Aran Islands ~ now
I have always loved the sea, passionately, deeply. It is friend, family, lover, unknown and always known to me. It is nature and eternity. Our origin, the spring of life. I could wax poetic about the sea until such time as it sees fit to swallow me – to take me back.
There is always something of coming home in a meeting with the sea. There is something deep inside me that recognises it as nature in its purest form and speaks of a life lived long ago.
Maybe my love of islands can partially be explained by my love of the sea. But there’s also something special about life on an island – at least smaller ones. It just seems to move at a slower pace. People have time, and take time. It’s quiet and peaceful.
I first went to the Aran Islands – more specifically Inis Mór – maybe 5 years ago on a visit to Dad’s. He told me there was no point in taking the morning ferry as there wasn’t much to see, and as a result I ended up frantically cycling around the island for the few hours I had there, trying to absorb as much as possible. And even at that accelerated pace it was wonderful, and I got some sense of the magic of the place. And though the islands are popular with tourists, they still have an unspoiled and ancient feel about them. I vowed to come back.
So, last time J and I visited Ireland on holidays I dragged him with me to the early ferry because we needed a whole day there. It was warm, sunny and beautiful (which, if you’ve spent any amount of time in Ireland you’ll know is unusual – I had to go to the islands only grocery store and get some freakin’ sunscreen!) We brought a picnic, we rented bikes, and set off on an island adventure. We leisurely cycled to the far end of the island, stopping here and there to enjoy scenic views of the sea, the typical Irish stone walls, fields with cows and horses and the occasional house dotting the landscape. We had a break on a beautiful sandy beach and I waded as far out into the water as I could with my trousers rolled up – the fact that I had forgotten to bring my swimming costume with me the only fly in my ointment. Well, that, and the fact that we had to leave again that same afternoon. So I told J that next time we’d have to stay overnight.
Of course I didn’t know at the time that next time I’d be arriving with a jar half full of Dad’s ashes.
We had decided to spend a few days on the islands at the tail end of our memorial trip to Ireland, and since Dad had told me Inis Meain was his favourite of the three islands I thought it would be nice to bring some of his ashes with me to spread there as well.
We were booked for 2 nights at the Pier House B&B on Inis Mór (the big island), right across the road from the docks and the beach. Our room had a gorgeous view out over the sea, and it was gloriously quiet and peaceful while we were there. Just the ticket after a few hectic days in Galway, surrounded by rabid hurling fans.
Our first afternoon we again rented bikes and set off in the opposite direction from last time, in order to see more of the island. This time I had remembered to bring my swimming costume. And after a while we came to a beautiful, silent, sandy cove, with not another human soul in sight. I felt the sea drawing me to it, and the overpowering urge to swim. J rolled his eyes at me in disbelief that I was actually going to go swimming on a grey, cold, September day in Ireland – although he should know me well enough by now to not bat an eye at such antics.
The water was admittedly bloody freezing, but it was also glorious. I swam, waded, ran and jumped out towards the mouth of the cove, where I could see some frothy white, blue, and green waves tempting me to come play with them. And I followed their siren call. The mouth of the cove was quite far out and around a bend, so I had completely lost site of J by this time, and it was just me and the sea.
I had one of those moments. Those moments that mostly seem to happen in the waves (but sometimes also in The Wave), of pure ecstasy, of belonging, of being in the here and now. I whooped, and jumped and dived – running in and out of the waves and teasing them to follow me. I lifted my eyes to the heavens and opened my arms wide, and I talked to my father and to the powers of the universe. “Here I am, I am alive, I am here!” I shouted, “this is what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life!”. Some time later I came tumbling out of the sea towards J, grinning like a maniac.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says; go to the water. In particular the sea, but any water will do in a pinch. It’s magical and life giving in more ways than one. Trust me. It hasn’t failed me yet.
The next day we went to Inis Meain, and very nearly got stranded (OK, it took the boat an unusually long time to come pick us up, but for a while they really had us wondering). While it’s a beautiful place, it was starker and more desolate than the inherently cosy Inis Mór. Though I can imagine a dramatically different picture is painted on a sunny summer day (I believe they get one of those a year in Ireland too, it’s just that this year it didn’t coincide with our visit to the islands). By the docks there was only a small bus shelter, and we walked for what felt like ages up the island without meeting anyone or coming across any shops or pubs (in most of Ireland you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a pub). We eventually found what seemed to be the only café and had some lunch there.
When we came back down to the docks some hours later, the wind was so strong we were almost bowled over by it. So when I went to the edge of a pier to pour out the remaining “ration” of ashes I had brought with me I had to be very careful not to get a face-full of them. And maybe that is the reason I didn’t feel that same ancient and magical peace that I felt when scattering ashes in Galway. Or maybe I only get one of those – we’ll see. Or maybe I just need to feel when the moment is right, and go with it. Like when I was dancing in the waves – that was a moment. Or when the sunset over the beach outside our room was so beautiful I had to drag J back out into the cold with me – that was a moment. Still, it feels right that part of him remains out there on the islands. Not only does it feel like a “Dad place”, it’s a place that makes me intensely happy.
Yet again our stay on the islands was too short. I’d initially imagined we’d have oodles of time there because of the slow pace of island life. I imagined I’d have plenty of time to read and write and sit and contemplate life – all that stuff I’m usually too busy for. But before I knew it we were catching the ferry back to mainland Ireland, and I was wiping away tears. Not only were we saying goodbye to the islands, we were saying goodbye to Ireland, and I really didn’t want to.
We’ll be back though. And next time we may need to stay even longer. I mean we haven’t even been to Inis Oírr yet…
I think I could be happy out there on The Arans. I often have that feeling on an island, like I could settle down and be happy and that my life would magically fall into place. I feel the same way when we visit the island of Texel here in the Netherlands.
Like I suspect many do, I feel as if I were born in the wrong time. Get me right – there are a lot of great things about the current day – the internet for one, and a more enlightened attitude towards gender, race and human rights. But there is something deep inside me that yearns to live a quiet island life, removed from most modern day culture, convenience and contrivance. Being an HSP, who also happens to suffer from tinnitus, there’s something inherently appealing about the slow and quiet life.
And however far fetched it sounds, if I could wake up every morning and go to bed every night, looking out at the sea, I don’t see how I could possibly be unhappy. Or even just smell the promise of the sea on the air, as long as I was surrounded by trees and earth and quiet. By life, not by buildings and asphalt. By birds, not by mopeds. Then I could be truly happy.