Among the large islands off mainland Galway and Mayo, the decently sized Inishturk is often overlooked.
The huge Clare Island off Co Mayo and the comparatively large Inishbofin in Co Galway get the lion’s share of visitors in that neck of the woods.
The hilly Inishturk relies more for its income on fishing and farming than tourism.
Inishturk has a population of around 50 which is a decent size as Irish islands go, and which has recently been augmented by a couple of families with young children.
This has proved a lifeline for the island’s primary school, says Anne Marie O’Malley of O’Malley Ferries. In addition to the school, a pub, church, shop, post office, a few B&Bs, and a campsite form part of the lively community.
For the past few months Inishturk has been in quarantine with only essential workers such as a nurse and maintenance crew for a mobile phone mast allowed in. Currently, the ferry is running three days a week which is a big reduction on its regular summer timetable.
“The island went on complete lockdown very early. There’s a few starting to travel to the mainland now. They had been getting their shopping delivered one day a week, boxes of shopping and feed for sheep, that kind of thing.
“The pub was closed even before the lockdown. They went into hibernation as they were trying to protect the community,” says Anne Marie.
However, the lockdown has had positive effects too. “Everyone is pulling together and getting things done. The island looks really good. It’s more social living like what it was say 100 or 150 years ago. People working together and sharing,” says Kenneth Finn of the Inishturk Development Company.
One of the company’s tasks is to market the island’s appeal. And Kenneth paints an irresistible picture of beautiful walks and fantastic beaches.
It attracts groups as diverse as birdwatchers and astronomers and writing clubs. “There’s great storytellers, there’s a lot of positivity, a very good community, and everyone works well together. It’s perfect. It’s great for walks. A beautiful island,” says Kenneth.
“People are not too panicked about Covid. There’s everything you need. The shop is open, the cargo boat runs in and out, there’s deliveries from SuperValu. We’re trying to develop the island but we’ll probably have to get through this summer without tourists, so we’ll have to get ready for 2021.”
However, a vote taken last week on the Aran Island’s Inisheer by the residents indicated 92% in favour of staying closed till August.
“With an ageing population you are more vulnerable, you have to survive of course with tourism. It only takes one person to come in and it could run through the island. If they put it to a vote here, it would probably go that way as well,” says Kenneth.
“It is a prospect that is concerning for the islanders. On the one hand they are trying to protect their families and neighbours, but also trying to protect the businesses.”
“That’s worrying for the rest of the islands,” says Anne Marie. “I see where they’re coming from, but from a commercial point of view it’s so what you don’t want to hear. But the Aran Islands have a lot of clout, because they’re well known and popular. I think that’s worrying for the other islands if we’ll be able to open up at all this year.”
With uncertainty prevailing, especially as government formation talks have dragged on, it means the islands are in somewhat of a grey area. “The longer it goes on the more unlikely opening up is looking. It will be a uniform decision across the islands. It won’t be a case where one can open and another can’t,” says Anne Marie.
On October 1, the winter ferry schedule kicks in with vastly reduced sailings. Families will have gone home and students to college. Anne Marie is still hopeful of salvaging some of the summer season: “July 20 would be OK, but it’s hard to know if people will be ready to go that minute.”
How to get there once restrictions are lifted: www.omalleyferries.com