Riders to the Sea 2
Landing on Inis Tuaisceart was challenging, the swell wasn’t large, but the sea sucking greedily at a series of slippery slabs made jumping ashore tricky. A short scramble up the cliffs to a sheep fold and we were on our way to the summit, past the shattered stone walls of settlements, St Brendan’s Oratory and the ghostly ridges of lazy beds. If those mute stones could only speak, what stories they would tell of life in this remotest corner of Europe! Of a woman whose husband, a shepherd, died during a ferocious storm that lasted many days, and she, alone and too weak to lift his bloated, rotting corpse was forced to hack it to pieces and carry it out of their cottage, limb by limb. Uninhabited now, the island harbours a large colony of Storm Petrels and is a breeding ground for Puffin and Manx Shearwater whose malodorous carcasses litter the ground, the remains of a savage summer-feast by gulls that do not leave our shores, but circle nosily in the salt laden air, eyeing all. The island seems to have been upended; a steep grassy slope leads to vertiginous sea cliffs on the NW, the sea so far below, the waves crashing onto the rocks are silent. The words of playwright, J.M. Synge, entered my mind. There was indeed something almost appalling in the loneliness of this place.
Back on the boat we headed for An Blascoad Mór. The stone shells of rustic cottages dotting the hillside drifted into view as we approached. The haunting cadence of Gaelic seemed to be whispered in the very wind, fragments of poems, prose and plaintive songs that tell of the lives of those who doggedly coaxed a living on this island over 3 km from the mainland. On, past An Traigh Bhan, a strand of golden sand bathed by turquoise waters above which lie the stone walled fields once fertilised by seaweed to grow potatoes and oats that kept the famine from these shores, to a small pier. Here pleasure boats now disgorge hordes of curious day-trippers seeking the mystique of this ‘place outside of time’.
Above the old village, 2 tracks on opposite sides of the island circle Tur Comhartha, joining at the saddle below Slievedonagh. The south track has impressive views of the ragged coastline of the mainland and, on the horizon, Skellig Michael bursting through the ocean like a grey spear tip. Atop Slievedonagh the track narrows as it traverses the spine of the island, slopes blushed pink with heather. An Cro Mór now came into view. One last push uphill and the summit was surmounted. Here Europe ends and before lies the mighty Atlantic, restless, relentless. Somewhere over the horizon, the Americas. Atop this peak, the eyes of countless islanders surely stared out across the watery void to dream of new beginnings…
The evening crowned the day as the Blasket Princess rocked gently over cornflower blue waves to Ventry, landscape and seascape bathed in the soft apricot glow of a sinking sun. Thank you, Conor, for organising an impeccably choreographed island odyssey.