Friday is the Autumn Equinox and signs of the impending season change are everywhere here on Inishturk. Bags of coal are stacked beside houses and timber and turf are being hauled in on the boats. Still the weather is beautiful for the most part and we enjoyed two warm, sunny days in a row this week which found us taking our meals on the front stoop and being drawn outside constantly. My friends Jeannette and Tom came for a few days before making their way to Scotland and then, just days later, I headed to Dublin to meet my mom and 3 sisters and accompany them back to the island. After a week my mom and 2 sisters headed back to the States, but my sister Doreen stayed behind until mid October. It's great to have her here as she's pretty laid back and independent.
Jeannette and Tom's visit was terrific with lots of day time walks and late night talks (I didn't intend for that to rhyme). One afternoon as we were heading off on a hike we got word that Jack was heading over to Caher Island to help load sheep. Maybe we'd like to join the crew and take a walk to the Monastery ruins? This was an opportunity that I'd wished for since my stay here last year. I ran to the harbour to ask (plead, cajole, beg) for a spot for the three of us and an hour later we loaded up with Jack, Helen, Eamonn, PJ and Father Desey for the short ride out to Caher. A small boat (a type of curragh) which would actually take us to the island was tethered to the back of Jack's big boat as there is no dock or pier on Caher. I was excited, and just a bit apprehensive, about climbing into the small boat and, after arriving at Caher, climbing up onto its rocky shore.
Father Desey and Helen on the way to Caher
Jeannette and Tom ready for an adventure (Inishturk in the background)
Jack anchored quite a ways offshore and Eamonn (a most intrepid sailor) hauled the small boat to the side and, with PJ's help, got us all safely seated and off we went. When we arrived at the small cove on the southwest side of Caher (called Portariff), there were other boats there and a few island men along with lots of sheep waiting to be hauled back to Inishturk after spending much of the summer grazing on the deserted island. We pulled up beside the craggy boulders that jut out into the sea and one by one unloaded ourselves on to the sacred shores of Caher. As we strode across the island I felt moved by the history of the place - the site of a 6th and 7th century monastic settlement. What is left of the tiny hermitage seems precarious, the entrance wall on the west end is leaning quite a bit and the south wall all but gone.
A view of the northeast side of the hermitage ruins.
Looking out the entrance wall from inside the remains.
There are numerous carved rock crosses on the island with an abundance of them surrounding the ruins.
This particular slab features a Greek style cross in a circle and below it, two dolphins curved to face each other. The depiction below is from an article on Caher by Michael Herity.
Another excellent example.
We sat on boulders outside the monastery walls and ate apples, gazing out to sea, talking little. Soon Helen's phone rang - Jack calling us back to the boat. As we crossed the marshy, heather strewn hills back to the cove we could see the last of the sheep being loaded into the small boats. We clambered over the slippery rocks and loaded into our own for the short ride out to the big boat.
The last of the sheep being moved back to Inishturk.
We motored up beside Jack's boat and could see it too was full of sheep. I realized it wouldn't be as easy climbing up into the boat as it had been climbing down out of it, but it went surprisingly smooth and, after pushing through the tightly packed sheep, we sat in the cabin for the short, 2 mile ride home.
The view out the cabin door.
A few days after Jeannette and Tom left, I took the train to Dublin for an overnight stay at Trinity College (they rent out dorm rooms during the summer months - quite spartan, but spotlessly clean and a really good price) before greeting my mom and sisters off a very early morning flight. Their flight was uncharacteristically early - arriving at 4:38 instead of 5:15! When I got to the airport, they had already been through baggage pick up and passport control, so we caught the first bus to the train station and were able to make the 7:35 train to Westport. They were exhausted after the overnight flight and at one point my mother remarked that they had been awake for over 24 hours. I think she kinda' amazed herself. We arrived in Westport, got a ride into town (it's a 10 minute walk from the train station into town - most all downhill - but when the ride was offered, I grabbed the opportunity), and tried to fill up the 6+ hours until we could catch the shuttle to the evening ferry. After visiting a few shops and the ATM, we settled into the coffee shop attached to the downtown grocery store and had a snack and coffee and tea. At one point, I looked across the seating area and there was a table full of my neighbors - Mary Catherine, her daughter Brid and her children! I was so glad to be able to introduce my family to my "island family" as I spend almost as much time at Mary Catherine's house as I do at my own. We eventually did our grocery shopping and installed ourselves at the edge of the parking lot behind the grocery store where the shuttle would pick us up. My youngest sister Liz and I walked the few blocks to my favorite restaurant and picked up a few wood fired pizzas to go and we sat behind SuperValu, eating pizza, chatting and nodding off from time to time. Finally the ride to Roonaugh Pier and boarding the ferry for the hour long ride to Inishturk.
Aboard the ferry
It was not a smooth ride, but everyone seemed to weather it pretty well and soon enough we were on Inishturk loading luggage and groceries into Jack's car and heading to my cottage. We had secured additional housing a one minute walk from my house, a two bedroom, two bathroom place where two of my sisters stayed. I'd realized earlier in the summer that one bathroom for five women was not going to work. And it was perfect with an open living room, kitchen and dining room where we tended to congregate for meals or to play cards if the weather wasn't great. We walked to the club one afternoon, a very steep walk uphill that my mom (at 83!) hiked like a champ. The next time we ventured up there for dinner, Helen gave us a ride.
Heading up to the Club.
By the end of the week, the forecast looked bleak. The family had a mid day flight out of Dublin on Monday and would have to leave the island Sunday to make it in time. I walked to the pier on Friday to talk to James, the ferry captain and he suggested we leave early as he suspected the ferry wouldn't run at all on Sunday. We booked a hotel for two nights in Westport and took the early ferry out Saturday morning.
The ride was crazy and my sister Dawn wasn't taking any chances as the boat pitched and rocked.
Our two days in Westport were fun - Saturday night after a raucous dinner (when we are all together we tend to wear raucous like our favorite shirt) we hit a pub. Thank goodness we got seats early as it was shoulder to shoulder, standing room only by the time the music started. A jam session of musicians young and old on accordians, fiddles, guitars, a piano and a flute. Other musicians came and went, joining in for a song or two or playing a solo. A few times the room would be hushed and a lone voice in the crowd would sing a plaintive ballad and at one point a group of older men all wearing yellow shirts pushed through the crowd into the room and sang a rousing song to loud applause. We left the pub after midnight and were relieved to gulp the fresh, cool air outside after being in the stifling close quarters inside. We went to Mass Sunday morning and it was lovely with a sermon on a hardened heart versus a soft heart. Early Monday morning Doreen and I accompanied the family to the train station and saw them off before walking back into town to the hotel. We'd planned to catch the evening ferry back to the island, but found out the seas were still too rough and the ferry wouldn't be back on schedule until Tuesday! I knew Helen and Jack were also on the mainland and texted Helen to see if she knew there was no ferry that day. They were going to day trip out to Achill Island and invited us along. We could stay at their mainland house that night and ride to the ferry with them on Tuesday. What a win! Achill Island is a big island north of Inishturk accessible by a land bridge. I consider Helen a naturalist and if I don't know the name of a plant or bird I go to her for clarification. Not a better person to visit Achill with! After the hour drive to the island we stopped at an expansive beach and watched seals playing in the surf; Jack drove a narrow, curvy road up a cliff and we stood at the rim in rain and ferocious winds taking pictures; we visited a graveyard from the 1800's on the ocean edge.
Looking out the window of the ruins of a church built in the 1700's into the graveyard and beyond to the ocean.
This gravestone astonished me. Mystical midwife and Mama...Wow!
A picture board at the beach about turf cutting.
An old photo of women carrying turf.
It was early evening before we made it back to Askillaun to Helen and Jack's mainland house. A beautiful house perched on the side of a hill overlooking lush green fields and, off in the distance across an expanse of ocean, Inishturk. As wonderful as it was to be with Helen and Jack in their serene home, sharing meals and talking by the fire, I spent hours it seemed gazing out the windows looking at the island, wanting so to be home.
The village below Jack and Helen's house with Inishturk in the distance.
Jack showed us the pile of turf in the shed and explained the process of cutting and drying it. The fire it created was lovely and clean. It made me wish I had a fireplace at my cottage instead of a woodstove!
A shed of turf; cut, dried and ready for the fireplace.
Turf close up.
We caught the 1:30 ferry on Tuesday and no sooner were Doreen and I settled into our seats (we sat inside as it was raining quite heavily) than we fell asleep, lulled by the rocking of the boat and a deep exhaustion. We awoke a few minutes before we docked at the harbour and were ecstatic to be back!
We had all afternoon to unpack, do laundry and settle back in.
During our time on the mainland, Charlene, the chef at the Club finished her stint at the restaurant, so I've been picking up the slack opening up in the evenings for dinner now and then. Doreen's been my sidekick and it's been fun and just a bit disconcerting, but I've learned some new skills. Mary Catherine, who ran the restaurant 2 days a week most all summer while Charlene took days off, walked into the kitchen one afternoon as I was struggling to fillet a pollock. She offered to show me how and made it look miraculously easy. I'm much better at it now than I was, although I'll probably never reach Mary C's level of proficiency (she also dropped by the cottage yesterday afternoon to show me how to make a coal fire as I've had pathetically anemic results every time I attempted it - we enjoyed a roaring fire all evening thanks to her lesson). I was surprised at how hesitant/shy I was about running the kitchen. It just felt foreign and, although I've been cooking as a job for over 35 years, I've never run a restaurant kitchen. I've been a pastry chef in quite a few restaurants and have helped out in others, but have never been a short order cook. I was astounded when my food order came in and I was confronted by turnips the size of a child's head and apples almost as big. Doreen and I laughed over my mistakes but persevered and after a few days off we're looking forward to getting back up there to play. As always, the islanders are kind and polite (and forgiving) and the best sort of people to serve. I am well aware how fortunate I am.
Doreen and I picked seaweed yesterday. Sea lettuce and sea grass for seaweed bread (which has gone over well in the restaurant) and carraigin for winter use. It's so relaxing to wade in the tidal pools.
Sea lettuce ready for 10 minutes in the oven to dry.
Carraigin to air dry to use for winter "pudding".
Friday Doreen and I will head into the mainland for a few days to explore some other towns. I'd hate for her to spend six weeks here and only experience Inishturk and Westport, so we'll see Galway and maybe Lehinch and Ennistimon before heading back to Westport to greet my friend Frank at the train station and have him out to Inishturk for a few days. I met Frank last year in Madrid and we participated in VaughanTown together. We've kept in touch over the last year (he lives in Australia) and since he's been traveling in Europe the last month or so, he thought he'd take a side trip out here. So very excited to see him again as he's great fun! The following Saturday, friends from Texas - Esther and Rick - are coming for about a week on their way to Germany. So still lots of guests for a bit before life settles down for a long winter.
I've been reading "Braving the Wilderness" by Brene Brown and when I came upon this early in the book, I was stopped. She's a phenomenal writer and cuts to the core of what it means to be a human in our complicated world. I so love #4 and sometimes in my meditation it's my mantra.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
Hope you are all well and looking forward to Autumn.