Lambay Island (Page 2)


The Baring family bought Lambay in 1904 and are still in residence there to-day. Originally, the Barings were German Protestants and were the only British banking family to bank inside the Eastern Block. Charles Dickens makes reference to the Barings in two of his novels.

Cecil Baring worked at the New York branch of the family banking business in the latter years of the 19th century. He developed a great interest in natural history and travelled extensively in pursuit of this interest. Cecil Baring's second wife was an American and her father, Pierre Lorrilard, the first American to win the Derby, was Cecil's partner in the bank. Cecil eloped with Maude in 1902. Eighteen months after his marriage, while travelling in Europe, Cecil saw an advertisement in The Field - "Island for Sale", and so he bought Lambay in 1904 for £9,000. The island had a small castle in a state of dereliction. He first employed an unidentified architect from Dublin to renovate and extend the castle before engaging Sir Edwin Lutyens to work on the project. This architectural gem took nearly five years to complete and is Lutyens main building in Ireland. Subsequently,work continued on the construction of the farm building up to 1915. The open air 'real tennis' court was added later and the the last major building work was the 'White House' completed in 1934. We will cover the buildings of the castle and gardens in some detail later. Meanwhile, Cecil encouraged a detailed study of the island's flora and fauna with the results being published in The Irish Naturalist in 1907. The great Irish naturalist, Praeger, visited the island about this time in the course of his perambulation about the island of Ireland.

In 1911 when Cecil was made managing partner of the Bank in London he found it necessary to reside there but he returned to his beloved Lambay for two months each summer and also at Christmas. Cecil Baring had three children, Daphne, Calypso and Rupert. His wife died in 1922. Cecil died in 1934 having succeeded his older brother to the title of 'Lord Revelstoke' in 1929. They are buried in the family burial plot on the island. There is a walled graveyard to the south west of the castle which also contains a small church with remarkable stained glass windows. In 1933, just before Cecil's death, the Doric portico was added to the original Talbot built chapel. Again maintaining an island tradition, the present day residents gather here for prayer on Sunday mornings.

Cecil's epitaph reads: "Cecil Baring; 3rd Baron Revelstoke; Born 2nd September 1865; Died 26th January 1934; Of whom this much it shall suffice to say; He loved his wife, his children and Lambay".

Lambay owes its masses of porphyry and greenstone to volcanic energies, quietened down unknown ages ago. The island is approximately 1.5 miles long and 1 mile wide, containing c.750 acres of which 650 acres are conducive to farming. Its name has changed over the centuries from Limnus (Ptolemy) to Lambeia (Latin) to Reachra (Irish) to Lambay (Norse). The population of Lambay has also changed drastically over the years. In 1841, the island population was 115 but in 1941 it had dwindled to 30. To-day, it is down to around 10 though this increases somewhat during the summer months when visitors are accommodated in the renovated coastguard cottages by the harbour. 

There are many items of interest on Lambay, from the white-washed buildings around the harbour (clearly visible from Malahide) some of which were formerly occupied by the Coastguard to the powerhouse with generator and windmill; from the now unused golf course on the back of the island to the real tennis court near the harbour. 

A map produced as part of the island survey by Robert Lloyd Praeger and associates in 1905.

As well as showing the contours the vegetation is depicted. There are stories behind most of the names of  features around the shores.


The great Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger visited the island in 1890 and returned in 1905 to supervise a natural history survey. However, of all its interesting enchantments, it is as a bird sanctuary, established by Cecil Baring, that Lambay will be best remembered. Here we find in abundance the Guillemot who, possibly, lays the most beautiful eggs in the world - turquoise with varying patterns. These eggs are very pointed at one end which helps them from rolling off the cliffs into the sea, but it is a paradox of nature that thus protected from a watery grave, their elaborate colour scheme attracts the preying gulls who devour them in enormous numbers.

As regards the gulls, Lord Revelstoke "played his part" during World War II by exporting over 100,000 gulls eggs to feed a hungry Britain.

Puffins are usually to be seen on and around Lambay with their brightly coloured feet and beaks. One can also appreciate the Kittiwake and it's distinctive cry. Cormorants and their smaller cousins, the Shags, are plentiful.

In the last century the Grey Lag Geese used to come from Scandinavia each winter, just like their predecessors, the Vikings did in the year 790. However, they rarely, if at all, visit the island nowadays. They had their drawbacks too in that they did a fair amount of damage by the amount of grass eaten. Many a visitor to the island will remember how his clothes changed colour if his arrival coincided with the aerial manoeuvres of the geese.

Lambay's bird sanctuary is a portrayal of life in miniature, with its domestic strife, territorial arguments and aerial bedlam. The birds certainly add to the romance of the Island.

Lord Revelstoke's devotion to his island is expressed in his own poetry.

Lambay is the wind passing by
Lambay is the goose flying high
Flying to the West Wind crying
As the light is dying
In the Celtic sky
The Kittiwake lives
On the Isle of Lambay,
Close by the goose
And Razorbill,

Basking seal,
Curlew and teal
Have a share in my life
And always will. ​
Lambay is the sound of the sea
Calling, ever calling to me.
My land,
Sweet enchanted Island
Magic sea and sky land
Where my heart is free.​

Cliff-nesting seabird colonies

In 2004, a full census was completed of seabirds on Lambay island off north County Dublin, five years on from the last complete census of seabirds on the island and the following is an extract from the report published in WINGS, the quarterly magazine of Birdwatch Ireland
" Lambay holds Ireland's largest 'mixed' seabird colony and is of international importance.
We attempted to put Lambay's figures in context by censusing most of the other seabird colonies in Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford. Censuses were carried at Colt and Shenick's Islands near Skerries, on Ireland's Eye and on the main part of Howth Head - all in Co Dublin - at Bray Head and Wicklow Head in Co Wicklow, and at Great Saltee Island, Co Wexford.
We tried to assess whether the recent serious oil spills to the south of us in Brittany (the Erika in December 1999) and in northwest Spain (the Prestige in November 2002) have had any impact on our numbers of cliff-nesting auks, given that considerable numbers of birds ringed in Ireland were recovered during these oil spill incidents.

With respect to Guillemots on Lambay (58,202 individuals) and on Great Saltee (20,485 individuals), numbers were marginally down -perhaps due to major mortality of immature Irish Guillemots following the Erika and Prestige oil spills and consequent reduced recruitment to these colonies.

This year's Lambay total of 1,734 pairs of Shags was a very welcome increase on the 1,122 counted in Seabird 2000 and the previous maximum of 1,597 (counted in 1985), it and goes against the long-term downwards trend in the population of this species in Britain and Ireland as a whole.

The three large Cormorant colonies in Dublin - at Lambay, Ireland's Eye and St Patrick's Island -collectively form a 'super-colony' that comprises the largest aggregation of the species anywhere in Britain or Ireland. In 2004, for the first time, we managed to do accurate land-based counts at all three colonies in the one season, and counted 501 pairs on Lambay, 583 on Ireland's Eye, and 957 on St Patrick's Island. When compared with the Seabird 2000 totals of 675, 306 and 558 respectively, this represents an overall increase of 500 pairs. The grand total of 2,041 Cormorants in the super-colony represents a substantial proportion of the total Irish population of 5,211 pairs recorded in Seabird 2000.

Herring Gulls
The Birdwatch Ireland magazine, Wings, reported on the dramatic collapse in Herring Gull breeding numbers in Ireland, with a huge decline from nearly 60,000 in 1969-70 to 6,235 recorded in Seabird 2000, giving rise to the need to 'red-list' the species. This 2012 census work showed no signs of a recovery at Lambay (310), formerly its most important colony, or at Ireland's Eye (134), and the numbers nesting on roofs in Skerries were also on the low side.

Views of the castle and gardens​.


There had been a castle on Lambay from at least as far back as the 16th century and when Cecil Baring acquired the island he set about renovating and extending the structure that then existed into a modern home. He first engaged an unidentified Dublin architect but in 1908 Sir Edwin Lutyens took over the task and work continued until 1912. It is a castle which is unique in its plan, and is clear-cut proof of the many and varied skills of Mr. Lutyens. In the space of four years he turned an inconvenient little castle into a home of peculiar charm. The name "castle" strictly does not belong to it, as it has no defensive works beyond its own strong walls. The "castle" is rather in the nature of a block house. Reference to the original plans shows that the house exists to-day as it was first built, except for additions to the north-east and south-west sides.

To understand the present day building one must first look back to the early castle on the site as Lutyens final accomplishment is a mixture of the old and the new. By 1467 Lambay was described as "a receptacle for the Kings enemies, to the annoyance of the mainland". John Jiptoft, Earl of Worcester, Lord Deputy in Ireland for Edward IV was commissioned to build a fortress on the island. The present castle had its origins in the 16th century. The early castle was constructed for defending the place as is evidenced by its battlements and spoke holes which commanded the island in every direction. The ground storey consisted of a central room with four apartments, all of identical shape and size, opening from it, and the arrangement on the upper storey was the same. Shot-holes were provided in the corners of the ground-floor rooms so that the castle defenders could shoot assailants as they came round the corners of the castle. The castle had never been more than two storeys. The ground floor has low vaulted ceilings and the roof was of timber and covered with slates, which suggests that the roof had been reconstructed after Worcester's time. In 1904 alterations and repairs were carried out in the castle and the fast decaying roof was renewed, to make it habitable. The sliding sash-windows were replaced by teak casements and the rooms on the north side, then used as a dairy, were converted into living rooms. A cowhouse was converted into a kitchen and defects in the masonry were made good by a plentiful supply of Portland cement. Such was the state of Lambay Castle in 1905 when Mr. Lutyens first appeared on the island. He must have found the castle somewhat battered by time and its history and character obscured by innumerable "restorations". It took him three years of careful deliberation before work was begun in 1908. The problem facing him was how to enlarge the existing castle without destroying its character.

The few people who have seen the interior of Lambay Castle speak of its beauty and some say that it is a perfect example of Renaissance Gothic architecture. Lutyens also revelled in interior and furniture design and there are interesting examples of his work in the castle.

The first action taken by Mr. Lutyens was to remove the cement roof which had proved highly inefficient. He substituted grey pantiles of delightful colour and texture. He next abolished the iron down-pipes and gutters. The original castle was very primitive in its arrangements, but was left untouched except for slight internal re-arrangements and for the re-building of the northeast side, which had already been subjected to successive alterations. The ground-floor rooms were entered on the north west side, and only one fireplace opening existed in the eastern end of the sitting room. The arch stones of this were part of the original building and were utilised for the new fireplace in the dining room. Other fireplaces were provided in the north entrance hall, sitting room and study. On the first floor there were originally four fireplaces. The old entrance was certainly where is now the door to the north entrance hall. It had been walled up, but was re-opened. The lime mortar and pebble-dash on the outside of the castle walls was retained, for the masonry was very rough. A new staircase was erected in the castle proper and, in the course of the work, it came to light that the old castle would have either lacked a staircase altogether or had a trapdoor and ladder to connect the ground with the first floors. Kitchen quarters and additional bedrooms were provided in a new quadrangular block at the east corner, connected with the old castle by an under-ground passage only. This was practicable because the ground slopes sharply upwards to the east. In order to give access from this passage to the upper level of the new quadrangular block an important staircase of stone was built in the south west corner of the latter. In the result the two buildings, old and new, are unconnected at the first floor level and the castle stands free to tell its own story.

The determination to prevent the new roofs dominating the old meant carving a substantial piece out of the hillside. Although the island is of volcanic origin, the castle and its grounds occupy a small remnant of sedimentation in the shape of a bed of much-tilted and shaly silurian slates which lend themselves, more or less reluctantly, to displacement by pick and shovel. This difficulty loomed large in the preparation of the ground for the new block and in the terracing of the north court.

Among other causes obstructing the building work were the absence on the island of any materials save stone and sea-sand. All other necessaries had to be brought by sailing boats, always a laborious and sometimes a risky process. It may also be guessed that the visits of supervision, extending over years, involved the architect in a peculiar and extensive acquaintance with the moods of the Irish Sea.

In the building of the new wing and of the extensive range of garden walls, advantage was taken of the stone that the island affords, a splendid blue-green porphyry, shot with feldspar crystals. As this is rather refractory to work, the mullions and their dressings are of a cool blue-grey limestone that came from the Milverton Quarries, near Skerries on the mainland and were skillfully wrought by the local quarrymen. The new roofs are also covered by grey pantiles and the sides of the dormers are hung with flat tiles of the same colour. At all times Mr. Lutyens took great care not to disturb the symmetrical plan of the old castle. The new wing is kept low and markedly domestic in character, so that it does not compete with the military note of the old castle.

The buildings are surrounded by a rampart which rises to twenty feet at the western entrance gate and gradually recedes into the rising ground until it is no more than a token stone perturbance above the ground to the east.


The kitchen court is particularly attractive, with its broad sweep of pantiled roof, its demure dormers and its pavement, part of slabs and part cobbled. The stone stair in the new wing has a fine dignity about it and the oak landing and balustrade of the new stair in the castle proper are Jacobean in character. Considerable alteration was necessary to create the present sitting-room out of two small chambers, and the new pointed arches are very successful. On the first floor of the old castle are connecting bedrooms and a nursery suite. The wood casements were removed and iron casements, set in mullions of the Milverton limestone, were used throughout the building.

To fully appreciate the massive undertaking by Mr. Lutyens one must remember that all the heavy machinery required for the work had to be dismantled at Rogerstown Quay near Rush, ferried out on the "Shamrock" then re-assembled on site. All building requirements had to be imported, as, needless to say, there's no local hardware shop on the island.

In 1946 Rupert Baring, son of Cecil Baring and godson of Lutyens, took up residence on Lambay and became something of a recluse. However, he (Lord Revelstoke) carried out some remedial work on the castle including re-roofing with concrete pantiles. When he died in 1994 it was found that the fabric of the castle was deteriorating due to age and damp. Since then renovation and conservation work has been ongoing, guided by the firm of conservation architects Messrs Howley Harrington. A modern wind powered electricity generator has been installed which enables a degree of heating to keep the damp at bay and, of course, the castle is now once again an occupied family home. All this bodes well for the future of one of the most important private residences built in Ireland in the 20th century.


Beautiful gardens surround the house and there is also a separate very attractive walled garden. A feature of the island growth is the profuse way in which fuchsias thrive. In Lambay, as in Connemara, the soft sea air swiftly turns a low bush in to a great hedge, brilliant with showers of crimson blossom. Not often can it be said of an old building that additions covering an even greater area have failed to take away the charm of the old, and still more rarely that they have increased it - but no less is true of Lambay Castle. It is worthy of the island, which is to say much. To-day, the castle sits, surrounded by an island of flowers. On the cliffs grow acres of scurvy-grass, with its creamy white flowers smelling like honey, and flooding the land with blossom. Grass, bracken, heath, rush and blazing with stonecrop and golden samphire, swords bright with the cool grey-blue of sulla verna enclosed by banks of sea pink and great stretches of purple heather- these are the pictures framed by the margin of low water rocks black with fungus or brilliant with yellow lichen.

Indeed, one could not be blamed for thinking in the realms of a fairy castle in an enchanted island.


Lambay is about 250 ha. in area and rises to about 127m. at its highest point (Knockbane). Though only four km. off the Fingal coast the island is isolated and many of the trappings and comforts of modern living which mainland dwellers take for granted are not so readily available.

A 25 kw wind powered generator, installed in 2001, provides electricity for lighting and a very limited amount of electric storage heating but little else. Cooking is by bottled gas brought over from the mainland along with food and other consumables but adverse weather can disrupt service on occasions. The island is farmed organically. Vegetables and fruit are grown in the walled garden and one milking cow is kept. Cattle and sheep are grazed. Hay is made and some tillage undertaken with the help of modern farm machinery including a quad bike and a large tractor brought across in recent times on the "SHAMROCK". Maintenance of the built heritage on the island is a major concern and cost for the owners. In summer guests are accommodated in the renovated coastguard houses and the White House. There are no land line telephones but mobile reception is available. Professor Gabriel Cooney of UCD has been directing summer archaelogical surveys and digs since the late 1990s with exciting results. And yes there are wallabies on the island - around fifty at the last count and increasing plus a serious plague of rabbits, perhaps as many as 15,000!  Also large numbers of deer.

Staff accommodation with the harbour in left background.


The Chapel

Looking east from the castle.