At this time of year, Inisheer, Co Galway, is normally a hive of activity with bands of tourists alighting from the ferries ready to soak up the peace and quiet. Or they may be arriving for Irish language or art courses or even to swim alongside Dusty the dolphin, whose presence has been absent from the waters for the last few months.
Inisheer, or Inis Oírr, is the smallest and most southerly of the Aran Islands and along with Inishmore and Inishmaan form a northwest-to-southeast barrier of sortsto Galway Bay. The tourist ferries from Rossaveal and Doolin, Co Clare, have ceased operations since mid-March because of the pandemic, but the Lasta Mara cargo ferry run by Rory Beatty and Co has proved a lifeline for the island.
“We have a wonderful cargo service from Galway. They’ve been extremely facilitative as well. The best of people is coming out,” says Máire Uí Mhaoláin, manager of the Community Development Co-operative on Inisheer.
Aran Island Ferries, run by the O’Briens of Carraroe and the O’Brien and Garrihy ferries from Doolin, has all stopped running trips to the islands in accordance with government regulations.
“They’ve all helped us out by not running tourists to the island,” says Máire. “That was a huge concern for us back in March. We get a lot of tourists, particularly European students travelling at that time of year.”
The subsidised service is still continuing but instead there is one boat servicing the three Aran islands twice a day only for islanders, and only for essential travel.
“From time to time, it’s still worrying,” says Máire. “We have essential services coming on, for instance we had a much-needed visit from a bank official. That was important that he came but then you’re wondering afterwards… And a nurse has to come in to relieve the nurse we have. Even though we are Covid-free we can’t afford to be complacent. And Irish Water officials come in. If something breaks they need to fix it. I wouldn’t say we are as safe as we think we are. We have to be vigilant.”
As for general life on the island, people are out walking, as ever, but keeping apart. The children aren’t mixing together, but they’re out in nature. They have a full school programme that they’re following, including zoom classes, says Máire.
The co-op is something of a hub on the island and provides a lot of essential services including supplies of kerosene, diesel, petrol.
“We’re trying to limit the amount of people that are working here at any one time and doing a lot of home deliveries. The shop on the island is fantastic,” says Máire. “You can order by phone or by email, or even go to the window. And they are doing deliveries all day long. We have a lot of people working from home. Nobody is taking it lightly, everybody is complying.”
A huge concern they have is the Irish colleges. They have been suspended this year and that is crucial income to about 13 or 14 households, says Máire.
“That’s the money that pays for sending your child to college, your car insurance,” she says. “It’s such a shame it’s lost for this year but hopefully it will be back.”
A lot of events on Inisheer have had to be cancelled too. However, the Arts centre runs a series of concerts and events online. Every Thursday night from 9pm to 10pm. Last week, singer-songwriter Pat Quinn, whose song, ‘The Bailout Song’, was recorded by Christy Moore, entertained the islanders.
So, life goes on.
“The weather is beautiful and people are swimming and doing a lot of walking,” says Máire. “It’s like years ago when tourism wasn’t a big thing. We look forward to the time when the island is reopening to tourists again.”
For now, though Inisheer takes a step back in time. The gentian, cranesbill and orchids still throng the limestone avenues which crisscross the island like lace, the boats still bob up and down at the pier and the ravens still roost in the wreck of the Plassey. An island waits.
How to get there: Once restrictions are lifted.www.aranislandferries.com; www.doolin2aranferries.com; obrienline.com;