[This story is one of ten shortlisted in the 2015 Irish Times Amateur Travel Writer competition]
“Damn seagulls, they’ve eaten the supplies.”
We had gone west, almost as far west as you can go in Europe. The ferry trip was smooth, but as we disembarked the wind rose. Suddenly it was raining and misting - all at the same time. The island of Inishbofin was just a blur of humps and bumps. I had momentary visions of being cut off from the mainland for four days with nothing to eat. We were only a half-hour ferry-ride from Cleggan, Co Galway, but all the same . . . I shivered deliciously. In reality, only one box of food was pilfered.
Perhaps I read too much Enid Blyton as a child; islands, in my imagination, are synonymous with adventure. On arriving, a local man called Diarmuid cheerfully drove us (all of three minutes) to what the locals call “the posh” Inishbofin House Hotel and Marine Spa. It isn’t really posh; it’s a clean and comfortable three-star that Diarmuid and the friendly, down-to-earth staff make special. The island has two other hotels, a clutch of B&Bs, self-catering accommodation, and a hostel with a campsite.
Mention Inishbofin and people say, “Lovely! Is there much to do there?” The answer is yes. You can cycle; there are few cars on the island and it's possible to hire a bike or bring your own on the ferry at a small extra cost. You can walk; try wandering at will or tackling the three official looped walks, Westquarter, Cloonamore and Middlequarter. The Westquarter is my favourite, a coastal walk with the lure of the bleakly beautiful blanket bog, sea stacks, blow holes and a seal colony. When the mist isn’t in, Inishark is clearly visible. There is also sailing, diving, striking beaches, sea-angling, horse-riding and off-road safaris.
Evacuated in 1960, the island’s huddle of ruined houses is poignant. One cannot help but think of Inishbofin itself, with just 180 year-round inhabitants. Unlike Inishark, however, Inishbofin is blessed with a sheltered harbour. Watching the ferry disgorge visitors twice daily, it is difficult not to believe in this island’s future; as the islanders do themselves. What struck me about them was the sense of a shared life. If something you want is not available in one place – whether a particular craft beer or live music – you’ll be instantly referred to where you can find it: one business looks out for another.
There is an unhurried, humorous approach to living. Our waitress mentioned she’d worked late the previous night, walking home at 2am. Did she live nearby? “The far side of the island,” she told me. Asked if she wasn’t nervous walking alone at night, she replied: “Sure the worst thing that could happen is I’d fall into a ditch.”
A hunger for history can be sated with the enthralling Cromwell’s Barracks (they once imprisoned priests here). If, like us, you’ve come to relax far from the madding, you can quite literally switch off – cellphone signal is patchy (yay!) – and just sit and stare. The hills, the sloping fields, the sky and the ever-changing seascape have a mesmeric quality. People say, “Did you get the weather?” We got the weather: wind and rain, a shiver of sleet, and even a little sun – and then there is that mist, which bowls over the sea, enveloping the hills, hushing the world so that a preternatural peace descends on the island.
I am not religious, but a phrase inveigled its way into my head: “the peace which passeth understanding”. Inishbofin is like that, it gets into your soul, even when you are not at all convinced you have one. This is one Island of Adventure to which I will return.