Looking out to sea

Inis Meáin; Middle Island. A mile offshore from the old pier at Port Arthur, Donegal. Back-to-the-wind and cosied between mighty Gabhla to the south and the seagull-screeched, salted endurance of Inis Oirthir to the north. Sixteen houses, some with a roof still, a school and the shell of a bunkhouse where the migratory herring men of Oban would roost in season. Light as a feather and tarred black currachs rowed back and forth at will, not a timetable. For groceries and Mass, to the dance and just because.

There never was a telephone, even at the end. And Gaeilge is not a language that lends to the harsh shouting of semaphore. So each returning islander called for a boat by standing at their particular family mark on the mainland shore, where their grandparents had always stood, and simply looked out to sea.

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7 comments on “Looking out to sea

  1. There is such beauty here and then, your story of the old lady brings such sadness. What we let slip away, almost without noticing. Thank you for noticing! It’s too early in the morning for my heart to be singing and aching as it is…

  2. Beautiful and evocative, makes you think-if you were the lady would you go back for one last look, her memories, her feelings, who would be looking out. A joy to ponder and think on, thank you.

  3. Two summers ago we visited Inisherrer (forgive my spelling) where my partner’s Mother was hired out as a child. Your words really captured the feel of these beautiful islands. And thanks to Selkie for taking us there.

    • What a remarkable connection. And that Selkie man still has a gentle hand around this particular shoreline. I was out identifying whales with him just a couple of months back.

    • And there’s more. I didn’t know how to put it into words. But the story is this. Many, many people had to leave their homes here in Donegal to find work elsewhere and were unable to return, even occasionally, as we are today. An old lady who had left one of the islands when she was 13 came back recently, towards the end of her life, and stood on the place where she would have summoned a boat as a young girl. Of course there was no answer, as she knew fine well. Some of the local boatmen offered to give her passage to the island and wait while she visited. But she smiled and declined.

      • David, you have opened up another dimension to the story and now I see her smile is telling, as he will have known in his re-telling, his boat was not the vessel she was calling for to take her home.

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