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John Lennon and 
Dorinish Island

JOHN LENNON planned to turn a remote island off the Irish coast into a hideaway retreat, shortly before he was shot dead in December 1980 outside his apartment block in New York.

The former Beatle was investigating how to renew planning permission to build a house for himself and Yoko Ono on Dorinish island in Clew Bay, Co Mayo, (Please see map below) just before his death, his Irish solicitor revealed.

He bought the island in 1967 and soon afterwards was granted planning permission by Mayo county council to build a house. After the collapse of his first marriage to Cynthia, he postponed the plans and permission lapsed in 1972.

"It was a place where we thought we could escape the pressures and spend some undisturbed time together. But because of what happened our hopes never came to be," Ono has said. "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".

John bought the island for £1,700 after a newspaper advertisement for ‘an island off Ireland’ caught his eye.

He sent Alistair Taylor, one of the employees at apple, the record company, to Westport to bid for him at a public auction. Taylor was among a crowd of 30 or 40 locals at the auction, many of them farmers hoping to buy the island to use as pasture for sheep and cattle.

Dorinish was uninhabited when John bought it from the Westport Harbour Board. Sailing ships sometimes stopped at the island to load stones from its shore to use as ballast in rough seas. When diesel engines replaced sails, the harbour board decided to sell the island.

Locals have dismissed claims in a British newspaper that John was high on LSD when he visited the island for the first time in 1967. It was established that the Beatle flew to Dublin and was then driven to Westport where he met Michael Browne, a solicitor who handled the deal.

Browne made arrangements for John to sail to the island. He hired Paddy Quinn, a boat-builder that lives on Inishcuttle island about two miles from Dorinish.

Quinn had no idea who his famous passenger was. "It was only afterwards that I discovered it was John Lennon. As far as I was concerned, he was a customer. Beatlemania and the Swinging Sixties had not quite reached the west of Ireland," Quinn said.

The party spent an hour and a half walking around the 19 acres of Dorinish, two small islands joined by a natural stone causeway. Afterwards they drank tea at Quinn’s house where sandy, Quinn’s dog, annoyed John by continually barking at his long hairy coat.

Browne said: "He had a cine camera with him and was taking shots of the scenery all around the area. He was very impressed with Clew Bay. I found him very practical and business-like. He was completely in command of himself, and interested in the logistics and the cost of building a house out on the island. He was worried about further erosion on the island. He was concerned that something should be done to prevent it."

John commissioned an architect to do soil borings and paid for a brightly painted hippie-style caravan to be transported from London to the island as a future home for himself his wife and Julian, his son, then aged four.

Quinn built a special raft for the caravan to float it out to the island. "It was floated out one summers evening across the bay on to the island. It was quite a sight to see a caravan floating across the sea. It was painted in psychedelic colours," said Browne.

Lennon later visited the island with Ono by helicopter. They stayed at the Great Southern hotel in Mulrany, a seaside village nearby, where a suite was named after them. The caravan was later moved back to London.

In 1970 John summoned Sid Rawle, who was known as King of the Hippies, to the Apple offices. John had heard that Rawle’s group of new age travellers, called The Diggers, was looking for an island to set up a commune.

He offered Rawle custodianship of Dorinish, soon know as ‘Beatle Island’, to be used for the public good. Rawle accepted, printed fliers and distributed them among the ‘flower power’ people in London. A group of 25 adults and a baby eventually travelled to Dorinish.

"We decided we would hold a six-week summer camp on the island. Then we would see what came out of that and decide if we wanted to extend our stay" said Rawle. "It was heaven and it was hell. We lived in tents because there were no stone buildings on the island at all. Most of the time was really good".

The hippies stayed for two years, growing vegetable on the island, lighting bonfires to keep warm, and storing food in specially built hollows. They bought groceries in Westport once a fortnight. The commune had no boat so they relied on the local oyster fishermen for transport. They had an agreed system of alerting the boatmen when they needed a lift.

"During the day, it we put up three sheets on the hill that was an emergency. One sheet was ‘come round and pick us up whenever you’ve got time’. Two was ‘we’d like to see you in a bit of a hurry’ and three was ‘get a move on’.

"Post would arrive addressed to Hippie Island, Ireland. Some of the local people were hostile to the new age travellers. "Hippie republic under siege" was the headline in the Connaught Telegraph in March 1971 over a story, which said: "After a year of seething anger, Westport has finally declared war on the ‘Republic of Dorinish’.

"In 1972, after a fire destroyed the main tent used to store supplies, most of The Diggers moved off Dorinish. Rawle went back to Britain. He was one of the founders of the Tipi Valley commune in Wales where 150 people lived for 20 years.

Ono put the island up for sale in 1984 when Michael Gavin, a local farmer, bought it. He uses the island to graze his sheep and cattle. Beatle fans visit and members of the local sailing club sometimes camp there.

The proceeds of the sale, nearly £30,000- were donated to an Irish orphanage.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Location of Dorinish Island

 

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