Rockall dispute rocks on

The Dublin government to make a claim to the United Nations for control of gas and oil exploration rights potentially worth billions of euro around Rockall, a tiny, remote island off Ireland’s north-west coast.

The move comes following the failure of years of negotiations with Denmark (for the Faroe Islands), Iceland and Britain.

Dublin agreed boundaries in the region with London in 1988 but the agreement has never been accepted by Iceland or Denmark. The four states have held infrequent talks since 2001, but recently accepted they would not be able to reach an agreement, and agreed that the matter should be left over for UN arbitration.

Rockall was formed approximately 55 million years ago, when the ancient continent of Laurasia was split apart to form the north-east Atlantic Ocean. Donegal, in the 26 Counties, is the closest national mainland to the rocky outcrop.

Dublin’s claim, to be lodged by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin before the arbitration deadline in May, will extend Ireland’s claim up to 500 miles off the west coast, covering all of the Rockall and Hatton Banks.

Britain has also made a claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Iceland has until May to submit its claim, but Denmark has until 2014 to do so.

The name Rockall derives from the Gaelic word ‘rocail’, meaning ‘roaring’, from the sound of crashing ocean waves. It was known in Scotland during monastic times as ‘rocabarraigh’, after the Irish missionary Finbarr, and was believed by them to be a mythical island which was supposed to appear three times, the last being at the end of the world.

The competing claims over the island prompted the Irish band, the Wolfe Tones, to compose a song ‘Rock on, Rockall’ which also recalls the ancient Irish legend behind the island’s existence:

Oh the empire is finished no foreign lands to seize
So the greedy eyes of England are looking towards the seas
Two hundred miles from Donegal, there’s a place that’s called Rockall
And the groping hands of Whitehall are grabbing at its walls

Oh rock on Rockall, you’ll never fall to Britain’s greedy hands
Or you’ll meet the same resistance that you did in many lands
May the seagulls rise and pluck your eyes and the water crush your shell,
And the natural gas will burn your ass and blow you all to hell.

For this rock is part of Ireland, ‘cos it’ s written in folklore
That Fionn MacCumhaill took a sod of grass and he threw it to the fore,
Then he tossed a pebble across the sea, where ever it did fall,
For the sod became the Isle of Man and the pebble’s called Rockall.

Now the seas will not be silent, while Britannia grabs the waves
And remember that the Irish will no longer be your slaves,
And remember that Britannia, well, - she rules the waves no more
So keep your hands off Rockall - it’s Irish to the core.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News