Inishbofin, Co Galway, has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country and their silvery sands and turquoise waters are very popular with families whose numbers swell the population of 175 in the summer.
Not so unfortunately this year, with most of the summer season lost to restrictions resulting from Covid-19. The island has also had to cancel its Arts festival and walking festival which had been scheduled for this month.
Like all our other islands, there’s no Covid-19 on Inishbofin which is a great credit to the islanders including those who run businesses and which are sorely in need of customers.
“Once the ferries closed down there were no visitors but everybody is keeping good since the lockdown, reports islander Aidan Day who runs a boat charter business, which has also run foul of the virus.
“The ferries are going in and out and sometimes there’s no one but the crew on her. We get a lot of supplies from Supervalu and they deliver down to the ferry. People come and collect their box and their name is on it at the pier. We also have a great local shop that is well stocked,” says Aidan.
“It will be the first year the hotel hasn’t opened and the pub as well. People are finding the time to do their own things, so it’s kind of relaxed. They still have bills to pay of course,” he says.
However, it is very noticeable that the accents heard from various counties and from abroad are now absent. It feels like a throwback to the time before tourism when city dwellers came to discover the islands for themselves.
“The island would normally have been busy since Easter so it’s a bit strange to have it back to when it was just islanders. Since I was a child I don’t remember not having tourists. It’s nice in another way.
“People are keeping busy. There’s stuff being done now that was put off for years because they didn’t have the time. People have more time to talk to others and there’s voluntary work going on.
“The kids are doing school online with the teacher. We haven’t even had the doctor in, we have a public health nurse here,” he says.
The trip to Inishbofin from the mainland at Cleggan takes 35 minutes. There have been Garda checkpoints in the Cleggan area where people have been stopped and asked where they are going, which has helped hammer home the message that islands are off limits for the moment.
According to the Government’s guidance on phased openings, islands can open again to visitors on August 10. Aidan has mixed feelings about this. He has concerns not least about the ferries.
“That’s what they are hoping for, but it’s hard to know what is the best thing to do. We have been so safe, all the islands, and once you open up to the public, how do you manage them? How many people can you safely bring on a ferry? If the capacity is 100 or 200, how many can you bring on those vessels? A boat may only be able to bring 20,” he says.
Like the majority of our inhabited islands Inishbofin has a cohort of older residents.
“There are people in their 70s and 80s and one man in his 90s. You are safe now, but because it’s a small place if anything got in to it, you know how quickly something can spread in a small area. Is it worth opening up the island for three weeks? It would be winding down by September anyway,” he says.
Aidan is responsible for maintaining Galway County Council’s mains water on the island. It has to be monitored every day. “We’ve had six weeks of very dry weather. You can see the difference. Even though there’s no big crowd on the island we’re still losing water. Levels would be much lower if things were normal.
“We’re in a safe environment so people are going out for exercise. You have the whole place,” he says.
One major benefit that the islands are seeing is that it is giving nature a chance to recover. Habitats for nesting birds are largely undisturbed and Aidan reports a recent sighting of a cuckoo. And even the elusive corncrake, whose numbers are diminishing, is staging something of a fightback on Inishbofin. They have been reported in the villages (townlands) of West Quarter, Fawnmore, Middle Quarter, Cloonamore and Knock.
“The corncrake is around, a few of them, I don’t know the numbers but they’re there. Every village would have one, there were 13 at one stage a few years ago. They’re definitely there. There’s no really cutting the hay on Bofin any more, so they have more of a chance,” he says.
From Cleggan, Co Galway, after August 10. inishbofinislanddiscovery.com
www.inishbofinribcharter.com; boats charters from Aidan Day: 086 832 4123; www.inishbofin.com; www.dolphinhotel.ie