, for tin or slate. Many of the walls seem to be without mortar, dry stone construction or is it just that the shell grit/ash binding has eroded over the decades?

    1. What intrigued me about the gable (forth picture) was the position of the window, must’ve been just shy of the thatch. As a rule once the roof covering is gone the mortar mix can wash away more readily from the heart of the wall, as water percolates down through it. As for the pot bellied stove being an adapted still, I’m guessing not, for these were generally cheaply made from tin. Imagine trying to hide a cast iron yoke in a sea cave as the law boat approached.

  3. was niall mcginley by any chance the niall that was fixing a roof on a cottage this summer and who studied sculpture?If so I met him while I was visiting owey in august! If it is the same niall give me a shout 🙂

  4. Mick was one of the first to restore indeed! did he tell you that? I was working at mine a good 15 years or more before Mick landed wit a paint brush and a packet of biscuits!

      1. Hello, It’s the one on the left as you come up the road. Two storey. It was the island Post Office. I could be wrong but I think Mick introduced us.

        1. Ah yes of course – what a beautiful job you’ve done on that house. The island was very busy that day in the blistering heat, but I remember now – the beard and hat. Hopefully we’ll meet again next summer; I’d be interested in how you tackled the house without Mick to bring supplies over!

  5. I always heard that my Dad’s people came from Owey but I was ot sure if it was his Sharkey side or his Gallagher side. He was James Dan Sharkey from Kincasslagh. His father was Dan Sharkey and his Mom was Mary Gallagher. Whe I go to Ireland I always go out to the end of Cruit and stare across at Owey with longing eyes.

    1. Hi Mary – if you happen to be part of Facebook – there is a group called ‘Lower Gweedore/Rosses History Forum’ whose members shall almost certainly know from which side of your family is native to Owey – if you ask them. Some members are very elderly and have a great treasure of knowledge. Next time you come to Cruit (weather permitting) you must certainly visit the island, as there is now a regular boat run by Dan (Gallagher I think).

  6. The first family to restore a cottage and summer on Owey were the Hall family followed two years later by the Cowans. All the others with the exception of the natives came later dragging everything from the 20th century with them to try and live a 21st century life.

  7. I believe my ancestors came from Owey, I think they were O Donnels. I’m fascinated by the islands of the west, especially all the vernacular architecture which I studied for a bit . If you ever need a hand lugging , lime pointing, or general work this summer, I’d be delighted to excuse myself from life in the South East. Would be a chance to look up my family history too. Just an amazing project, your passion for the place is so wonderful!

    1. Thanks Karen – I might take you up on that some time. If you find yourself in Donegal drop me a line! Have a lovely summer – now it has eventually decided to arrive.

  8. Hello, we hope to swim from Cruit to Owey in May or June. Then camp on the island for a night or air bnb.
    Myself, my daughter are coming from Canada and we have friends from Sligo probably 5 in all.
    We would need a safety boat and of course same boat to bring our things there and us and our things back the next day. I sea kayaked to Gola when back living in Ireland so I fully appreciate all the sentiments. Thank you for posting them. Please advise if you know a boat and operator we can hire and a bnb on the island or camp spot. I also believe my great grandmother was from the island.

    1. Hi Joseph – sounds fantastic and I hope you get the weather for your swim. I would check with the local coastguard re conditions and currents! Likewise at the golf club in Cruit they will know the local boatsmen.

    2. Hi Joseph
      I am aloisia’s brother and run an adventure company. There is a rib rum by a local can take stuff there and back for u.
      I would be cautious about swimming the sound unless you have local advice and support and knkw the tides on the day. It can be find but when the tide runs it goes fast.
      If u need any help advice email me on and I can get the boat details for u etc

  9. Just read this message from Joseph and wondering if the swim is still going ahead? There are now a couple of places to stay on Owey, self catering or b&b. Best person to speak to about a boat is Dan Gallagher who runs the ferry. Weather was unbelievable last weekend, from scorchio to monsoon in the space of half an hour check out video on the Owey page.

  10. Well we made it to island but not by swimming. Dan picked my daughter and I up and we spent the day resting. Unfortunately our time in Ireland was taken up with tiring personal business in Dublin that was too unpredictable and left us scrambling last minute to get to Donegal. So our Sligo friends could not make same two days. A driving trip that still saps the energy so by time we got to the island all we wanted to do was rest. good advice on the tides and channel and certainly would not attempt it without reviewing tides and with a boat. We both fell in love with the place and will be back now we know about the accommodation.
    My son is off tomorrow for two weeks exploring the Haida Gwaii archipelago off NW coast of Canada. So something about islands. My daughter now wants me to help her find a place on Owey to buy, and renovate loving the idea of being completely off the grid. So love to hear of any of the old homes for sale no matter how much repair they need . I can be reached at my work email
    We both appreciate how special it is and how well it is being looked after by you all.

  11. My mum (Sharkey) lived on Owey for may years, such a nice place. Glad to see a bit of love going back to the island.

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