Heather’s Table went to Clare Island…
You went where? Is pretty much the reaction I get when I tell people I just spent the last few months in a renovated Lighthouse, on Clare Island, cooking for their guests. It sounds idyllic, an island, a renovated lighthouse in the mouth of Clew Bay, Co Mayo where the next village over is Boston. "Take the ferry out from Roonagh," they told me, how fantastic. It is all that and then some.
You have no choice but to fall in love with the island, every morning she reveals her spectacular views, ever changing unique light, hundreds of sheep and frankly, it just takes your breath away. The view from the kitchen window looks over Achill Island in all its glory. Beauty just becomes the norm. You are transported back in time whether you want to be or not. Naive to think you can bring your ways to the island, comical really. The island will show you her ways and what you do with them, is entirely up to you. The characters I have met, the stories I have heard, the sheep I have travelled with, and I imagine it is the closest I will ever come to being on an episode of Father Ted.
As beautiful as the island is, reality sets in as you soon realize you are there to feed people wholesome food. The views are for the guests. Lugging groceries back and forth from the mainland on a weekly basis on the ferry is the ritual. You bring what you need for the week and god forbid if you forgot something. Incidents like a fellow passenger (a sheep) standing on a birthday cake can happen and if there was a rough crossing say goodbye to the eggs! …. I will never take supermarket parking for granted again. There is one shop on the “de island” with the necessities that you may need on a weekly basis, cat food, milk, fuses and a few spanners. The crucial things a household needs.
You will find your day-to-day chit chat changes on De Island . You find yourself obsessed with the weather, the swells, the winds and of course constantly worrying if the ferry runs or not. It is amazing how creative one can become getting guests on and off the island not to mention yourself.
Actually, you don’t go “on” or “off “ the island. Islanders are either “in” or “out” Believe me, with a population of 140, everyone knows if you are in or out. So when I vocalized I needed to call Brendan, the builder, I am told he is "out." "Oh how do you know are you pals with him?" Look of despair appears on their faces and eyes roll....ok so. Lines like “Aren’t there desperate swells” and “was there many on the boat” become the usual banter. The story goes that a son returns home from America after 10 years to visit his father on De Island. He takes aerlingus from New York, Bus from Shannon and the ferry from Roonagh. He arrives into the kitchen and the first words out of the father’s mouth “were there many on the boat!”
The Doctor comes “in” every Wednesday, no Dentist, a national school with 22 kids. The secondary school kids go “out” on a Monday and stay with families in Louisburgh to attend school and “in” Friday evening.
The newsletter is KING. It’s generated every week to the whole island. Funerals, weddings, ferry times, Ram fairs, etc. You better read it, as if you ask a question when the answer was on the newsletter well…., “Heather wasn’t that on the weekly newsletter.” Oh the Shame of it....
So when Avocados arrived in the shop, well that made the newsletter, yup you get the drift.
There are no guards/police on the island, no need, the pub opens in May and closes at the end of September. No need to tax or insure the car and if you go “out” you leave the keys in the ignition in case someone needs to move it. “Will it not be stolen?” I ask innocently one day, “Stolen? Well, where would it go? Okie dokie so.
To get a tradesman on the island to service a cooker, or water filter, well, you are looking at anywhere between about 3 weeks and 3 months, if the ferry is running. How do you know if the ferry is running in bad weather? “Heather you look at “The Facebook”
It is a simple life, but there is a lot to be said for it. Age doesn’t seem to hold any barriers; kids are incredibly respectful of their elders. They are a tight knit group and they work extremely hard. They have overcome major obstacles in areas we mainlanders take for granted. They live on a little piece of heaven, but even heaven gets challenged from time to time.
It was challenging, there were moments when I laughed till I ached, cried till I laughed, made new friends and became thankful for the smaller things in life, for now anyway. I am sure it won’t be long before I am back cruising through the designer shoe aisle convincing myself I have to have them……an investment you understand. I guess you can take the girl out of Saks but never take Saks out of the girl.
Clare Island, thanks for the laughs & the memories…so now, what in the world will Heather's Table do next....hx