Despite a rushed start to the morning, we were at Doolin Pier nice and early to catch our boat, The Doolin Express, to the Aran Islands. This boat did not have the most… interesting name of the lot. That dubious honour went to a boat named MV Happy Hooker.
“That’s better than having an unhappy hooker, right?” The Mister opined in his usual deadpan manner. Indeed.
Nevertheless, what The Doolin Express lacked in creativity, she more than made up in speed and comfort, being a brand new vessel launched only this year.
For various reasons, many of which are named Hawkeye, we decided on a half-day tour of Inisheer only. Or more accurately, Inis Oírr. It is the closest and geographically smallest of the three Aran Islands, thought it actually boasts of a larger population (260 people) than its neighbor, Inis Meáin (160 people). On The Doolin Express the trip to Inis Oírr takes only 15 minutes.
We were naturally apprehensive about how Hawkeye would fare on the boat trip given the previous day’s experience in the car. In fact, yesterday’s events seem to have impressed on him a negative association with cars, as even the five minute drive to the pier incurred protests.
Clearly, we needn’t have worried. The anticipation and start of the sailing was met with loud enthusiasm. He did get subdued eventually but daddy’s comforting presence was sufficient to keep him calm. I did not stay with everyone else, preferring to be on the top deck rather than at the very back where the engine noise and vibration are the strongest. At one point I was briefly adopted by the boat crew’s dog who came and went back ashore before we left the pier.
I also got to hear all the crew gossip. “Hey, did you hear?” the random stranger to my right said to me as we were casting off. “The captain of this boat apparently has no license!”
I looked at the guy scrambling around the deck giving orders with full confidence. The fella was awfully young looking, but had the air of someone who knows exactly what he’s doing. Also, I’ve worked in law long enough in this country to know that there was no way such an outfit was operating without insurance so I raised my eyebrow at the speaker and waited for the other shoe to drop.
“See that guy over there?” she continued, nudging me in the direction of an older, distinguished looking gentleman who was casually leaning against the wall of the cabin with an air of complete and utter nonchalance. “They have to hire him just to hang around on board because he had a license and the other guy doesn’t.”
Ah, there you have. The distinguished looking gentleman clearly had two jobs on the boat: stand around looking (and being) qualified, and wind up the tourists with such stories. It became clear as the young guy took full charge of the vessel for the whole journey that he is probably working on obtaining his captain’s license, and in the meantime he is operating under the supervision of a senior, experienced sailor. But that doesn’t sound as fun as just telling the witless visitors that they’re being piloted by an unlicensed captain, so they are left to draw their own conclusions while the locals chuckle away to themselves.
We disembarked on a windy pier brilliantly lit by sunshine, and after a fortifying cup of tea in a conveniently located pub next door, we set off to explore the island.
Nana decided this was best done from a horse-drawn wagon. Hawkeye was Over. The. Moon. His progression of excitement as the horse got moving went like this:
We found out a lot of facts about the island. Its population, the layout of the town, how the island is supplied, some history about the lay of the land, and more. We also found out that the horse was named Rocky, and that Hawkeye was a natural driver.
We made a circle about the island, looking over the green landscape crisscrossed by the traditional stone walls into tiny irregularly shaped plots. To make the land arable, inhabitants had to dig up all the rock and put in soil. The rock was broken up and put to use building walls. The more land was claimed, the more rock was dug up, the more walls went up all over the place.
We saw the great rusting, hulking wreck of MV Plassy, made famous by its appearance in the opening sequence of Father Ted. The cargo ship ran aground Finnis Rock in 1960 during a storm. The island residents rescued the whole crew, and may have even warmed themselves up with the whiskey from its hold after, is you want to believe the myth. A few weeks later another storm pushed the Plassy off the rock and washed her ashore, where she lay until 2014 when Storm Christine raised her even further inland, nearly breaking the hull in half.
Eventually we said goodbye to Rocky and ventured inland a bit, having some fun storming the 15th century fort of the O’Brien dynasty, which ruled the island during the Middle Ages. Sadly, we did not have time to see the lighthouse or Saint Caomhan’s church except from a distance so that will be saved for another trip.
Finally we made our way back down to the pier for our return journey, which took place on an older, slower vessel. Hawkeye was less pleased with the noise but he stayed with me the whole time and at the very end got cheered up by the unexpected appearance of the local dolphins of our port side. We got a great, if brief, view of them from the top deck before they swam away.
Title of today’s post is from the poem “On Inisheer” by Ethna Carbery (1866-1902)