It was a promisingly sunny afternoon as we dashed down the quayside in Cleggan and threw our bags aboard the ferry for Inishbofin. After a yawnsome four-hour drive from Dublin, this sudden burst of excitement and panic ensured we would keep our appointment with Dermot by a hair’s breadth.
Half an hour later, the ferry safely in port and another gaggle of American tourists off to roam the island for the afternoon, Dermot beckoned us down a slippery flight of stairs to the water’s edge where a small powerboat was tied up. No sooner had we arrived at Inishbofin, a few miles offshore from County Galway, than it was receding into the distance again, and after a few minutes of darting between rocky outcrops and tiny green isles of sheep and gulls we were soon drifting up alongside an eerie, crumbling wharf.
This was the island we’d come way out west to visit; an all-but-forgotten victim of bureaucracy and bad weather called Inishshark.
It is almost inconceivable to me, as a landlubber from the English Midlands, that there are places in the British Isles so utterly desolate and remote as this island seemed to be. Ever since I began to travel and learned how absurdly limited my knowledge of the world actually was, I have been yearning to explore more deeply the lands surrounding the place I once called home. I’ve made a concerted effort to do so during my occasional stays at this end of Europe, but it seems I still haven’t lost the capacity to be shocked.
Inishshark’s story is purportedly one of human tragedy, and one wanders the square kilometre of squelchy meadow, hillside and slate with the shells of houses and half-collapsed walls as an ever-present reminder. The last remaining residents were evacuated in 1960, when the Irish government deemed it too expensive to provide services such as telephone lines, electricity and a functional harbour to the islanders. It was an event that would nowadays be downplayed as “a regrettable but necessary decision made for the greater good” by a soulless spokesperson on telly. But this was 1960’s Ireland, and it’s likely that just as few heard of the island’s plight at the time as are aware of it today.
Fearghal and I spent a day and a night wandering in the drizzle, experimenting with some new camera gear and putting the world to rights by a driftwood campfire. I bemoaned not bringing my packraft and not being able to paddle over under our own steam. Chartering a local boat and its owner felt like a bit of a cheat.
But I suppose it would be little but a romantic notion to paddle over here – just like the notion of spending one’s life on a tiny weather-battered rock in the ocean. It’d be too easy for me to cast the island’s story as a tragedy, because I had the indelible privilege and certainty of going back home. Maybe those last twenty-three were crying out to leave that god-forsaken island of sheep, seals and seagulls. In their shoes, I’m sure I’d have done just that.
Hands up if you spotted the dessicated cow’s head in the photos.
I suggested this island on Alastair Humphreys’ list of favourite wild places, but he soon pointed out that his list was for Britain, rather than the British Isles. (It’s still a nice list, though.)