Saltee Islands

From Notes on the history of the Parle family (written in 1983)

by John Parle, Widnes, Cheshire



The Parles most probably came from Brittany, Northern France. It is known that in the 15th century the first mention is made of the Parles in Wexford in south east Ireland. Legend tells us that three Parle brothers were wrecked on the south east coast of Ireland and came ashore at Carnsore Point. One of these brothers had a leg broken and had to be left behind when the other two brothers set sail again for Brittany. Whether they ever returned to Ireland is not known. What is written is that the injured Parle was nursed by a fair native and given shelter by her father. Permanent settlement in the barony of Bargy was certainly induced by the kind treatment he received. It has been suggested that the three Parle brothers were privateers who were active along the south west coast of England and may have been busy carrying out their trade when the storm swept them to the south east coast of Ireland.

Saltee Islands

The Parle family must have flourished because a census taken in the middle of the 17th century recorded that there were at least 19 Parles living in Bargy (Wexford) at this time. At the beginning of the 19th century it was known that the Parle family were farming the Great Saltee and the Little Saltee. These are two small islands off the coast of Wexford. For nearly a hundred years there were Parles on the Great and Little Saltee islands. It was written by Lewis (Topographical Dictionary of Ireland) that of 130 arable acres, about a third was under tillage and the remainder in pasture, and from the abundance of sea-weed found on its shores it was rendered particularly fertile. Special mention must be made of John Parle, who was the father figure of the farming dynasty. He lived on Great Saltee island until his death at 87. He was reputedly a very powerful man. He could lift two fully grown sheep, one under each arm, into a cot. (They used these cots when transporting sheep to and from the mainland.) It was also said that he could lift two 20 stone sacks of meal in the same manner.

Farm labourers

The Parles were known as industrious and happy people by Dr George Hadden who remembered the "cart wheel" of a griddle cake backed for his party by Mrs Parle. The biggest cake of bread he had ever seen! They were generous to any of the residents of Kilmore who came either to visit or help with the harvest on the island. There was always "an egg in the grutts? and a rabbit in the pot." On fast days and Fridays only eggs were eaten, as many as thirty being boiled for the midday meal. The labourers were paid 1s 6d a week plus board and lodging, and the boys who brought the cows for milking and fed the hens and gathered bean stalks for firing? got 4d per week plus bed and meals. It was a hard life, simple and frugal. Storms prevented communication with the mainland for weeks and there supplies ran low, crops were beaten to the ground by the summer gales.

Friendly people

Yet in spite of all this people were drawn back to work on the island and enjoy the peace and beauty of the surroundings. They liked the close bond of friendship and neighbourliness between all the Parles who lived there. The comradeship of all who lived on the islands and the sheer joy of the living banished loneliness and fear of isolation. The theme which runs like a golden thread through this era is that life was tough, good, friendly and that these people were kind and truly Christian. The 20th century brought changes. Patrick Parle was the last of the Parles to occupy the Great Saltee. He gave up farming in 1905. On the Little Saltee, Francis Parle gave up living on the estate in about 1855.

Stormy weather

Winter storms in fact provided the single climatic factor disadvantageous to self-sufficiency and habitation being worthwhile. Bad weather often cut off the islands for weeks at a time. It interrupted the regular service to Kilmore Quay, taking farm produce to market, ferrying over extra workers in season, maintaining essential supplies of paraffin oil (for lighting) and coal (for heating) and other essential things. Also there was the ever present danger of accidents and illness during the stormy weather.

The depression

In the end it was none of these things which brought the Parle occupation to an end. It was a combination of general economic circumstances and local spiritual considerations which forced them to leave the islands. Local Catholic priests had been concerned about the spiritual welfare of the islanders. They were cut off from Sunday Mass, the sacraments and the ministration of the local priest. And also at this time farming was suffering a depression, and this made farming on the island uneconomic.


Extract from email to John Patrick Parle from Nelly de Paramo Parle

Subj: The Parle Family
Date: 11/27/2000
From: Nelly de Paramo Parle  
To: John Patrick Parle 

When my sister sent me your e-mail with all the information about the Parles and the Saltee islands, I knew that we had to belong to the same family because there was only one Parle family in Wexford. Before getting in contact with you, I decided to write to one of my cousins in Wexford, with whom I had not been in contact for almost 15 years, and ask her about the Parles. She has confirmed the same information, which I transcribe below:

“The big island, the most glamorous and famous, was extensively farmed by the Parle family, John and Patrick Parle, in the last century. In May 1990, Patrick Parle inserted the following notice in the Wexford newspaper: (Inset: This date I probably 1900 not 1990?)

“The Great Saltee to be sold by auction, by direction of the tenant, Patrick Parle, his interest in the Great Saltee Island with dwelling house and offices there, containing about 215 statute acres, 60 of which are prime quality.

“Above is the well-known large Saltee Island facing the Atlantic, (Inset: the precise outlook of the Island is eastwards the St. George’s Channel and westward to the Wexford coastline) and five miles from the pier in Kilmore Quay on the mainland. The dwelling house and cowhouse are slated-barn, stable and carhouse, etc. are thatched and are in good order, 20 acres under tillage, 30 under grass and meadowing, the remainder being a rabbit warren, from 600 to 800 pairs, of which can be killed every year without injuring the stock.

“Patrick Parle had many reasons for selling his interest in the island. He was finding it impossible to make ends meet, due to the recession in the farming. He was also getting on in years. The auction created very little interest. It was not until 1904, when Martin Pierce, owner of Pierces Foundry in Wexford, bought out the remainder of Patrick Parle’s lease, so ending farming life on the big island, which had served the Parle family well for most of the 19th century. For the next 35 years, the island was only used for recreational and sporting activities.”


Note: The Saltee Islands are now a Bird Sanctuary with an excellent international reputation.



Website by Michael A Parle

This page last changed on 04 March 2019