Saturday, January 24, 2015

Island-hopping on the West Coast of Ireland

My best holiday ever was spent island-hopping down the west coast. Tory, Clare, Inishbofin, Inis Meain, Cape Clear and Skellig Michael. It’s awhile ago now, but each year since, I have thought about repeating it; now I have made up my mind, this is the year.
But what a decision: I want to see the islands I haven’t seen, and revisit those I have, but there’s not enough money to do it all. Apart from those listed above, I’ve also visited Inis Óirr, Inis Mór , Arranmore, Achill and the islands in Ceantar na nOileán in Connemara.High on the wish list of those not  visited are, Inishmurrray with its wonderful monastic and archaeological remains, Inishturk, Scattery Island in the Shannon estuary and, of  course, the Blaskets ( I’m amazed I haven’t been there yet).
It was August, that last time on Skellig, the gleaming gannets seemed to waft on air currents like fantastic mythical birds, however we managed  to miss the puffins which we would have caught  had we arrived two weeks earlier,  before the end of July. It is hard to imagine that there could be a more glorious excursion on a fine blue July day. And then there’s the other worldly atmosphere of walking between the stone walls on Inis Óirr, the excitement that being in such an unusual  landscape brings. It beggars belief that you are looking into fields that would, sometimes, barely accommodate a standing heifer. Moving up the coast, I have the best of memories of the ‘Club’ on Clare Island very late at night, and the great hospitality we received there; I promised myself I would be back much sooner than this.
Given the wild craggy landscape sculpted by a heaving, often angry Atlantic ocean, the openness of that landscape,the unending skies, the curious constructions left by generations stretching back to prehistory, the ancient culture less damaged  by modernity than elsewhere in Ireland, the special ecologies associated with that strange mix of karst limestone and climate modified by the Gulf  Stream and the particular nature of the people  that live on the  islands, It is not surprising that I should have such an urge to go again.
This poem from ‘Turn Your Head’ refers to a holy well on Inis Óirr. The clear rings on the rock under the water testified to someone’s alternative ‘cash-stream’.

At Naomh Einne’s Well 

Kneeling down, the jacket off,
shirt sleeves rolled to the oxter,
he slipped his arm into the water,
scooped out the price of a pint,
then thought the better of it
and decided he’d have two.

Then again the following Tuesday
and the following Tuesday too
till there were only clear circles
and coppers on the green bottom,
a bowl in a gap in the wall,
a cross in another with a ladder
of matchsticks and thread.
 To  see some beautiful photographs of Inis Óirr  visit

Click on the slideshow and enjoy, the well is in there too.

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