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
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
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
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
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,"
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
"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.
Executive Honorary Members:- Sir
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Executive Patrons:- Sir George Martin,
Julian Lennon. Patron:- Astrid Kirchherr. Honorary Members:- Cynthia
Lennon, Pete Best, Yoko Ono, Gay Byrne, Geoff Rhind, Gerry Marsden, Allan
Williams, Richard Lester, Harry Prytherch, (The Original Quarrymen):-
Rod Davis, Colin Hanton, Eric Griffiths, Len Garry, Pete Shotton.
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