Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Visiting the windswept beaches of Achill
during the Heinrich Böll Weekend

The cliffs and coastline on the Atlantic Drive near Dooega ... badly damaged during the winter storms this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I got back to Gray’s Guest House in Dugort on Achill Island as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning. By Sunday morning we were in Mweelin on the south-east coast of the island for the walking tour and lecture I was delivering as part of the 11th annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend.

The memorial to Tommy Patten in Dooega (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We gathered at Dooega, where the damage wreaked on the beach during the winter storms was still clearly visible. From there the archaeologist Eoin Halpin led us on a guided walk up to monument unveiled to Tommy Patten 30 years ago.

Tommy Patten is Achill’s own hero of the Spanish Civil War. As 25 year old worker in England, he enlisted in the International Brigade and died at Boadilla del Monte on the night of 16/17 December 1936, defending the city against Franco and his fascist forces. He was the first person from an English-speaking country and the first Irishman of 74 killed in the Spanish Civil War.

The inscription on the monument is in Irish, English and Spanish, and Christy Moore mentions Tommy Patten in his song Viva la Quinta Brigada.

The Irish language inscription says he died “ar son Poblacht na Spáinne agus cos Mhuintir an Domhain ar fad.” The wording in Spanish says he died “por la libertad de la República de España, y de todos los trabajadores del mundo entero.” The English wording says he died “for the Spanish Republic and all oppressed people.”

They are not quite the same in each language:

● “on behalf of the Republic of Spain and for people throughout the world”

● “for the liberty of the Republic of Spain and for all workers throughout the world”

● “for the Spanish Republic and all oppressed people.”

Perhaps the three languages allow a greater variety of tributes and the expression of more values.

Gathering in the ruins of the missionary settlement in Mweelin on Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From Tommy Patten’s monument, we made our way back to Mweelin, where I spoke on ‘The Achill missionary buildings at Mweelin – history, origins and people.’ The talk continued in Lavelle’s bar in Dooega, and stimulated a lively debate about the Revd Edward Nangle, the Revd Alexander Dallas and the work of the Achill Mission.

This was the closing event of this year’s Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend.

Later, two of us drove along the cliff side on the Atlantic Coast east of Dooega to see more of this year’s storm damage and coastal erosion. From Dooega, we made our way back to Dugort, where the sand dunes have all but vanished.

The avenue leading up to Saint Thomas’s Church in Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

There was no Sunday service in Saint Thomas’s Church that afternoon, and so we decided to visit our continue on our tour of the Achill coastline and to see more of the storm damage.

In Duagh, the coastal pathway was broken and wrecked and the sand had been washed away. At Keem Bay, the view was still pretty, but as we looked down at the horseshoe bay with its golden sand and sparkling water the looming rain clouds turned us back.

A kite surfer on the lake at Keel on Sunday afternoon adds colour to a grey day in Achill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We made our way to Keel, where the sand dunes have been badly eroded.

Behind us, on the small lake in Keel, despite the grey skies and clouds, kite surfers were making the best of the high winds and adding colour to landscape.

We then visited the Western Light Art Gallery in Keel, where Dr Gisela Holfter of the University of Limerick had opened an exhibition of archival photograph material, ‘Heinrich Böll and family,’ from the Böll family collection, and of landscape paintings, ‘Paintings of Achill island,’ by Alex McKenna.

Later we called to see our friends, the McNamara family, who once ran the Boley House restaurant in Keel.

After dinner in Gray’s, we we were back in Keel later on Sunday evening, when we joined committee members from the Achill Heinrich Böll Association in the Bervie. It was another late evening that continued well into the night.

The beach in Dugort remains one of the most picturesque in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On Monday morning, we strolled through the former Achill Missionary settlement below the slopes of Slievemore before visiting Saint Thomas’s Church. We too time for prayer and silence before photographing the memorials and plaques, perhaps to illustrate a future paper.

Later we took one last walk on the beach at Dugort. Despite this year’s heavy damage, it remains one of the most picturesque beaches in Ireland.

We stopped once more at Achill Sound to look at Holy Trinity Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church which was deconsecrated some years ago and is now being converted by French buyers into a private residence. The memorials and plaques that were once on the walls here have since been moved to Saint Thomas’s in Dugort.

Soon we were back on the road to Mulranny and Newport. We were back in Dublin before dark on Monday evening.

The Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend was organised with the support of the Goethe-Institut Irland. The Achill Heinrich Böll Association is funded by Mayo County Council, the Arts Council of Ireland, and receives donations from members of the public.

The old railway bridge crossing the Black Oak River in Newport, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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