Irish Lives: Inishbofin and the lure of that Inish Festival

Peadar King’s love of Inishbofin is clear from the weekend’s schedule of stimulating events

Richard Murphy reading his poem 'Sailing to an Island' recorded at his home in Sri Lanka. Video: Peadar King


Democracy is alive and well on Irish offshore islands, if the tallies from last week’s referendum are anything to go by. Two of three Aran islands voted No in the marriage equality referendum, as did Mayo’s Clare Island, while Inishturk was split down the middle with 11 votes for and 11 against.

On Mayo’s Inishbiggle, where turnout was 41 per cent, two votes were in favour and 12 against. A little further south, Co Galway’s Inishbofin had a 70 per cent turnout and tallies recorded 66.7 per cent Yes.

Film-maker, musician and Inish Festival organiser Peadar King isn’t surprised his home place should have polled this way, given the vibrancy of its population. Ever since Margaret Day advertised her family hotel in the Observer – offering “Pure Boredom – Nothing to Do. Just Peace and Quiet, Sandy beaches” – it has had a stream of the curious arriving by ferry from Cleggan.

Artistic visitors

Joseph BrodskySeamus HeaneyTed HughesSylvia PlathTheodore RoethkeRichard Murphy

Murphy, who owned High Island and also built a house on the tidal Omey, was almost an unofficial tourist agent for Bofin, as it is best known, and it weaves its way into several of his poems. It was on Murphy’s Galway hooker, Ave Maria, that Plath and Hughes sailed “in” and had tea in Day’s hotel.

So it was only natural when Peadar King was planning a festival about “Island Conversations” that he should invite Murphy as guest of honour. Bofin has run a community arts festival for many years and King was keen to extend the idea out to a “conversation about what it means to live there now”.

“Richard Murphy represents to us that transition from one way of living on the island to another. He knew my grandfather and my father knew his daughter Emily from her time there as a child,” King says.

“So I wrote to him where he lives in Sri Lanka and invited him, but he said he couldn’t travel because of his age – he is nearly 88. However, he invited me out to visit him .”

In his bags, King packed recording equipment. The result is a series of interviews with Murphy, which will be screened at the inaugural Inish festival on Bofin on Saturday evening.

“I think I recorded about nine hours in all, with Murphy reading and recalling stories, some of which he was a part of!” King says. He was struck by the magic of flying so far away to talk to a man who shared a passion for his offshore home, and who barely needed the text as he recited Sailing to an Island to camera. “Places like Inishbofin at the fringe . . . seem to embody the identity of this country,” King notes in his programme for Inish. They are “often harsh places where perseverance and resilience are prerequisites for lives to prosper”.

However, they are “warm places”, he says, for “communities are at their most symbiotic and supportive” when enduring the conditions that Bofin and others coastal communities experienced during the severe storms of early last year.

Roisin Coyle’s video installation, People of the Sea, and Marie Coyne’s Winter Storms are on show, and Prof Daniel Carey, Dr Adrian Paterson and Dr Rebecca Barr of NUIG’s English department joined Prof Lee Morrissey of Clemson University in discussing the concept of “citizenship, identity and the Irish archipelago” yesterday.

Isolation theme

Michael D HigginsThe Other Irish TravellersFiona MurphySilence Pat CollinsInis Airc, Bás Oileáín.

This evening Mr Higgins will give an address, poet Yvonne Cullen will read from her work and King’s documentary, The Poetry of Richard Murphy, with music by Maya Elliott, will be screened at 8.15pm.

Tomorrow’s programme includes a trip to Inishark, weather permitting, or a walk to Cromwell’s fort on Bofin.

There will be poetry readings by Bernard O’Donoghue, Moya Cannon and Vahni Capildeo, a talk on the challenges faced by coastal communities by Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile and Dr Jackie Uí Chionna of NUIG’s Moore Institute, and a closing concert with French upright bass player Renaud Garcia-Fons.

And such is the interest that King already has inquiries from artists for next