For sale: Beatle Island

It’s rare that an estate agent needs to reach a property by boat. It’s rare, too, that the property is an entire island. It’s even rarer that the island was once owned by John Lennon

The Beatles in Dublin November 1963. Photograph: Dermot O'Shea provided by The Irish Times
The Beatles in Dublin November 1963. Photograph: Dermot O'Shea provided by The Irish Times

Andrew Crowley is the estate agent with Dorinish Island in his portfolio. As the Guardian newspaper’s Tracy McVeigh and assorted guests are about to alight from the boat taking them there, Crowley drops a threat: "You'll not be wanting to get off". Anywhere else it would be estate agent speak. Here, though, it’s the truth.

“A beguiling Waterworld”

When the BBC television series Coast visited Ireland, it wasn’t long before they found themselves on Mayo’s Atlantic stretch and within sight of Clew Bay. Needless to say, they’re impressed:

“It’s a beguiling waterworld unlike anything else in the British Isles”.

They go on to tell us that local mythology counts the scattering of islands as 365 – one for each day of the year (in truth there are approximately 117). In 1967 and for the sum of £1,700, John Lennon made one of the 117 his own.

A perfect place

It would be nice to think that at the height of Beatlemania, the screaming, the clamouring and the ceaseless touring, Lennon escaped regularly to Dorinish and simply lived. Here, of course, was a man with a mind made for imagining. He was a person who maintained those inherently charming, almost childish ideals of hope, peace and love that defined all that was positive about his generation. Considering the silence of Clew Bay, the soundtrack of lolling surf and the unimaginable greenery of the scattered islands, it would be hard to conjure a vision of a place more suited to ‘imagining’.

Did Lennon get that chance? A quote from his wife, Yoko Ono, is a clue:

"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”

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Best laid plans

By the time of his death in 1980, Lennon had only visited the island once. Michael Browne, a local who took Lennon to visit Dorinish, said of the visit, “He [Lennon] was constantly panning a cine-camera to get a panoramic of the bay”.

Life, and the world’s most incredible music phonomenon, got in the way of Lennon’s plans to build a home on the island. Even though he had received planning permission to build there, the Liverpudlian simply never found the time to settle. In the meantime, he ‘lent’ the island to the peace campaigner and journalist Sid Rawle, or as many might know him ‘The King of the Hippies’.

Beatle Island

Even though the island was sold by Yoko Ono four years after Lennon’s death (Ono donated the sale proceeds of £30,000 to an Irish orphanage), to this day, the island is known locally as ‘Beatle Island’. And one imagines that whoever its next owner may be, that’s just how it will stay.

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