Sunday, 5 May 2013

A morning on a tiny island

Crossing from Achill to Inishbiggle … with the poet James Harpur

Patrick Comerford

About 80 or more people made the crossing from Bullsmouth on Achill Island to the tiny island of Inishbiggle this morning.

The channel between Bullsmouth and Inishbiggle has one of the strongest and most treacherous currents in Europe. Those currents are so unpredictable, often making the island inaccessible, that even last night there were some doubts about whether we would go ahead with this morning’s crossing.

We crossed over in relays on currachs and a launch staffed by the Irish Coast Guards for part of the programme of the ninth Annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend, which is taking place throughout the weekend on Achill Island.

Inishbiggle is a tiny island, squeezed between the Co Mayo mainland and Achill Island and has a tiny population of no more than 20, and the island’s school and post office have been closed for some years. The island measures 2.5 km by 1.5 km, and covers an area of 2.6 sq km.

Walking across Inishbiggle on a rainy Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Sheila McHugh led a guided walk across the island, and the island school opened to welcome us with morning coffee and tea.

From there, it was a short walk on to the eastern end of the island, where I spoke in Holy Trinity Church on ‘The History of the Church of Ireland on Inishbiggle.’

Later, Mechtild Manus, Director of the Goethe-Institut Irland, introduced poetry readings by Paddy Bushe, Eva Bourke and Jan Wagner.

This is a small, beautiful church, but only one Church of Ireland parishioner is left on the island.

Later, we returned to the school for lunch, provided by Gray’s Guest House in Dugort, where we are staying.

Over lunch, an interesting conversation began on the possibility of finding a new future for Holy Trinity Church as a centre for spirituality and the arts, But this is going to need the kind of visionary but practical approach that has transformed the Heinrich Böll Cottage in Dugort into a writers’ and artists’ centre and that has inspired the Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend each year.

Making the crossing back from Inishbiggle to Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The currach crossing earlier in the morning took about ten minutes. The crossing back with the Coast Guard took less than half that time. Sea spray and salt water left most of us in need of a change of clothes, and this afternoon’s programme has been put back until tomorrow morning.

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