By Caryl Clem:
A popular vacation escape opening in 1908 promoted the lure of lotus fields in bloom off a peninsular in Grass Lake, Illinois. A wooden platform was built on a peninsula to provide a breath taking view of the surrounding wild beauty of lotus beds floating on the water. Rohema sounded exotic and exciting, a novel adventure waiting to be explored. Nearby Fox Lake was gaining the reputation of “the place” to go. Hotels, bars, restaurants were available to broaden your touring satisfaction.
Jack O’Connor had an idea to cash in on this new business. An example of American ingenuity, he bought a house boat dubbed “Blarney Island” offering tours in vogue spot. His boat ride added a layer of excitement that passed standing still on a platform looking at the lake. Shorty Shobin, the owner of Rohema did not appreciate the competition. A high stakes poker game played between these rivals would determine who had sole rights to the buildings and view of the lotus fields. Jack won the game and Shorty disappeared. One version claims Shorty shot himself in a bar’s backroom, or he shamefully left town for good. He was never seen again.
Karma or fate burned Jack’s houseboat down. The land and buildings jutted out from shore. Over time the water deepened and the platform was an island. Jack named this paradise, “Blarney’s Island “. In 1972, the Haley’s couple purchased the island. The ravaged by floods in the 1950’s structures were repaired and enlarged. Entertainment activities blending a bar with bands and dancing, or drag boat racing were added. A ferry would transport you to a place with the reputation anything could happen. The ceiling of the bar sported stapled pieces of clothing as poof.
By 2003, the business was bought by a former business partner of one of the Haley’s brothers, a banker named Rob Hardman. The wooden telephone poles and pier posts were replaced with steel pylon anchored in the ground. A red wood platform was built on top. Palm trees were added, a new kitchen, a new bar and increased enclosed protected space for patrons. Live bands play Friday through Sunday. The theme is a Key West vibe. A ferry carries 40 passengers shuttling to the boating bar that has room for 300 parked boats. Extreme Boats Magazine awarded Blarneys Island, “the greatest boating bar” in the country. Festivals such as Blarney’s Mardis Gras and Fantasy Fest mirroring the Key West event are held. Blarney Island is open for business; a novel place still providing an unique experience.