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New 'Robinson Crusoe' sought to live the quiet life on Coney Island

Coney Island on Lough Neagh
Coney Island on Lough Neagh
The island’s 19th century cottage
Former warden Peter McClelland

By Staff Reporter

If you have ever dreamed of living in splendid isolation and would relish the opportunity to swap the stress of a modern day lifestyle with one that connects with nature, then Coney Island could be the home for you.

The National Trust is seeking a tenant for a historic cottage on the remote Lough Neagh location.

It comes after Northern Ireland's very own 'Robinson Crusoe' Peter McClelland swapped the island idyll for life in anything-but-quiet Portadown.

Peter, who's in his 60s, took up the job as the island's warden in 1998, beating 400 other applicants to the position. But now he is gone, a new tenant is needed.

Measuring just under nine acres in size and accessible only by boat, Coney Island has been in the care of The National Trust since 1985.

Located in the south west of the lough, its archaeological evidence indicates it has been occupied at various times since the Mesolithic period (9600-4000BC).

More recently it was the summer retreat of James Alfred Caulfield, 7th Viscount and 11th Baron Charlemont, and it's his 19th century cottage that has been refurbished by the National Trust and is now available for rent.

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Around 5,000 people visit every year, among them the future King Edward VII, who once stayed on the island with his mistress Lillie Langtry.

"If you're into gaming and watching box sets, this probably is not the place for you," said the National Trust's Edward Mason.

"But if you love being close to nature and can tackle the elements throughout the seasons, then this could well be the opportunity of a lifetime. If you have ever fancied being a lighthouse keeper, this is probably the next best thing.

"The technology is a little less taxing, though. To live in this cottage you will need a small boat to reach the island, you'll need to be comfortable operating a generator for your light, and a wood-burning stove for your heat.

"You will also need to be active and pretty useful with an axe as there's an abundance of wood to harvest on the island under the guidance of our ranger team.

"We're looking for a long-term tenant who really does care about nature, and is seeking an escape from the stresses and strains of modern day living.

"They would need to be resourceful and be able to withstand the elements that will be thrown at them throughout the year."

Legend has it that the island was once accessed by a causeway known locally as St Patrick's Road, as the Saint is believed to have used it as a place of retreat in the 5th century.

Today you need a boat or canoe to make the 10-minute journey from the shore to the island, but once there you'll find yourself in a beautiful nature reserve that forms part of the Lough Neagh Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) for its breeding ducks and wet woodlands.

Coney Island contains several scheduled monuments - an Anglo Norman Motte, a 16th century stone tower and a holy well - but the three-bedroom cottage is its only residence. The island is open to boat users who like to visit in the warmer months to explore the public parts, which are managed and maintained by the local council.

Preserving heritage

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who set out to preserve the nation's heritage for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, it looks after special buildings and sites across the UK.

Belfast Telegraph