Thursday, August 24, 2017


Hard to imagine that summer is almost over, but here on Inishturk, it is palpable. The days are getting shorter - no more dusk at 10 and dawn at 5 - and the breeze is out of the north from time to time. Still it is pleasantly warm at day, low 60's (this makes me laugh seeing the 100 degree temps in Texas) and when the sun comes out I can be fooled into believing summer will last forever. 
I had some friends visit from Camp Verde and Kerrville. Maria worked with me at Cypress Springs where I was the cook for almost 15 years. Her brother, Jesus, worked there also, although not in the kitchen. His girlfriend, Destiny, joined them for their week in Ireland with their first stop in Inishturk. Maria had just returned from a 2 week National Geographic trip to Italy and Greece - she was in big time travel mode before college starts up for this recent graduate (2nd in her class!). They were great fun and we hiked both trails on the island and stayed up late talking and laughing each night.
Maria, Destiny and Jesus
A few days after they arrived Turkfest commenced, so they were on their own as I was helping in the club kitchen. 150 Irish hipsters invaded the island and brought music and new energy to the calm isolation that keeps me here. It was intense, but for the most part, fun. I was here for it last year, so I knew what to expect. Nevertheless, I was glad when Monday came and the island was somewhat back to normal. Tuesday brought hoards again as it was the annual pilgrimage to Caher Island. Caher is a small uninhabited island which lies about halfway between Inishturk and the mainland. It was once the site of a monastery (7th century) and there are fine examples of medieval stone crosses. August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption and the day that hundreds of people brave the treacherous waters around Caher to experience Mass at the ruins of the church. There is no pier, so pilgrims must clamber up the rocky shore after exiting the boats. For many people this pilgrimage is part of the climb up Croagh Patrick on the mainland on the last Sunday in July. After Mass at Caher the folks board the boats again and head to Inishturk for food and fellowship. Once again, I was sequestered in the kitchen, avoiding the crowds. By evening, the island was blissfully quiet again. A wedding was scheduled for Friday of that week, but the forecast was brutal so the weekend celebration was moved to the mainland. From Thursday on, the island was practically deserted, with less than half its average population. It was lovely walking the island and not encountering another soul.
The island tends to attract WWOOFers, which is how I found it last year, and some integrate into the community. My dear friend Mary Catherine has had a few this summer and, since I spend quite a bit of time at her house, I get to know them well. Earlier in the summer Mary C hosted Maria from southern Germany. She lives just 20 minutes from my friends Tom and Cynthia in Simmerberg, Germany! After Maria left, Claudia arrived. Claudia is from the northwest coast of Italy and her month on the island flew by. We worked side by side at island functions (mostly in The Club kitchen or at Mary C's busy guesthouse) and occasionally got to relax at the restaurant for a meal or take a hike on the islands trails. She was a remarkable young woman and I was really sad to see her go. WWOOFing is an incredible way to see the world and I highly recommend traveling that way - an opportunity to know a country by living and working with a family there.
Claudia at Tale of the Tongs
The blackberries which grow all over the island are just beginning to ripen. Days of rain and then sun have them turning from green to red and finally black. When they lose their glossy sheen they are ready to pick and with just a touch, they fall into my hand. 
They make for a tasty snack while on walks. An edible treasure hunt.
On Monday, the 21st - the day of the Eclipse - the weather was wicked, with heavy rain most all day. The sky was steely grey and the downpours flowed down the mountain, creating waterfalls off the cliffs into the harbour. Days later, there were still rushing streams coursing through mountainside gullies. On Curraun Beach, a trickle of fresh water that always flows from mountain to ocean became a cascade that carved curving patterns in the sand.
My friend Kathleen sent me a copy of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). Although it's been on my Kindle for over a year - I mentioned it in my New Years post and it's included in my Books By My Bedside list - I have yet to finish it. After picking up my package from the Post Office (open from 12-1 on Tuesdays and Fridays) I walked to the Community Center (affectionately called The Club which houses the pub, restaurant and small shop) and sat on the empty deck overlooking the ocean. Although I truly love the idea of books on Kindle for the ease of reading while traveling, holding that beloved book in my hands and feeling the pages felt precious. It's just a different experience. 
The last page of Big Magic. Indeed.
After a quick visit from my artist friend Jeannette next week, my mother and three sisters descend on Inishturk. At 83, my mom hasn't traveled for years and it took a bit of coaxing from all of us girls to convince her to make the trip. But after she agreed, it was full steam ahead! I am beyond excited to show them the island and introduce them to the unique group of folks that make up its population. The island may never be the same...
Well, my morning is slipping away and the tide is going out. I'm going to meet my neighbor Pete at low tide to harvest some carraigin seaweed, also known as carrageen moss, to dry for winter use. Used to set liquids (like gelatin), it is considered a remedy for coughs, sore throats and chest colds. I gathered sea lettuce and sea grass yesterday, dried then crumbled it to make seaweed bread later this afternoon. I couldn't help but munch on some after drying it. So tasty.
September's almost here! Smile!

Thursday, August 3, 2017


A busy summer here on Inishturk. I had guests for almost 5 weeks with my youngest daughter Lily here for ten days and my sweet grand daughter Natalie visiting for a month. Her mom, Marta, came for a week and they went back to the States just a few days ago. Marta loved it but was shocked that the lifeline to the mainland was a ferry that runs only 12 times a week. If you want to go into town for errands or groceries (town being Westport) you had to catch the 9:30 ferry in the morning, travel an hour, then catch a 20 minute shuttle to Westport. AND you have to stay in town until you catch the 5:45 shuttle to Roonaugh Pier, where you catch the 6:30 ferry arriving in Inishturk at 7:30. That's a long day to fill up when you're accustomed to jumping in the car and driving 10 minutes to grab a gallon of milk! Definitely a lifestyle adjustment! 
After a week or so of quiet at my house, the guest rooms will fill up again and be occupied on and off until mid October. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share such a magical place with friends and family. Having Natalie here was particularly poignant. We spent a lot of time at the various beaches - each one holding a different purpose: Curraun for gentle waves and mussel harvesting; Tranaun for more exciting swimming - bigger waves - and at low tide an expansive sandy beach; and what we call Pete's Beach (because it's down the hill from Pete's house) for wading in tidal pools and picking winkles at low tide and swimming with no waves at high tide (it's a protected cove surrounded by rocky outcroppings). I love Pete's Beach for the variety of seaweeds I can find there and the unusual rock beach. I never leave that beach empty handed. 
A myriad of seaweeds at low tide at Pete's Beach
An underwater pic of a tiny starfish clinging to a rock. I found it while looking for winkles - it wasn't even 2 inches across!
The Harbour was also a favorite spot. I could sit on my neighbor Jo's deck and watch the kids swim or throw sticks into the water for the island dogs. Walks along the Harbour at low tide were fascinating for the sea life. One afternoon, in the course of a 5 minute walk we counted 24 jellyfish in 7 different colors. There was no swimming that day. Another time, the kids found a baby shark perhaps left behind after a day of fishing. Natalie made fast friends with the island kids and a few that were visiting for the summer. They did art projects - lots of painting on rocks - and produced hilarious videos on my porch with their stuffed animals. They investigated tide pools for tiny crabs, which they promptly named and brought home. 
Laura, Ellie and Natalie crabbing.
When the crabs perished days later, they'd have makeshift Viking funerals (minus the pyre): a small wood scrap with a bed of seaweed on top and the deceased crab resting atop the seaweed. Sometimes they'd invert a limpet shell on top of the crab. They'd stand solemnly on the shore, say a few words about the dearly departed, set the piece of wood in the ocean and watch it float away. It never made it far as the waves tended to quickly upend the lightweight wood. I convinced them it was for the best as the crab was ending up close to where its life began. Seeing the island through Natalie's eyes was a lesson in the art of observance. I miss her every day. 
Natalie with a heart rock at Pete's Beach
Jo's grand niece, Ellie Concannon, came by the day after Natalie left and told me she missed Natalie, "but I know not as much as you do Diane!" Ellie still comes by almost daily. We took a picnic hike this week to Tale of the Tongs, a small shelter made of local stone, glass and stainless steel which represents the global Irish diaspora. It's a favorite place of mine for writing and thinking and getting out of the rain or howling wind while hiking.
The Tale of the Tongs
It was built in 2013 over nine days by students from The Catholic University of America with the help of some islanders. It's said that when leaving Ireland during the famine times, a family would gather a hot coal from their fire with tongs (that sit beside every island fireplace or coal stove - indeed there is a pair beside my stove) and bring it to the fire of their neighboring friend or family member. They would also leave their tongs behind with the promise that when they returned, they would retrieve the tongs and a hot coal to start their fire once again. The structure sits on top of a hill with a view of the Atlantic on both the north and south sides of the island. Surrounding the "temple" are glass columns etched with the family names of the inhabitants of Inishturk and freestanding rock sculptures of various shapes and sizes. I frequently sun on a long low "bench" and Ellie and I had our picnic on one.
Ellie standing in front of the glass panel bearing her family name, Concannon. In the background is one of the rock sculptures representing those lost from memory from the island and those who come to be here. Like me.
As Ellie and I sat and ate lunch this week we talked of being an island descendant and how special it was that she had that connection. I told her she was fortunate for that. She told me I had a connection, too! When I remarked that I didn't - I am not Irish and have no kin here - she said, "But you love it here, so that's a connection of the heart and that's better than kin!" Oh my. 
I just discovered there is a video made about the designing, building and installation of Tale of the Tongs in Inishturk. It's called "Tale of the Tongs" (catchy name, huh?) and it's by Judith and Stanley Hallet. It's now on my Watchlist...
I've been told by a few people on the island about the "Money Rock" where coins would be pushed into the crevices of a particular rock for good luck. As Ellie and I were hiking up to Tale of the Tongs for our picnic, she also mentioned it. When I inquired as to it's whereabouts, she had no idea. It had been years since she'd taken this particular hike and she was a kid then, she told me (this made me smile as she's not yet 13). As we rounded a corner and followed the trail up the hill, she stopped. "I think this is the Money Rock!" And indeed it was! I happened to have some coins in my pocket so we each took one, found cracks in the rock and pushed our coins in. Then, per Ellie's instructions, we kissed our fingers and pressed them to the coin to send it on. We found one last crevice, put a coin in it for Natalie and both kissed it to wish Natalie good luck.
Some coins in the Money Rock.
I was helping out with breakfast at a guesthouse this week and I met a fascinating Irish journalist named Margaret Ward. She was the Foreign Editor at RTE which is Ireland's version of NPR and public TV. She wrote a piece for the Irish Times that was published last December about Inishturk and Inishbofin, an island just to the south of Inishturk, which boasts a population three times that of Inishturk (about 150). In addition to being written with a lovely lyricism, I found the article to be the most accurate depiction of the situation the islands find themselves in at this time. Since my return, I've been told more than once that in ten years this will be a holiday island only, meaning pretty much deserted during the winter and only coming back to life in the summer months for vacationers. Many of the islanders - some whose families have inhabited this island for generations - have homes on the mainland, so it would be an easy move. But I would think a tragic loss of a way of life. If you'd like to read her article and get an informative glimpse into island life, here is the link:
My favorite quote from the article is from my neighbor Bernard who says, "Ireland is an island off Inishturk." Which it kinda' is...
Mid June seemed to stall out weather - wise. Day after day was grey and rainy and cold. A malaise fell over me that I couldn't seem to shake. I stopped meditating and doing yoga. I wrote in my journal, but nowhere else. I hardly ventured from my cottage. I sent depressing texts to friends (thanks for listening, Sid and I apologize...). There are a couple truly inspiring women on the island that I am honored to call friends and their presence pulled me through. When I felt at my most aimless, they'd drag me out for a hike or have me in for tea and a long chat. Sometimes when I have concerns about spending the winter here, I remember that I'll have this close knit community to be with. I was told in the winter Wednesday night is late night card games because there is no early ferry Thursday mornings for anyone to have to deal with. And no fishing. Or holiday guests.
But now, the island is lovely and even when the rain comes, which it does briefly even on the sunniest days, it can't dampen the vitality summer brings to Inishturk. 
Everything is in bloom!
Even the "weeds"!
 The progression of lunch...
 After a rainshower
 My funny little cottage in the Harbour
 Swimming in the Harbour
 Growing out of rock
A long hike to the Harbour