On September 5th, 1914 following the outbreak of World War I, the entire island was commandeered by the British Army for military training. The Royal Dublin clubhouse was used as officers quarters and its course used for the purpose of a firing range and training in trench warfare. Up to the 1980’s it was not unusual for golfers on the island to find spent bullets on the links.
On the 1st of July 1921 St. Anne’s Golf Club was inaugurated when Marmaduke Montgomery Devitt drove in as first captain, having been granted permission to play golf and build a clubhouse by Lady Olivia Charlotte Guinness nee White Lady Ardilaun and The Royal Dublin Golf Club.
The Bull Bridge which was upgraded in 1906/7 and again in 2008 was not the only access to the island. At the whip of the water where the Howth Road joins the sea road a slipway allowed horses and carts access across the lagoon to the island unto the beach for the purpose of gathering flotsam of timber and coal washed to the shore by the incoming tide that fell from steam ships on their way into Dublin Port.
Since 1931 various plans were proposed for the development and urbanisation of the island. The first of these plans was known as “The Blue Lagoon Scheme” in which was proposed dams and sluices at the Bull Bridge and Sutton Strand end of the island, thereby forming a permanent lake.
In early May 1944, the Golf Clubs were informed that the Irish Tourist Board had taken control of the island and were preparing for its development as a tourist resort. The Royal Dublin Golf Club got notice to be ready to leave their clubhouse as the site happened to be within the area of a proposed amusements park, creating a Blackpool type of development.
In December 1945, maps of the island with the proposed plans were published showing among other things, the positions of a cinema, a dance hall and a restaurant near the Bull Wall.
The fate of the island with its wonderful beauty and wildlife appeared to be doomed, but thankfully concerned groups such as the Dublin Naturalists Field Club who argued that the North Bull Island was already a recreational ground and a nature reserve, unique apart in its proximity to the city should not be turned into an artificial playground of doubtful utility.
Luckily for the island none of these schemes developed beyond the drawing board, thus preserving the island as a unique wildlife sanctuary and recreation area for the people of Dublin.
The construction of the causeway in 1962/64, midway along the island, allowed access to the eastern section of the island and beach. In 1986 The Interpretive and Visitor Centre was officially opened on the site of St. Anne’s Golf Club old clubhouse to provide information on the island’s flora, fauna and wildlife.
On 24th September 1972 the memorial to Our Lady Realt na Mara (Star of the Sea) was solemnly blessed and unveiled by His Grace Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Ryan wintnessed by a large gathering of dignitaries, subscibers and the general public. A flotilla of boats and yachts representing sailing clubs from around the bay gave the customary ‘hip, ‘hip, hooray’ salute.
The island was declared a bird sanctuary under the Wild Bird Protection Act. 1930, in the 1960s it was declared a no-shooting area and this protection was continued under The Wildlife Act 1976.
In recognition of the great diversity of flora and fauna on the island, and its ecological richness, the North Bull Island was recognised in 1981 as a UNESCO Biosphere. The North Bull Island is the only Biosphere in the world entirely situated in a capital city. In 1986 because of its international importance for Brent Geese, it was designated a “sister reserve” by the Canadian Wildlife Service and linked with Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, Bathurst Island, North West Territories where Brent Geese fly to breed in Summer after wintering on the North Bull Island as well as other European habitats.
In May of 1995 twenty eight wild hares were released in an effort to save the island hare population, which had fallen from a couple of hundred to just four – as a result of illegal shooting, poaching and attacks by dogs. On the Bull Island hares could be viewed with ease, on the sand dunes, salt marsh and golf courses, where they had grown accustomed to humans.
From the small accumulation of silt and sand as shown off Baymount on Captain William Bligh’s map of 1800, the island in over 200 years has grown to an area of over 350 hectares with a length of almost 5km long and an average width of 700m. The island continues to grow with the seaward dune system from the beach, the nose of the island at Sutton Creek increasing in size with the constant tidal movements carrying sand and silt to the shore.
This small island which has been born out of the successful endeavours to create a port for the City of Dublin has been described as a “gift from the sea”, the unexpected by-product of the building of the Great South Wall and the North Bull Wall, is there to be enjoyed, appreciated and protected by this and all future generations to come.
Leo “George” Devitt
5th May 2015