A Visit to Lambay

Lambay, sometimes also called Lambay Island, is a private island lying off Dublin Bay and owned by the Baring family trust.  It was purchased in 1904 by the Hon Cecil Baring,  who later became Lord Revelstoke, for his new bride Maude whom he was madly in love with.  The island came with a 16th century fort, so Baring hired Edward Lutyens to remodel and extend to make an idyllic castle for his young bride and subsequent family.  This became a beautiful example of Lutyens architecture with his typical motifs everywhere, circular stairs, vaulted ceilings, stone fireplaces and furniture designed for the house specifically.  Outside there is a huge circular enceinte wall surrounding it to create a windbreak.   It’s very blowy outside this shelter on the island, and once within the confines of the wall the garden becomes a calm oasis from the brutal Irish wind (even in summer).  Lutyens also designed the horseshoe shaped harbour, another building called The White House for Baring’s daughters to use with their own families when they later came to stay, and cottages for the staff.  There is also a chapel on the Island and farm buildings.  Gertrude Jekyll designed the gardens around the castle, and it is a privilege to see the work of both these notable designers in a private setting.

My husband and I were lucky enough to be invited to stay by a family member who still visits the island, and I realised recently that I had not shared this adventure on the blog.  It was an amazing time and very memorable.  The Baring Trust still own the island, and family members can still come and stay.  It is also rented out privately for shoots, day trips and events.  They have also recently started making Lambay whiskey.

Here is an aerial view of the island lying off the coast of Ireland.  As we flew into Dublin I could not believe how big and empty of human signs of life it seemed.

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Photo by Joseph Mischyshyn

So we arrived in Dublin and headed to the very smart port area that is Malahide where the boats leave to get to the island.  This is a genteel port with the most expensive supermarket I have ever been to, it outdid Fortnum and Mason’s in delicacies and everything looked delicious.  We had to collect food we had ordered ahead to take over to the Island, where we would be staying in The White House with friends.  The Island is inhabited full time only by a few people, so this taking of provisions across the waters is par for the course.   Once upon a time animals for food used to be put on the boat to take over, but EU regulations put a stop to that.  Clanking with bottles, bags of food and luggage, we then were collected by the boat used by Lambay to ferry passengers and provisions and headed across the bay.  In summer this crossing was fine, but I don’t think it would be quite so much fun in winter with gales.

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This rather buxom beauty reclines in Malahide overlooking the sea

On arriving, the first thing you see is the amazing port Lutyens designed.  To the right you can see the cottages and then The White House.  Towards the rear you can see the trees and wall that protect the Castle.  The sea is teeming with seals who are very nosy and come over for a look at visitors.

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Photo credit: M Baring

We arrived and unpacked our food and drink and then had a look around.  The White House where we stayed is beautiful and vast.  All of the fitted furniture is still there as Lutyens designed it.  The kitchen still has all of the old china and huge storage jars intact.  The current full-time occupants of the island had just upgraded all of the bathrooms so there is not just ‘one bath a day which we share’ which is what a long-visiting family member told me used to be the order of the day.  Now it is simple and spacious, but still luxurious.

What makes Lambay unique is that time has stood still.  It does have generator power, but even though you can see the lights of Dublin twinkling at night in the distance, there is no wi-fi, no light pollution and peace.  In fact there is no noise except the seabirds, the waves and the wind.

The castle sits nestled in its peaceful wind-free grounds, with herbaceous borders, secret walled gardens and the sound of water trickling in ponds and streams.  We were given a tour of the Castle and gardens, and listened to friends reminiscing about the summers they spent as children on the island where they were literally free-range for 3 months of the year.

We spent our time on the island catching lobsters, fishing, setting rabbit traps, harvesting edible seaweed, picking vegetables and making all our food from scratch.  Every morning the dense soda bread was baked ready for lunch, cakes and pastries were made for tea time, and then foraging began for extra treats as we explored the island.  I swam with nosy seals, roamed around the spectacular coastal path and watched nature in its finest state of freedom.

The wildlife is extraordinary on the island.  Many birds use it as their nesting grounds as it is far from the madding crowd, and I saw guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins to name just a few breeds.  The west side of island that faces away from Ireland is the main breeding ground with spectacular cliffs, and the amount of birds on it rivalled a FA Cup stadium on a finals match.  The noise was terrific; screeching birds and crashing waves reverberated as we watched seabirds dive bombing into the sea to catch their fish. The seals that dot themselves around the island are Grey Atlantic Seals, and apparently there are also Harbour Porpoises in the waters.

One evening we took a walk up to the highest point of the island to watch the sun set.  The wind was blowing away, and dusk was settling so we could see Dublin in the far distance starting to twinkle with lights.  A Labrador who was with us started woofing, and chased after what I thought were rabbits.  But the dog then retreated bit pathetically, and looked really confused.  Out of long grass sprung the most bizarre animals, which in the half light I thought were huge rabbits.  But they turned out to be resident wild Wallabies who bounced around us, spinning off in all directions.  Apparently a pair were taken in by one resident Baring and they breed copiously so have to have their numbers reduced every few years so they don’t overrun the island, according to one family member they are “Ok, but a bit chewy…”

In the evenings we would have drinks outside watching the sun set, and then eat all of the food we had caught or made that day.  There is nothing better than lobster you have caught that day with fresh home made Hollandaise sauce… although our Soda Bread was a bit like eating dried cardboard – but that could be our culinary skills.

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A Lutyens gate in the distance

Then as the sun set we would light a fire (it’s damp on this island when the sun sets) and get out board games or just sit and chat.  There were no televisions, phones or dreaded iPads and even the teenagers with us seemed to love this disconnect from the real world that they know.  It was like turning back the clock 50 years, and I loved it.  We decided to have a Lambay Art Exhibition, with everyone on the island having to take part and make something from items they had salvaged from beaches or cliffs.  Considering that there were probably no more than 20 people on the island, we all did really well with just one glue gun to share and few pencils.. and the competitive streak did take over for a couple of days – people vanished and claimed beaches for themselves as they hunted for finds.  This culminated in a Private View for ourselves and an exhibition party, again for all 20 of us – it was great fun.

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On the left is my Lambay artwork – a spoof dinosaur skeleton find of a ‘Lambaysaurrus’

The stylish wardrobe I took with me thinking I was partaking in an Agatha Christie style weekend (minus murder), did not see the light of day… it’s way too windy for linens in this place.  And my wetsuit served me well for jumping off the port to swim with seals, (incidentally they appear behind you very quietly so when you turn around there is a curious pair of eyes right next to you).  By the end of my stay I was covered in mud, bedraggled and dreadlocked, but as relaxed and happy as a lamb.

But we did go home in this plane, so I got my Agatha Christie moment in the end… sort of…

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There is some great drone footage of island you can watch https://player.vimeo.com/video/233184732 <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/233184732″>Millie’s Island Club, Lambay</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user50024027″>Miranda Baring</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>here

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