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The Story of Gaiola

Isola della Gaiola is a small but beautifully formed island just off the Gulf of Naples, where the rocky shores are lapped by emerald waters clear enough for glimpses of the submerged ancient ruins below. It is less than 100 metres from terra firma and the only way over is to swim (currently not allowed) or by kayak or dinghy. More than 100 years ago there used to be a precarious cable lift connecting the two ‘land masses’.

                                                                        The island has had a checkered history, with various different well-known owners, but they are beyond the scope of this part of the story. If you would like to read more, click here:

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Our story is about the island and when it was once owned by Nelson Foley, my great grandfather. He was the son of Nelson Trafalgar Foley and father of another Nelson Trafalgar Foley (my grandfather), if you can follow that. Nelson Foley owned the island from 1895 to 1912, as well as the villa on the adjacent promontory. He was an engineer, and he even built a cable system to transport his guests and stop them from getting wet by having to swim to or from the island.

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Nelson Foley built a villa on the island which was used by guests/visitors and maybe even by himself. The villa is not small but has now fallen into ruin and has not been used for many decades. At the back of the villa facing the sea is a small promontory where there is still evidence of the reinforced mountings for a gun emplacement which was used during the first world war to protect the bay of Naples.

As you would expect, there is not a vast photo record of the period, but this gem of a photo below is of my great grandfather with his family. It includes my grandfather (bottom right) and great grandfather Nelson’s wife Ida (standing, second from right), Arthur Conan Doyle’s sister. 

There is no picture, in my possession, of Conan Doyle on the island, but there is a plaque which commemorates his visits and references the island’s inspiration for some of his stories. He also published a separate book entitled ‘Italian Journey’.

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The island is now owned by the region of Campania and is part of a marine reserve and nature park, often hosting education groups. Very recently, the region and management of the park have decided to renovate the villa on the island and as the oldest (!) living Nelson Foley I was invited to lay the first stone for the renovation. I have to thank all the members of the park who gave me a big welcome and we were able to share common interests about the Foley family and the island. Nelson Foley owned the island longer than anyone else and also did much to create what it is today. Here is the final photo, the formal laying of the stone with the Director of the park, Paola Masucci.  

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