Today my brother, Michael, is visiting the Blasket Islands off the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry. It brought back to my mind a tape recording I had many years ago from RTE of an interview with men who had lived on the Inish Ge Islands, off the Mullet peninsula, near Belmullet, County Mayo. I can play some of the words round in my head even now.
Interviewer: Do you remember that day?
Old man: I do, I do. There was rain the whole day until the evening. It brightened up then and the men went out.
Interviewer: How many were drowned?
Old man: Ten men were drowned. Yeah.
Interviewer: Do you miss the island?
Old man: I do. I’d rather be in there yet.
Interviewer: Do you ever go back?
Old man: I do. Mostly every year. I like to walk around and to see th’ol place.
I must have the recording somewhere in my collection. It was made in 1977, I think, 44 years ago. The drowning tragedy in 1927 led to the evacuation of the islands in 1932. I guess that recording was prompted by it being 50 years since it happened. The old man’s voice was haunting and it haunts me yet.
Whenever I am in Erris I would go down to Blacksod and to Faulmore and visit the graveyard there and stand at the mass grave where all ten men are buried. The view around is magnificently beautiful, with the islands lying low in the blue sea, and Black Rock, of sad story also visible, and the great bulk of Achill Island and the long finger of the Mullet.
It’s the edge of the world. It’s away from the crowd. It’s an endless horizon, sometimes blue sometimes grey. I have only seen it in summer days when all is calm and quiet. Winter time must be an endurance. My mammy remembers as a child seeing the big men of Inish Ge in their bainins, in town in Bangor on a Fair Day.
My Lancashire life was full of cobbled streets and coalmines and factories and mills. I loved my Lancashire home but every summer it was a delight to escape from that town and to travel by train and boat and bus, and to arrive in Erris, my mother’s land, to stand in Bangor and in Glencullen, and to look around at the wonderful wide horizon. What a world!
And it was all mine.
3 September 2021