I have discovered Heaven.
Another beautiful, sunny day on the Clare-Galway-Connemara tour that began with a ferry from a Doolin to the Aran Island of Inis Oíirr (Inisheer), the smallest of the three Aran Islands whose name means “Eastern Island.”
It started off with amazing views of the Cliffs of Moher, so different from what we saw of the cliffs from land. Though the day was clear, there was just the suggestion of mist shrouding the mighty cliffs—just enough to give them an air of magic and mystery.
The ferry skimmed through the water with ease, a foamy wake pursuing us, and the sea-tanged air blew in our faces and kept us cool and comfortable. An occasional seabird soared overhead, but our guide, Pius, informed me that most of the more exotic birds would be found on the cliffs. Still, it was thrilling to watch them riding the air currents and soaring overhead. And during the short ferry ride, Pius kept us spellbound with stories of Finn MacCool and Diarmud and Grainne, and fascinating little facts about the island.
We stepped off the boat and into another time.
The first thing we saw was a burial tomb dating back to the Bronze Age, with a Christian burial ground atop it. History at the doorstep. And just the sort of thing that gets my imagination buzzing! The second thing we saw was a crowd of jarveys and their jaunting-cars (pony-carts), waiting to take visitors on a tour of the island. Exactly the way my “fictionals” (characters) would have traveled! Eagerly, I hopped up on the jaunting-car and settled back for a trip back in time.
And time has, indeed, stood still on Inis Oíirr. The landscape in 2018 is the same as in the tie of my stories. Thatched cottages exist among fields of tumbled stone. Great rock walls spread over stony green fields. The roads may be paved, but many are as narrow as they were when they were covered with the sand that was once thrown up by towering storm waves centuries ago.
On a side note, because Inis Oíirr is a very sandy island, the inhabitants are called “Sandies.” Those who live on Inis Mórare called “Stonies” because their island is so rocky.
Inis Oíirr has a fascinating history, and Pius was happy to share some of that history with us. He took us to the church of Saint Caomhán, the island’s patron saint, a church that was found buried in the island sand and which had to be uncovered annually.
The island was ruled by the O’Briens in the Middle Ages (seems I can’t get away from my beloved O’Brien clan!). The 14thCentury O’Brien’s Castle was partially destroyed by a massive bombardment from Cromwell’s forces and fell into disuse. The remains can still be found on the island.
In the spring of 1960, the cargo ship, the Plassey ran aground on the shores of Inis Oíirr. A group of islanders managed to rescue the entire ship’s crew using a breeches buoy. When I walked down the beach to view the Plassey, Pius explained that, after the crew was rescued and bedded down for the night, the ship was thrown above the high tide line, as if by a giant’s hand. Logic tells me it was probably a huge storm wave that did it, but no one is sure, as no one actually saw it happen. In the land of the giant, Finn MacCool, who knows what the true story may be? The ship appears in the opening of the TV show "Father Ted."
Since Inis Oíirris is an island, it’s natural there are many boats associated with it, most strongly the currach. Currachs feature heavily in my novel, "Coming Home," and today I was thrilled to finally see one of these lightweight little vessels. After studying every mention of them I could find, and countless re-watchings of the movie, Man of Aran, I didn’t think the reality could possibly measure up. But it did, and then some! Although I only saw the boat on land, and from a distance, it was both gratifying and exciting, and I pictured Tom Flynn ferrying Ashleen O’Brien over to Chapel Island.
After a lovely lunch, the time came to bid farewell to Inis Oíirr, and I found myself doing so with a kind of wistful regret. There was such peace on that island in the middle of the Atlantic, such serenity. I found myself longing to stay, to build a small cottage there with a view of the crashing surf and rocky beach. In such a place, I thought, would be solitude, but not of a distasteful sort. As I’ve said many a time these past seven days, as long as I have Internet access, and Amazon can find me to deliver a steady stream of books, I could be happy!
The words of one of Cromwell’s generals, when speaking of the Burren, came back to me then. “Not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, or earth enough to bury him.” Now I’m in reasonably good health, and I have no reason to believe I won’t live a good long life (please God and all the fairies!), but at that moment I began to consider what people euphemistically call my “final arrangements.” I thought of spending eternity in the cradle of this wild, gentle island.
And I believe I’ll tell my children to scatter my ashes on Inis Oíirr.
From the Wild West of Ireland,
Wild Westie Cynthia Owens
DISPATCHES FROM THE WILD WEST: