Islands

It hasn’t rained since I came to County Clare. There’s a fire in Connemara, across Galway Bay. I’ve come to Inis Oírr on the Aran islands, near the Cliffs of Moher. A weaver, who has lived here all her life, shows us her loom in the front room of her white-washed cottage in the village. She weaves variations on the same piece every day, like a dedication. It’s a miniature tapestry of her vista across the bay she tells us, as she points to the scene that today is indistinct and grey from smoke. It’s dry! she says. Water restrictions are in place. At the hotel next door, the publican, who is from Australia, says it’s only level one restrictions and that’s nothing compared to…last winter he lived through five months of continuous rain. He wants another ten degrees of warmth and plans on returning to work on the Great Barrier Reef once his missus, who grew up on Inis Oírr, receives an Australian visa. He remembers how to make a flat white (but it’s washed out, bleached, like the Barrier Reef, I decide). The fire in Connemara is threatening the National Park and hundreds of hectares of forest have been destroyed. Farmers, attempting to wipe out gorse without permits, started the fires, so a local man in Ballyvaughan tells me when I return from the islands.

My companion and I walk on, as far as the road goes, through a grid of rock walls, past a food van and a shipwreck, an incongruous juxtaposition on this remote Aran island coast. The kelp washes in and out against the limestone shore. I remember the kelp in Tasmania and wonder if this kelp too will die as water temperatures rise. We hesitate near ruins of a castle then circle back towards the harbour, passing cyclists, tourists like us. Most of the houses appear to be empty. Are they summer houses? We pass a playground cheerful with children near a building we assume to be a school and walk towards a group of young girls who ignore us. In a steep field two women are rolling a large pallet towards the road. A dray pulled by a draught horse swings past us and the driver asks us if we want a ride. We decline, as we have to other offers. Viewing the island from a horse and cart is a quaint idea but I can feel my resistance to tourist-cliché rising. We order coffee at the tea house. It’s good strong coffee and the woman serving it has a wide encouraging smile. Suddenly I hear Irish being spoken nearby. All the signs in the village are in Irish and I noticed an na Gaeltacht sign near the wharf. I want to protect this place from the extremities of tourism but I’m guilty as charged: I’m an outsider looking in, making comparisons. On the way back to Ballyvaughan after the ferry, we stop for craic in the Fitzpatrick pub in Doolin, reputed to be the music centre of the west coast. I yawn through renditions of Neil Young and the Carpenters by a guy who plays as if he's forgotten vigour. After he packs up three young traditional musicians set up; two arrive late to cheers from the full house. The uilleann pipes, wooden flute and guitar take flight from the bards that play them. This is good craic. I'm revived.

 The road to the wreck: Innis Oírr

The road to the wreck: Innis Oírr

 Kelp on Inis Oírr

Kelp on Inis Oírr

 The beauty of the past in the foreground against smoke from the Connemara fire that obscures the Cliffs of Moher (the most visited site in Ireland).

The beauty of the past in the foreground against smoke from the Connemara fire that obscures the Cliffs of Moher (the most visited site in Ireland).