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Jewels inspired by a secret island

Always drawn to the sea, the wild Atlantic coast is a source of inspiration for me. Whenever I need to clear my head or ground myself, I find clarity at the shore of the ocean.

Growing up in Sligo, I was spoilt for choice and have only recently stumbled across a hidden gem – little known to even those of us that live locally.

Dernish Island, a tiny island off the coast near Milk Harbour, is a well-kept secret – mostly because of its inaccessibility.

It was a tourist who opened my eyes to the tiny Island. About a decade ago, an American walked into my store – The Cat and the Moon in Sligo – and said we were distant relatives. After chatting we discovered that we shared an ancestor (my great great great great grandmother, Anne Gillan) who lived on Dernish Island. We visited the island together with a man who keeps cattle there and found the ruins of the old Gillan farmhouse.

It’s an uninhabited, hilly island full of unspoilt nature, but it was once home to several families who farmed and fished there, so you can still see the remnants of that.

Dernish Island lies between the villages of Grange and Cliffoney just off the main Sligo to Donegal road. When the tide is out you can walk over to the island through the sand-dunes from Streedagh Point. It’s a 45-minute walk and it gives ample time to let go off the modern world and unwind. But it’s important to remember that it’s a tidal island with strong currents, so make sure you check the tide times and only go with someone familiar with the area who can safely guide you across.

Even if you don’t make it to the island, you can still witness the beauty while driving from Sligo to Donegal. The island is covered in ferns which, depending on the time of year, reflects a rusty or green shade, like a jewel floating in the sea.

My latest jewellery collection Croi Sliogan was inspired by some unique shells I found while out beach combing on a Sunday walk. Something about those shells spoke to me and I started thinking about the core of the shell and how it related to our own core; our essence. I looked into the empty space inside the shell’s core and saw what resembles a heart and that is what I have tried to recreate in the collection.

It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to use the aesthetics of the sea as part of my craft. Even when I was doing sculpture as a student every piece I made had a resonance with the sea. It’s always been there and now it’s part of the jewellery I make too.

Life got in the way in the past, but now I’m making a conscious effort to reconnect with nature and my ancestry by visiting the island as often as I can.

About the author

Martina Hamilton has been designing distinct jewellery collections for more than 30 years in her studio in Sligo. Working exclusively with hallmarked silver and gold, her award-winning designs are inspired by the ever-changing Atlantic coastal landscape and all her pieces are handmade in Ireland by studio craft makers.