The east pier was used by the British Army to build the Martello Tower and the adjacent fortification around 1805 (works probably until around 1815, men living there for approximately ten years). Like the East Garden (which is probably completely overgrown) it is closed to the public. There are plans though for it to be repaired so the works on the ‘Gardner’s Cottage’ (Violet and Roland Bryce’s home from the early 20ies till 1953 and Murdo Mackenzie’s and Maggie Sullivan’s home till 1999) can be done by this entrance to the island. On this old postcard (probably taken around 1905 by Robert French for the ‘Lawrence Collection’) you can clearly see that Garinish Island wasn’t a ‘bare rock’ as often stated. A widow and her four sons lived in the cottage at the East Pier, they had cattle (seen on the headers left sepia photograph) and grew (probably) their got their livelihood from those fields below the tower. All of that part of the Garinish Island is unaccessible for the public (what a shame, so much space for the many tourists visiting the island).
From there you had lovely views towards Reenmeen, Dromgarriff and Hollyhill – on this old postcard you can see Glengarriff Castle. How the pier looks these days can be seen here.
It is thought that the Bryces brought over tons of topsoil from the mainland, but this is only speculation, as there was a ‘quarry for soil’ marked on Harold Peto’s map of Garinish Island. American writer Harold Speakman (1888-1928) describes his encounter with Violet Bryce in „Here’s Ireland“ (1925):
The lady greeted me cordially. ‚I hope,’ she said, as we went up a path made rich by the scent of early roses, ‚I hope that you haven’t heard the ridiculous story about our bringing boatloads of earth here from the mainland!’ ‚Millions of boatloads…’ I quoted. ‚Now where could you have heard that!’ she demanded with some warmth. ‚I never knew anything so stupid!’ ‚It was an old woman coming over the hill,’ I said. ‚But it doesn’t seem so bad to me. If a place were barren and one wanted to live here, why shouldn’t soil be brought from anywhere?’ She looked at me imperiously and a little scournfully. (Evidently this was a subject of long standing and some delicacy.) ‚In the first place, there isn’t land on the mainland to take away; in the second, the thing is too silly. I can’t imagine any one doing a thing like that – except perhaps an American millionaire!’ ‚Whew! This isn’t beginning very well,’ I thought. But in another moment she had forgotten her annoyance and was showing me a path so completely carpeted with fallen pink blossoms that in places it was entirely hidden from sight.
However it took years to enrich the existing thin peaty soils which was mainly Murdo Mackenzie’s achievement as he was known to collect leaves and other natural debris from the mainland to enrich his compost heap. In the Irish Times from 13 February 1931 the issue was described as follows:
The greatest compliment paid to Mrs. Bryce is the legend that all the soil for the garden had to be imported: some say from the mainland, and some say from England. This of course is quite incorrect, the fertility of the island being due to its own soil and climate, together with a great deal of well applied industry. In fact there is no reason why the mainland should not yield the same results if properly cultivated, and the possibility of fruit-farming in the district is one that could well be investigated.
© of Harold Peto’s map: OPW Office of Public Works, Dublin