There’s something to be said for a good dream to make you feel great. And a good rest. I was still floating with this comfort after taking one day off from bike riding. I was on my way to Inishbofin. An island lying about 5 miles off the coast of Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. It is about 3½ miles long and only 2 miles wide, and has around 200 inhabitants. The island is popular with artists. The island’s English name is derived from the Irish name Inis Bó Finne (Island of the White Cow). The island has been occupied continuously since the Bronze Age. In 668, Saint Colmán founded a monastery which survived until the 10th century. Inishbofin was transformed into a penal colony for Catholic clergy. It was also home to Dún Gráinne, the remains of a fort used by the legendary Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s pirate queen, as well as the ruins of a Celtic fort dating to 1000 B.C. Inishbofin is believed to have been continuously inhabited for up to 10,000 years.
I took the taxi the bee-hive lady called to transport me to the boat to head over. The taxi driver drove like a maniac. He’d been driving a taxi his whole life. Christopher something…. He was gracious, let me sit up front, and told me all about the stuff I was whizzing past. The cars on the narrow roads in Ireland were so much smaller; It was weird not seeing Semi trucks or Hummers everywhere. We jagged along the coast and he brought me to the marina that would bring me over to the island.
The ocean was choppy whitecaps, and the wind was cold. The seats were all outside, all in a row, and everyone lined up like school kids in a classroom. The majority…. tourists, all looking to rent bikes once they arrived to explore this tiny island. It was a favorite for bikers, as it was small and could be accomplished easily… no excursion. My own bike was still padlocked in the shed behind the B&B I stayed in; I was not looking to rent any bikes. No thanks! My butt was just starting to feel better. I was still walking.
I tried to be warm in the ocean wind. I sat with my legs curled up in the chair with my arms wrapped around them. The instinct to do this was not just finding my most comfortable position, and be warm but it was prompted mainly by watching this couple sitting across from me. They were obviously in love. Maybe they just got married. The man draped himself around the woman, making sure she was warm. He would stop and kiss the side of her head. They weren’t speaking, but I sat there watching them, envious… starving for the same…. I would have to hug myself. I wondered if I would ever have that. I hugged my legs tighter, laid my head down, closed my eyes and fantasized.
Once we got off the boat, 99% of the people rushed to the bike rental shops set up along the shore by the dock, rented bikes and were handed maps. I was headed in another direction. The place I wanted to go, you couldn’t get to by bike.
I wanted in Grace O’Malley’s star-shaped fort. And it was off on the tip of the island – far outside any roads – sitting on jagged rocky edges. I thought to myself, no sweat, I grew up jumping on rocks and barnacles, I could totally handle this. (A note: this fort is situated on the tip of this island, and it is believed that one time Grace O’Malley and her fleet would literally cable off this harbor where this boat was now docked, and this cable would literally destroy boats entering at night that didn’t see it. It would stretch to the other point of the island. It is also said that she was the lover of a Spanish Pirate that would often visit this island with her. There were also rumors that she was the lover of Queen Elizabeth, who kept her free from trouble for many years… not all of them, but the majority).
I went into a small store and asked the woman working there how to get out there. She said “NO!” You will not make it out, the tide comes in, separates the fort from the island in the low spot of this piece of earth, and I would be stuck out there. She said, “You’ll be cut from the rock, the waves, and you could get hurt .” Okay, this lady apparently didn’t get it. I was going; I just needed to hear the starting point. I was apparently going to figure out the rest as I went. Along the road, I stopped in a little art gallery, where I bought a pencil drawing that moved me tremendously. It felt like it was a picture of me. The woman working there was the sister of the artist. She was a chef. She said she had lived in other areas of Ireland in her life, even England, but has come back to this tiny island of 200 people and now runs this tiny store for her sister. She was an odd-looking, unsure person, and was taken aback by my asking so many questions about the artist. Her drawings were all from what could have been my own head. I told her I was an artist, and how much I appreciate her work, and drew her into conversations around how creative cooking was once she said she was not artistic – but a chef! This lit her up, I pulled up a chair, and sat with her for a while. (It always shocks me when people saythey have no creativity) She and I laughed while people shopped and bought trinkets. I think I paid only 1 euro for this drawing. I felt like it was the best thing I got (except for my great hat) while I was in Ireland.
I told her I wanted to go out to that fort. She too said, “No, too dangerous”, and when I explained that I was going, and I hoped she would just give me the best starting point, she stared at me and said, “Now you understand you could be sleeping out there tonight? The boat leaves at 6”. I said, yeah, no problem, I can barely sleep as it is in this country – it never gets dark! And what could possibly get me out there! So she points me to the place to start. I could now clearly see the way – I could see the rocks I would have to climb, the low spot that would make earth water, and way in the distance was the fort.
She said – just follow the sheep. They like going out there to eat the flowers. They have a trail they follow. Stay with the sheep. Okay, I thought…. More sheep.
So I start. I have food, water, no bike, and I’m ready to climb, hike, jump, swim, or whatever. The beginning of this trek was the hardest, as I had to climb over a lot of rocks, do some creative jumping, and then I found myself on land, beach, in water and then on sheep trails, just as I was told. I even walked with the sheep and talked to them for a while. They looked at me funny, and then I started wondering, can sheep get pissed off and just like attack you? I have no idea. I realize at this point that I know absolutely nothing about sheep. Except now I knew, like cows, they walk in straight lines and follow the same old paths …
It took me only about an hour to get out there. I was the only one from the entire boatload of passengers that decided to do this, so I was alone out here. I was in heaven. I explored this fort – every inch of it. It was the coolest thing. It had rooms, and hidden spaces and teeny incredible windows to look through. I was having a blast taking photos and I even left a handmade relic of my own artwork deeply embedded inside one of the walls. I collected loose rocks to bring home. By this time my gear was getting a little heavy from collecting rocks from everywhere I was going – so I began shipping rocks and things home because the bike and my back just couldn’t handle any more weight….
For a while, outside the fort, I lay on the hill, the sunshine warming my face. I napped. I ate brie, figs, crusty bread, nuts and a couple other treats I bought at the grocery downtown Clifden and had in my pack. The water crashed along the shoreline. I was relaxed and transported. Seriously surreal.
(Now, for those of you that read my earlier post, I have a black lab named Grace O’Malley, who of course was left at home with the house sitter while I made this trip. She had become a relentless ball retriever and swimmer. I spent many hours throwing a ball for my Grace. Her name prompted my visit to this fort.)
So out here alone, I feel isolated and like I have a piece of the planet all to myself. I like this feeling, which is why I probably live on the side of a mountain in a very rural Appalachian area. As I napped after filling my belly, I awoke having a ball dropped on my chest by a black lab, just like mine, who has apparently shown up out of nowhere. It kind of freaked me out. I start throwing this ball, and playing with this dog, right outside the doorway of this fort. I think of my Grace O’Malley and how much I missed her. I wonder where this one came from. About ½ hour later I see a small boat traveling around the island, with a man calling for his dog. Within minutes, the dog jumped into the sea and swam out to the boat, back with his owner. I had a sweet lovely visit, and it made this trip even cooler. I was at Grace O’Malley’s Fort, playing with my Grace O’Malley. Perfect.
I took this as my wake-up call. The tide was coming in, I would soon be stranded. I said goodbye to this incredible place that I stayed all day, and hiked back. I made the boat in time, hugged my legs, caught my taxi and went back to my little sweet white room on the third floor.
Tomorrow, the padlocked bike comes out. My birthday is two days away, I’ll be heading to the castle…