|Principality of the Saltee Islands|
|Motto: God and Justice
Musical Anthem: none
|Location:||Great Saltee and Little Saltee islands, St George’s Channel, off Wexford, Ireland|
|Date of foundation:||1943|
(Prince Michael II)
|Organisational structure:||Absolute monarchy|
The Principality of the Saltee Islands is a micronation founded in 1943 by Prince Michael Neale, an Irish farmer and businessman.
It consists of the islands of Greater Saltee and Little Saltee, which are located in St George’s Channel, three kilometres off the coast from the town of Kilmore Quay, Wexford, Ireland. The islands are respectively 0.89 km2 and 0.37 km2 in extent.
Prince Neale (Prince being his legal name) purchased the islands in 1943, with the intention of establishing them as a bird sanctuary. After building a landing strip for his private aircraft, Neale began a campaign of intensive reaforrestation, planting over 34,000 trees and shrubs on the main island between 1945 and 1950. In realisation of his boyhood dream of ruling over the islands as a monarch Neale also began styling himself (somewhat tongue-in-cheekily) Michael I, Prince of the Saltee Islands.
To give his principality a more corporeal form, Neale erected three stone monuments on the main island – a ‘welcome stone’, a large throne, which was dedicated to his mother, and an obelisk dedicated to himself in his role as Prince of the Saltees. In 1956 Neal was ceremonially crowned while seated upon the Saltees throne. Its inscription reads:
This chair is erected in memory of my Mother to whom I made a vow when I was 10 years old that one day I would own the Saltee Islands and become the First Prince of the Saltees.
Henceforth my heirs and successors can only proclaim themselves Prince of these Islands by sitting in this chair fully garbed in the Robes and Crown of the Islands and take the Oath of Succession.
Michael the First
For the most part, this was the limit of Neale’s overtly “princely” activities on the islands, and once his tree-plantings were complete he was content to leave them largely to the birds – dozens of species of which live there, breed there, or flock there on their annual migratory routes to and from Europe. In time, the Saltees became known as one of the world’s major bird sanctuaries, and they are today a mecca for ornithologists. Some 220 bird species have been recorded on the islands since the 1960s.
Prince Neale died in 1998, and was succeeded by his son Michael Neale, who is styled Prince Michael II. The Saltees remain the private property of the Neale family, who periodically occupy one of the islands’ two residences, however visitors remain free to enjoy year-round unhindered daytime access to Great Saltee, in accordance with Prince Neale’s wishes.
|Native name: Na Sailtí|
The Great Saltee, the larger of the two Islands.
|Major islands||Great Saltee, Little Saltee|
|Area||1.2 km2 (0.46 sq mi)|
The Saltee Islands (Irish: Na Sailtí) are a pair of small islands lying 5 kilometres off the southern coast of County Wexford in Ireland. The two islands are Great Saltee (89 hectares) and Little Saltee (37 hectares). They have been unoccupied since the early 20th century. Both have been privately owned by the Neale family since 1943. Together the islands cover an area of 1.2 square kilometers.
The islands are a breeding ground for Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and Grey Seal. An area surrounding both islands and extending approximately 500m off shore was granted the status of a Special Protection Area to protect the bird habitat. The islands are also at the center of a related Special Area of Conservation named after them, extending to the mainland coastline east of Kilmore Quay. The conservation area specifically addresses: the mud and sand flats on the mainland coastline as well as those surrounding the mainland facing sides of Little Saltee; large shallow inlets and bays to the west of an imaginary line joining Kilmore Quay and Great Saltee; reefs throughout the entire area; the vegetated sea cliffs which surround both islands; sea caves along the south coast of Great Saltee and the entire area as a grey seal habitat with specific reference to both islands as important sites, including for breeding, along with some areas further out also of interest as moult and resting haul-out sites.
Few islands on the coast of Ireland can boast of as long and varied a history as the Saltees. It would be well if the visitor realised that the Saltees are something more than a pleasant spot on which to spend a summer afternoon, or a suitable venue for a boating or picnic party. It would be well to recall that here dwelt hermits, pirates, fugitives; the Saltees are more than mere barren humps of land rising out of the blue waters of Ballyteigue Bay – they are, in a sense, a living symbol of the indestructible past, a link with the colourful centuries gone by.
Primitive Stone Age man first settled on the Saltees before history was recorded and carved out an existence amid the Pre-Cambrian rock, the oldest of its kind in Europe. As long ago as 3,500 to 2,000 B.C. there were people on the islands.
There is a recently-identified promontory fort, the remains of an ancient grave, an Ogham stone (now in a local museum) and traces of what appear to be ringforts.
Then there were the early Christian hermits, the Vikings, the Normans and the medieval monks. Small communities of farmers and fishermen made a humble living there. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the Saltees were in the path of one of the world’s most important sea trading routes – between Britain and the American continent. Pirates from Spain, France, North Africa and America plundered the busy merchant ships within sight of the islands, where there were pirate bases for smugglers, with cargoes of brandy and wine, for the cellars of South Wexford, being transhipped in their lee. And in the days of sail the waters around the islands became known as ” the graveyard of a thousand ships” so dangerous was the area to shipping.
Then in 1798 an island cave became a brief hiding place for two leaders of the Rebellion. John Henry Colclough and his wife, of Tintern, Mr. Harvey took refuge in a cave in the Saltee Islands after Wexford’s surrender- Soldiers traced them down there. To save Mrs. Colclough (who had bravely stood by her husband throughout his battles), both men surrendered and, with the others, were executed on June 28.
The small island consisted of 100 acres with 35 acres suitable for tillage and 20 for grazing. The rest was barren rock suitable only for sea-birds. On the northern side of the island stood one dwelling house, well built of stone with a slate roof. There was additional housing for horses, cows, pigs and fowl. Intensive tillage produced such crops as barley, wheat, oats, beans and potatoes. Other crops were sown to feed the animals, such as mangolds and turnips. The mild climate on the island kept it frost free, so there was no danger to early crops, especially potatoes.
While the loading and unloading of crops on the island or shore did not create problems, animals did. The larger animals had to be thrown cowboy style to have their legs tied together. Many hands were needed for cattle and horses to be put on board with the aid of planks. Sheep could be lifted on board but were more troublesome than other animals. Farming ended around 1919 but was resumed on a small scale some years ago.
The big island was extensively farmed by the Parle family in the nineteenth century. There was a dwelling house and cowhouse, both slated, with a thatched barn, stable and carhouse. 30 acres were under tillage, 30 under grass and meadowing, with huge numbers of rabbits. Farming ceased in 1900 until 1939, when early potatoes and barley were an important crops. Other crops included oats, beans, onions, etc. Farming ended in 1943.
The next owner was the “Prince of the Saltees.”
Baptised Michael O’Neill, he was born at Ballingly, Ballymitty in 1911. As a young man he worked on his father’s farm before heading off to England to make some money. Returning some years later , he enrolled in Mount Mellary College to enhance his education. He founded the British Chemical Mills in Belfast for the manufacture of veterinary and agricultural products. Next he opened the Tolka agricultural Mills in Dublin for the production of cattle feed substitute, before moving into the production of a roof preservative. In partnership with his brother John he set up a number of companies producing animal medicines and was also associated with the Bayer chemical company in England.
He purchased a number of farms in south county Wexford. Towards the end of 1943 he bought the Great Saltee with a view to transforming it into a major tourist resort. Because of later controversies he was unable to pursue his dreams. In 1956. he had himself crowned ‘Prince of the Saltee Island’, having obtained the registration for his title from the British Office of Heraldry, though this was later denied by the Office. The Irish government refused to recognise the title on the registration of the birth of his son, but after the threat of a High Court action, the Registrar -General acceded and registered his son as a prince.
Prince Michael had a throne, flag-staff and obelisk shipped to the island. There were a number of controversies – refusing to pay rates on the Big Island to Wexford County Council and `trying to populate the island with cats to destroy some of the millions of rabbits on the island. He farmed there for a period in the 1950s. He had his own plane and helicopter and often brought friends to the island. He died in January 1998.
The late Michael the First was both a colourful character and a legend in his own life time. Married to Anne he is survived by his family of five sons and one daughter. Both Michael and Anne are buried in the family vault in Bannow Bay Co.Wexford.
In around the year 1920 the ten year old Michael made a vow to his Mother that one day he would own the Saltees and become their first Prince. Twenty three years later in December 1943 he realised his dream. However his coronation on the Great Saltee did not take place until July 1956.
A throne, flag-staff and obelisk were shipped to the Great Saltee, the obelisk bearing a plaque with his likeness in profile. The throne is a memorial to his mother and features a coat of arms and the following inscription:
“This chair is erected in memory of my mother to whom I made a vow when I was ten years old that one day I would own the Saltee Islands and become the First Prince of the Saltees. Henceforth my heirs and successors can only proclaim themselves Prince of these Islands by sitting in this chair fully garbed in the robes and crown of the Islands and take the Oath of Succession” – Michael the First.
One of the first jobs undertook on the Great Saltee was the leveling of a field in the centre of the island as a landing strip for his private airplanes. He was taught to fly by Capt.Darby Kennedy (Weston Aerodrome) and regularly flew his Miles Messenger aircraft to the islands. Between 1945 and 1950 over 34,000 trees and shrubs were planted on the island. The most successful of these were Cordyline Palms, which are flourishing to this day.
The Crest consists of two mermaids holding a shield with one hand, an oar and anchor with the other, representing the sea.
Beneath the shield is land, scattered with shells and seaweed, representing the Saltees. Above the shield is a crown with the inscription M&A for Michael and Anne. To the left and right of the inscription are six jewels. On top of the crown is a cross. In the centre of the cross is a red jewel.
These seven jewels represents Michael and Anne’s children. The jewel in the centre of the cross representing the child which died at birth. These jewels are replaced by stars on the Saltees Flag.
The Saltees Flag consists of three colours, black and red divided by a white banner. There are seven stars on the flag. Each star represents Prince Michael and Princess Anne’s children. The black star centered represents a child that died at birth.
These stars are replaced by jewels in the Crown on the Family Crest.
This chair is erected in memory of my Mother to whom I made a vow when I was ten years old that one day I would own the Saltee Islands and become the First Prince of the Saltees.
Henceforth my heirs and successors can only proclaim
themselves Prince of these Islands by sitting in this chair fully garbed in the Robes and Crown of the Islands and take the Oath of Succession. – Michael The First
The Obelisk is inscribed on all four faces
Nothing is impossible to the man who can, will, then do.
This is the only law of success. This monument was erected by Prince Michael the First as a symbol to all children that by hard work, perseverance, their dreams and ambitions may also be realised.
No man is free who does not set freedom above all else.
No state can be justified in encroachment on the God given rights of these Saltee Islands.
Let my successors guard and protect these Saltee Islands as a father would his children.
Portrait Michael the First (Front of Obelisk)
The aerial view of the Obelisk is in the shape of the Maltese Cross
The Maltese Cross is made from four, straight lined, pointed arrowheads, meeting at their points, with the end of the arms consisting of indented V’s. The eight points of the Maltese Cross symbolises:
- Glory and honour
- Contempt of death
- Helpfulness towards the poor and the sick
- Respect for the church
Co. Wexford is not famous for its islands; only birdwatchers and historians are likely to know anything about the Saltees & Keeraghs off the south coast. Nevertheless, the county can lay claim to one Ireland’s most important offshore outposts in the shape of the Tuskar Rock.
The Saltee Islands, two large granite outcrops just off the south coast of Co. Wexford, give their name to Ireland’s most famous bird sanctuary. (Photo by Edd BC)
Imposing cliffs support eleven species of breeding seabirds in summer, while rocky outcrops offer sanctuary to seals and thousands of seabirds including a significant number of breeding cormorants.
Although landing is prohibited, a boat trip around the islands from Kilmore Quay affords excellent bird watching opportunities and views.
People lived on the islands as long ago as 3,500 to 2,000 BC. There is a recently-identified promontory fort, the remains of an ancient grave, an Ogham Stone (now in a local museum) and traces of what appear to be Ring Forts. Then there were early Christian hermits, Vikings and medieval monks. Small communities of farmers and fishermen eked a humble living there.
From the C16th onwards the Saltees were in the path of one of the world’s most important sea trading routes – between Britain and the American continent. The waters around the islands became known as “the graveyard of a thousand ships” so dangerous was the area to shipping.
Pirates from Spain, France, and North Africa plundered the busy merchant ships within sight of the islands, where there were smugglers bases, with cargoes of brandy and wine for the cellars of South Wexford being transhipped in their lee. The lyrics of P J McCall‘s well known sea ballad give a flavour of these adventurous times: Crew all from Bannow, Fethard and The Hook, Sailing in The Lowlands Low.
During the American War of Independence the great John Paul Jones pursued British shipping off south Wexford and took many prizes off the Saltees.
Great Saltee, once inhabited by 20 people, became uninhabited relatively early by Irish island standards.
An island cave became a brief hiding place for two leaders of the 1798 Rebellion, when and John Henry Colclough and his wife of Ballyteigue Castle were joined by Harvey Bagenall. British soldiers tracked them down, and in order to save Mrs. Colclough (who had bravely stood by her husband throughout his battles), both men surrendered and, with the others, were executed on June 28th.
The self-styled Prince Michael Neill of the Saltees bought Great Saltee in 1943 and had himself crowned in a splendid ceremony in 1956. There were a number of controversies concerning his attempts to populate the island with cats to destroy some of the millions of rabbits and refusals to pay rates to Wexford County Council.
The tradition of flying the Prince of Saltee’s flag from the flagpole above the landing when the family are in residence has been renewed.
Little Saltee, according to local legend, was connected to the mainland and inhabited until the mid-C19th. Farmed until WWII, the island was known for early-season new potatoes, but corn and other vegetables were also grown. 12 people were needed at harvest time. A thresher was brought over, in parts, in small boats. The island was abandoned and overgrown until recently.
Since 1999, the owners have bred pedigree cows, sheep, and fallow deer. Soon there may be rare Soay sheep, from the Scottish island of same name, just south of Skye. The main house and some of its outbuildings have been made habitable. The courtyard has been tidied. There is a fine ruin of a two-storey barn and interesting remains of corn stands in the yard immediately west of the main building.
Puffins on the Saltees (Photo by paulflynn)
The Keeragh Islands, two low-lying islets surrounded by dangerous rocky reefs, also form part of the bird sanctuary.
The ruin on the larger island was built in 1800 for survivors of shipwrecks, but is now very dilapidated.
In February 1914 The Mexico, a Norwegian barque, ran aground in stormy seas. The Fethard lifeboat was launched, but both vessels wer smashed to pieces by mighty waves. Nine of the 14 crew were swept to their deaths; the remaining five joined the eight surviving sailors on the exposed reef , where they remained miserably clinging to rocks while the storm continued unabated.
Several attempts to rescue them were foiled before two brave men, Bill Duggan and Jim Wickham of the Rosslare Fort lifeboat, took a dinghy and ferried the survivors two at a time from their ice cold rocks. The operation needed 6 trips in stormy seas to bring all to safety, but on the second of these, the dinghy was holed. For the remaining trips the sea was kept out by a loaf of bread wrapped in oilskins, plugged into the opening.
The incident is known as the Fethard Lifeboat Disaster. Many ballads were written about the tragedy, including the anonymous The Fethard Lifeboat Crew, which contains the lines:“The thunder roared, the lightning flashed, the seas like mountains ran, But onward ‘mid that tempestuous storm the lifeboat proudly came. The signal which she flashed that night was the white o’er the green in view: The signal which a sailor reads: ‘I will not abandon you’. As she neared the ill fated Mexico, oh heavens what a shock, Their boat was dashed to pieces on the dreaded Keeragh Rock. Oh God what a sensation, to behold those heroes brave, Contending with the raging seas, their precious lives to save. The crew of the gallant Mexico, though terror stricken too, They rendered all assistance to the drowning lifeboat crew. Five of those gallant heroes were all that could be found. The other nine, by the Keeragh Rock, I’m sorry to say were drowned. May God have mercy upon their souls, who gave their noble lives, And heaven guard the helpless ones those heroes left behind.”
Tuskar Rock, located seven miles off Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford, on the direct route from America to Liverpool, was a major hazard to mariners in the days of sail; the wrecks in this vicinity are said to lie two and three deep.
Tuskar Light was constructed in 1815, with 11 men losing their lives during construction. 10 were drowned when an October storm swept them away, leaving a further 14 hanging onto the rock for 3 days, one of whom died of his injuries later. It was also a dangerous place to be during WWII, a light-keeper lost his life and a second was injured when a drifting mine exploded against the rock. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1993. (Photo – oceanfroggie)
Lord Randolph Churchill, on a yachting cruise in 1886, famously landed and enjoyed a liquid repast with the lighthouse men. His subsequent complaints about their living conditions led to the rehousing of their families in purpose-built accommodation on Slaney St. in Wexford Town.
Tuskar Rock was the site of an air disaster on March 24th 1968, when Aer Lingus Flight 712, a Vickers Viscount 803 EL-AOM named Saint Phelim, crashed en route from Cork to London, killing 61 passengers and crew.
Although the investigation into the crash lasted two years, a cause was never determined. Theories have included corrosion, a British experimental missile, metal fatigue, a mid-air collision with a French-built military aircraft that was training with the Irish Air Corps, a UFO, or a bird strike, with the most likely cause officially regarded as “a flutter-induced fatigue failure of the elevator trim tab operating mechanism”.
This was Aer Lingus’ first and, to date, only major accident.
The islands are based on Pre-Cambrian bedrock between 600 million and 2 billion years old. The highest point in the Saltees is South Summit on Great Saltee at 198 feet (60 metres). The waters around the islands can be treacherous, hence the area is known as the “Graveyard of a Thousand Ships and the islands their tombstones”.
|Source: Central Statistics Office. “CNA17: Population by Off Shore Island, Sex and Year”. irishislands.info. Retrieved October 12, 2016.|
- The Saltee Islands are the setting for Eoin Colfer‘s book Airman as a powerful sovereign state based around diamond industry. However, the book is a work of fiction and no significant natural resources have been found.
- logainm.ie, accessed 12 May 2009
- NPWS (2011) Conservation Objectives: Saltee Islands SAC 000707 and Saltee Islands SPA 004002. Version 1.0. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht., accessed 20 January 2016
- geoschol.com report. accessed 1 September 2014
Deane, C.D. 1974. On the wild island kingdom of Great Saltee. Belfast News Letter. 7 December.
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