Dorinish has a very colourful past, one of its former owners being John Lennon, who purchased the
island in 1967 leading to it also become widely known as Beatle Island.
The island is located in Clew bay, which contains Ireland's best example of sunken drumlins (glacial landforms). Around 12,000 years, Clew Bay was covered in ice. As the temperature rose and the ice retreated, wave-like patterns left sediment on the surface of the land, leaving these drumlins sloping from west to east with their massive boulder clay cliffs
In the 1800s marine pilots, who guided ships into Westport harbour, lived on the island with their
families. Census figures show that over the years up to fifteen people lived there with last recorded
occupants included in the 1891 census.
Dorinish was uninhabited when John bought it from Westport Harbour Board and he was granted
planning permission for a holiday home. Yoko Ono sold the island after John’s death.
GRACE O'MALLEY THE PIRATE QUEEN
In the early 14th century the Clan O’Malley, a great seafaring family, rose to their power. They ruled the southern shore of Clew Bay and the most of barony of Murrisk for over 300 years. They were ruthless pirates and terrorised the ships to and from Galway town, taxing all those who fished off their coasts. They traded with some coastal areas of France and Spain and built a row of castles facing the sea to protect their territory.
Their coat of arm bore the Latin Motto “Terra Marique Putens” (Valiant by sea and land).
The most famous O’Malley was Grainne or Grace O’Malley. She was born around 1530 at Belcare Castle near Westport. She is commonly known by her Irish nickname Granuaile or Gráinne ni Mhaille.
Grace was born to be galley captain, sea trader, sea raider, virago, diplomat and a great leader. She had a force of character that comes only once in a century.
Despite her life full of adventures Granuaile lived to an old age. She died in 1603 at Rockfleet Castle and was buried in the Cistercian Abbey on Clare Island.
After her death, she became an Irish folk hero of almost legendary status.
John laid down his guitar and casually said, "Alistair, I want you to buy me an island"..."Oh, and it mustn't be more than two hours from London".
John Lennon bought Dorinish in 1967 and soon afterwards was granted planning permission by Mayo county council to build a house. After the collapse of his first marriage to Cynthia, he postponed the plans. John was investigating how to renew planning permission to build a house for himself and Yoko Ono, just before his death.
"It was a place where we thought we could escape the pressures and spend some undisturbed time together. But because of what happened our hopes never came to be," Ono has said. "We often discussed the idea of building a cottage there. It was so beautiful, so tranquil, yet so isolated, it seemed a perfect place to get away from it all".
John bought the island for £1,700 after a newspaper advertisement for ‘an island off Ireland’ caught his eye. He sent Alistair Taylor, one of the employees at Apple, the record company, to Westport to bid for him at a public auction. Taylor was among a crowd of 30 or 40 locals at the auction, many of them farmers hoping to buy the island to use as pasture for sheep and cattle.
Michael Browne, a solicitor who handled the deal, made arrangements for John to sail to the island, when he visited Dorinish for the first time in 1967. He hired Paddy Quinn, a boat-builder that lives on Inishcuttle island about two miles from Dorinish.
Quinn had no idea who his famous passenger was. "It was only afterwards that I discovered it was John Lennon. As far as I was concerned, he was a customer. Beatlemania and the Swinging Sixties had not quite reached the west of Ireland," Quinn said.
The party spent an hour and a half walking around Dorinish.
Afterwards, he took him for a cup of tea on his own island, Ballycuttle, where Sandy, Quinn’s dog, annoyed John by continually barking at his long hairy coat.
Browne said: "He had a cine camera with him and was taking shots of the scenery all around the area. He was very impressed with Clew Bay. I found him very practical and business-like. He was completely in command of himself, and interested in the logistics and the cost of building a house out on the island. He was worried about further erosion on the island. He was concerned that something should be done to prevent it."
John commissioned an architect to do soil borings and paid for a brightly painted hippie-style caravan to be transported from London to the island as a future home for himself his wife and Julian, his son, then aged four. Quinn built a special raft for the caravan to float it out to the island. "It was floated out one summers evening across the bay on to the island. It was quite a sight to see a caravan floating across the sea. It was painted in psychedelic colours," said Browne.
A year later, on 22 June, John went off on an expedition by helicopter to Dorinish with a small group that included his new partner Yoko Ono and Ronan O'Rahilly. During their trip they viewed Achill Island with Robert Shaw, the late actor. It was established that the Beatle flew to Dublin and was then driven to Westport. They stayed at the Great Southern hotel in Mulrany, a seaside village nearby, where a suite was named after them. They landed by helicopter and ate a meal in the, by now, rather damp caravan, before venturing out to explore the first Lennon property in Ireland for at least a century. The caravan was later moved back to London.
In 1980, the year of his murder, an interviewer, tactlessly quoting a song written by Paul McCartney, asked him what he thought he would be doing "when I'm 64". He replied: "I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that - looking at our scrapbook of madness." He had already asked his Irish solicitor to see about renewing the lapsed planning permission for his house on Dorinish. Is it too fanciful to imagine that John Lennon really might have been there now?
In 1970 John Lennon summoned Sid Rawle, who was known as King of the Hippies, to the Apple offices. John had heard that Rawle’s group of new age travellers, called The Diggers, was looking for an island to set up a commune. He offered Rawle custodianship of Dorinish, soon know as ‘Beatle Island’, to be used for the public good. Rawle accepted, printed fliers and distributed them among the ‘flower power’ people in London.
A group of 25 adults and a baby eventually travelled to Dorinish."We decided we would hold a six-week summer camp on the island. Then we would see what came out of that and decide if we wanted to extend our stay" said Rawle. "It was heaven and it was hell. We lived in tents because there were no stone buildings on the island at all. Most of the time was really good".
The hippies stayed for two years, growing vegetable on the island, lighting bonfires to keep warm, and storing food in specially built hollows. They bought groceries in Westport once a fortnight. The commune had no boat so they relied on the local oyster fishermen for transport. They had an agreed system of alerting the boatmen when they needed a lift."During the day, it we put up three sheets on the hill that was an emergency. One sheet was ‘come round and pick us up whenever you’ve got time’. Two was ‘we’d like to see you in a bit of a hurry’ and three was ‘get a move on’." Post would arrive addressed to Hippie Island, Ireland.
Some of the local people were hostile to the new age travellers. "Hippie republic under siege" was the headline in the Connaught Telegraph in March 1971 over a story, which said: "After a year of seething anger, Westport has finally declared war on the ‘Republic of Dorinish’."
There is also a video about the controversy that existed between the residents of Westport, county Mayo and the hippies http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0107/758290-hippies-in-county-mayo/
In 1972, after a fire destroyed the main tent used to store supplies, most of The Diggers moved off Dorinish. Rawle went back to Britain.
In November 1983, Yoko decided to sell the island with the proceeds going to an Irish orphanage.
"Putting Dorinish up for sale is an expression of the love we have for Ireland and its people. John would have wished the island to be returned to the Irish. John is still there is spirit. His grandfather was born in Dublin, and John always thought of himself as Irish."
Ono put the island up for sale in 1984 when Michael and John Joe Gavin, local farmers, bought it. Brothers used the island to graze their sheep and cattle. The proceeds of the sale, nearly £30,000- were donated to an Irish orphanage.