“Are you bringing your runners to Inishbofin?” asked S.
“Nope”, I replied.
This was the prelude to our second, short breakaway from the east coast in a time of Covid. We were heading about as far west as you can go and still be in Ireland. Inishbofin is a small island off the coast of Connemara; next stop Boston Parish. And when I say small, I mean less than 6k long and about 4k high, if you forgive the mixing of adjectives.
The name comes from the Irish Inis, meaning island, and bó for cow, and finn, for fair, or white. There’s plenty more to learn about this magical place right here, on the official website.
We were celebrating our wedding anniversary (24 years), and this was where we honeymooned, all those years ago, to the day. The day before we took the ferry across, we stayed with S’s sister in Barna, Co. Galway, and enjoyed a day in Galway City.
Even though it was a Monday, and Covid restrictions were in place, there was a nice buzz about the town. We had lunch in Cupán Tae down near Spanish Arch, thanks to a generous anniversary gift voucher from our son Dallan and his girlfriend Aoife. More tea than you could shake a forest of trees at, and delicious pancakes.
That evening, we drove out to Cleggan, parked the car, and jumped on the ferry for the relatively quick journey over. Seven miles, according to the website, but the new ferries make short work of it. No doubt, the old sailing boats in the past took longer, not least when you consider the prevailing wind and the open Atlantic beyond.
The Cromwellian star fort still guards the harbour entrance, but the pier for the ferries is brand new. In a way, this is the perfect metaphor for much of island life off the west coast. I could spend many hours discussing the interesting dance of tourism income and the ‘real life’ of islands such as that which exists on Inishbofin and others. I could, but I won’t, not least as to do so accurately would require me to live there for perhaps several lifetimes, and even then, it would be hard to get the tenor right without sounding like a patronising git.
I might refer instead to the 1983 film, Local Hero. It’s not set on an island, but it is a beautifully tender look at the tensions between money and the environment, between blow-ins and locals. It is, for me, one of the most perfect films ever made (100% on Rotten Tomatoes). And it has probably the best soundtrack ever written. YMMV.
I mention it because it makes my argument for me in ways I could never do. But let’s just say it’s good to visit these places with an awareness that they are living communities with a rich and deep history, and not theme parks. Once you have respect for this, you can start to make some connections with the islanders above and beyond the norm.
And so, I will now include lots of images taken on our all-too-brief three day trip. We stayed at Day’s Beach Bar, which I highly recommend. Before I do, a quick mention of Mary Day. When we hit the bar for dinner and a drink on the first night, we asked the waitress if Mary was still around. When we stayed on ‘Bofin all those years ago, Mary ran the hotel and as we were just about the only guests there, we were treated not just like royalty, but family. As S recalls fondly, she couldn’t button up her jeans by the time we left.
The waitress leaned over and whispered “She’s behind me…” and sure enough, there was Mary, chatting away to some family and friends at the next table. So we introduced ourselves and had great craic, recalling fond memories.
The other thing that caught my eye on one of our walks, as a firefighter, was the island’s answer to fires. Under the tarp here, I would bet, is a portable pump and an IBC (which is just a plastic container with a 1,000 litres of water). The whole thing is towed behind a jeep.
You could do good work with this set up, but you would quickly run out of water. One large branch (nozzle) through a 70mm hose could empty it in 4 minutes. So getting water would be the challenge, and it’s not a quick mental leap to think about Coleridge’s poem, The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. Surrounded by water, but no way to get it into your pumps. I did notice some mains supply on some of our walks, but I would wonder what sort of pressure they have. Anyway, this is busman’s holiday chatter, so we’ll leave it there…
‘Bofin is a great spot. For most, it’s a day trip. You can hire bikes, and even if you don’t, circumnavigating the island on foot won’t take you long. But if you try and cram in all the sights on one visit, you are missing the point. Island life demands that you slow down. That pace – the one set by people who must see all the sights, get excellent service everywhere they go, leave snippy reviews on TripAdvisor because their pillow wasn’t soft enough – that simply doesn’t allow you to fully relax into the rhythm of the place.
Not that we stayed that long either, but if you can stay long enough to start making a few connections with the people, you can start to lift the veil a little on what being local really means. Of course you’re still a tourist. You’re still a blow-in. But it’s nice to feel that you are forming a relationship of some sort, rather than performing a transaction.
And to finish off, there was no running 🙂 Though we did enjoy a swim on White Strand. Though I should add that this beach doesn’t seem to have a name on the maps. But it undoubtedly does for locals. Some things need to be a secret 😉
And since our return, I have managed only a few runs along the canal. Nothing spectacular. The next event on the calendar is probably Lock Up The Year, which is about three months away.
Be good. Be safe. Wash your hands and wear a mask.