Oh Inis Oírr
Haiku: Vincent Vigneron.
Oh Inis Oírr
Haiku: Vincent Vigneron.
Not for me dull sodden land
Disturbed by upcroppings
Of white thorny mayflower
With cattle splurging their way home.
But for me a place
With white rocky back glistening
Under the raw red setting sun.
A hump backed stranded island
Amid sparkling sea and shimmering sky.
A mere bone of earth
Keeping itself afloat
While stripping me of unnecessaries.
A keeper of spring gentian and campion
Storm stranded sparrow hawk,
Arctic tern and sun seeking swallow.
Yes, for me this sun faded picture
Of bleached rock, bleached sand and sky
That I can touch and see and feel and know
With the sureness of earthly instinct
That in this thorny garden of Eden
Is all that is life to me.
Poem: Catherine Conneely. Image: JesseJames
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.
Words: TS Eliot. Image: James Francis Moore.
From Connemara, or the Moher clifftop,
Where the land ends with a sheer drop,
You can see three stepping stones out of Europe.
Anchored like hulls at the dim horizon
Against the winds’ and the waves’s explosion.
That Aran Islands are all awash.
Coastline’s furled in the foam’s white sash.
The clouds melt over them like slush.
And on Galway Bay, between shore and pier,
The ferry plunges to Inis Oírr.
Words: Seamus Heaney The Evening Land (adapted). Image: Elizabeth Rivers, Stranger in Aran (1946).
The iconic Plassey shipwreck is known all over the world. On the island for the past 50 years, this blow-in has become an integral part of the community on Inis Oírr. She features in the opening credits of the popular comedy series Father Ted.
The Plassey was carrying cargo of whiskey, stained glass, and yarn when she was caught in a severe storm and struck Finnis Rock on Inis Oírr in March 1960. The crew was rescued from the ship by the Inisheer Rocket Crew. Two weeks later a second storm tossed the ship onto the rocky beach. The day the ship washed ashore was like Christmas on the island- all cargo that was salvageable was claimed. Is it true that the first flush toilets on the island were salvaged from the ship?
Mike Tobin of the Plassey crew was back as the Guest of Honour on Inis Oírr for a special night in Aras Éanna in 2010 – the 50th anniversary of the shipwreck. Mike was pleased to see some of his rescue team, including Ruairi O’Conghaile from Tigh Ruairi’s pub and guesthouse.
“About 1954 was my first time on her,” recalled Mike. “It’s kind of sad to be inside in her like this, though. I was very found of the ‘oul Plassey, because at that stage of my young career at sea, she went to very exotic places. She was in Italy; she was in the Canary Islands, Greece, Iceland, Angora and South Africa. She went from Helsinki over to Leningrad – at that time, its St Petersburg now. We never thought she’d end up in Inis Oírr of all places… but she’s there now…”
Mike brought the Plassey to life with his stories from the night she went down. “I remember the 8th of March, 1960 like it was yesterday”, said Mike. “We were too far to the north of our course, and closer to the island than we should have been, but we didn’t realise it in the bad night and the wind. We hit the Finnish Rock initially at 10 past 5 in the morning.”
The Plassey’s flare lit up the sky and the islanders were alerted to the danger and immediately ran to the scene with the rescue equipment.
“The first we saw of people on the island was around a quarter to 8 – daybreak, we were very happy to see them! They had only 3 rockets [to launch the ropes for the Breeches Buoy], they fired the first 2 but the wind was so bad it took them away, and when they fired the next rocket it stuck! Only for that, that would have went as well, because of the way the wind was blowing.”
Thanks to the islanders’ courage and bravery, the entire crew was brought to shore safely using Breeches Buoy to hoist them in, one man at a time.
“Later, at the tail end of some hurricane, the Plassey was lifted bodily from the position she was in, and shoved up there beyond the hide tide in one fell swoop,” Mike continued. “To think that she was lifted from over there, and she full of water, and pushed up there, it would tell you the force of the seas that was around here at the time.”
Mike was asked to demonstrate how to use the Breeches Buoy. He had to step into the leggings part which is attached to a lifebuoy. “Well I tell ya, the wind was up me! You had to go over the side of the ship, at the bow, and you went straight down into the water, and you were being turned this way and that way, and then your legs were hitting close to the rocks and then you were going over and under… but that’s how we got out!”
“Were you frightened, Mike?” someone asked. “Yes”, said Mike. “I don’t think anyone had to wash shorts after that, I think they were all thrown away.”
Words: irelandfamilyvacations.com and www.doolin2aranferries.com. Image: JesseJames.
The Aran Islands have been a source of inspiration to artists for generations. One of the first people to photograph them was John Millington Synge whose images, made around the turn of the 20th century, centred on the islanders and their daily lives. More recently, in 2007, Irish painter Sean Scully produced his exhibition and book Walls of Aran, which focused on the iconic and timeless dry stone walls that criss-cross the islands.
Film-maker and photographer Ivan McMahon has created a series of photograph which comprise striking black and white landscapes of Inis Oírr. McMahon’s photographs are closer to the work of Scully than Synge but have their own potent and distinctive visual stamp. They might more accurately be described as rockscapes rather than landscapes as McMahon explores the tones and textures of rock formations that have been shaped and sculpted for millennia by sea, weather, and time.
McMahon has titled all his images after deities and figures from Irish mythology. He is interested in natural, rather than man-made, structures though ‘Na Sídh’ presents a dramatic interplay between the two as hulking, fissured slabs of cliff are sandwiched between low rocky walls at the top and bottom of the image. Elsewhere, natural forms seem to echo man made ones as in ‘Dagda’ which suggests ancient castellated battlements, or perhaps the prow of a mighty stone ship projecting outward toward the sea.
The catalogue carries two resonant quotations about the work; from The Iliad there is ‘Gods are hard for mortals to recognise’ and from renowned French photographer Robert Doisneau there is ‘To suggest is to create; to describe is to destroy’.
Inis Oírr – A Reflection (Ivan McMahon photographs) exhibition runs at the Town Hall Theatre bar in Galway throughout January 2018.
Feile na gCloch 2017, anticipated, imagined by Clara and Susan.