20 August 2011

When the journey is as exciting as the destination

Sunset at Skerries Harbour last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Seven of us tried to reach Lambay Island last night. We gathered at ‘Storm in a Teacup,’ the ice-cream shop at the entrance to the pier at Skerries Harbour. The sea looked calm, the rain was holding off, and sunset was at least another two hours away.

I have walked the beaches and harbour of Skerries so often in the past few years, but I have never been out to the islands.

Local boatman Eoin Grimes, who organises Skerries Seatours, grew up around the sea in Skerries and has spent all his life involved in boating. He has sailed all his life, has worked for several years as the “punt man” for Skerries Sailing Club and is a member of the local lifeboat crew. As you can imagine, Eoin is also steeped in local lore and history.

This summer, Eoin has been offering Skerries Sea Safaris, with exciting fast tours of the Skerries Islands, Lambay Island and Rockabill Lighthouse. Last night, we joined him in his high-speed craft for a sea tour that promised to bring us out from Skerries Bay, past Saint Patrick’s Island, Shenick, Rockabill, and then down along the coast past Loughshinny and Rush to Lambay Island.

It was going to take about 20 minutes to reach Lambay Island, which is a difficult but interesting place to visit. It is the largest island off the east coast of Ireland, and the most easterly point of Lambay is also the eastern-most part of the Republic of Ireland.

Sailing out from Skerries Harbour last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

For centuries, Lambay was owned by the Archbishops of Dublin. In 1805, the leasehold interest in the island was inherited by Sir William Wolseley, and in 1814 it was acquired by the Talbot family of Malahide Castle. In 1860, the island’s tenant farmers were removed and replaced with English and Scottish tenants.

After selling Portrane House, Count James Considine bought Lambay in 1888, but it was sold for £9,000 to the Baring banking family in 1904. Cecil Baring commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens (Lord Revelstoke) to rebuild the main house on the island. The island has claimed a number of shipwrecks. The most notable was the RMS Tayleur, which struck the island in 1854 and sank with the loss of 380 lives.

Lambay has one of the largest and most important colonies of seabirds in Ireland, including 50,000 Common Guillemots, 5,000 Kittiwakes, 3,500 Razorbills and 2,500 pairs of Herring Gulls, as well as Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars and other species. The island also has Ireland’s only east-coast colony of grey seals, a herd of about 200 fallow deer, and a large number of wallabies hopping around the island – first introduced to Lambay in the 1980s when Dublin Zoo was overcrowded.

I’ve often looked across at Lambay from my grandmother’s house in Portrane, but the Baring Family Trust is still cautious about allowing access to the island, a caution that has helped preserve the birdlife – and the wallabies.

But we never reached Lambay last night. Within ten minutes we were level with Loughshinny but the swell was too high and the waves too strong for Eoin’s high-speed craft and, sensibly, he turned back.

On our way back to Skerries we had good views of Shennick with its Martello Tower, Rockabill with its lighthouse, and Saint Patrick’s Island, the most distant of the Skerries islands, with its low cliffs and the ruins of the early monastic settlement that later moved to Holmpatrick. Saint Patrick’s is the most important of the Skerries islands for breeding seabirds, with Cormorant, Shag and Herring Gull among the most prominent species.

We then came back past Colt Island, the smallest of the Skerries islands, and Red Island, which is only an island in name. Before turning back into Skerries Harbours we had panoramic views of Ardgillan Castle, with its green lawns sweeping down to the coast in the grey shades of dusk.

We were back in Skerries Harbour within an hour. Two of us stopped for an ice cream at ‘Storm in a Teacup’ for setting off for a walk in the twilight around Red Island, down onto the South Beach, and back around the harbour. The sun was now setting, and we lingered a little longer as the harbour was lit up with amber and golden lights.

Perhaps Lambay is like Cavafy’s Ithaka – sailing there is full of promise, and the journey is as exciting as the destination. But I still hope to reach Lambay some summer’s day.

If you would like to sail to Lambay or tour the Skerries islands call Eoin Grimes at: 0863043847; Email: skerries.seatours@gmail.com; Facebook: Skerries Seatours.

WE sailed around the Skerries islands, but we never reached Lambay (Photograph: Patrick Comeford, 2011)

Ithaka (CP Cavafy):

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbours seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

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