Valerie O’Connor was already enjoying her guided day trip around Inishbofin when she was stopped in her tracks by an old London bus...
When was the last time you took yourself on holiday? This little country, having been hit by the best and most extreme heat in memory, has become an opportunistic haven for last-minute feck-offery and it’s just brilliant.
As I found myself winding up the last of the wellness education for the summer, doing just one too many courses from oil rubbing to accidentally being in the middle of a shamanic retreat, I now find myself in a state of mind where I just want to explore and go for pints and sing songs.
One of the great things about living in lovely Limerick is its proximity to the great west coast, now branded as the Wild Atlantic Way. Limerick is the Brussels of Ireland, bang in the middle of the best of everything good, and only an hour to the best beaches and a bit further on to get ferries to the islands.
I decided to hike off to my old pal Inis Mór and stayed for a bit, flying over on the most fun flight you can get your hands on for a whole seven minutes which will give you the most breathtaking views of the ragged coastline.
Aran is great and, if you give it the time it deserves by staying overnight, you will have an experience far from the madding crowds of cyclists and mini-bus day trippers.
Alas, I’ve worn out many a shoe trampling along the cliff walk to Dún Dubh Cathair, so after one night and two days of hiking and navel-gazing, I split to Connemara and onwards to see a friend living in the wilds of Cleggan, about an hour’s drive from the airport, near Rossaveal. Cleggan is a wild and stunning part of Connemara, nearest stop, affluent Clifden.
Bizarrely, the area is also home to many a wealthy Dubliner who have large holiday homes here, unoccupied most of the year. Cleggan is where you take the ferry to Inishbofin, so of course I had to go on a day trip to check out this mystical place where it’s said the pubs never close. Legend has it a tourist once asked the barman “What time do you close the bar?”, and the answer was “October!”.
Ferry ticket in hand, I got onboard, innocently forgetting the golden rule of ferry travel; pick a spot on the horizon focus on that when the sea is its topsy-turvy self. Instead, I made the mistake of sitting inside and feeling the contents of my stomach do their level best to come outside, as I did my best to stay level. I used my brain and went outside where it all settled nicely as we pulled into the quiet bay — full of small boats and dainty yachts with their rigging jingling in the summer breeze.
Inishbofin, like many islands, seems to have its own micro-climate, and the weather changed from howling wind to tropical blue skies and azure, sparkly seas within hours. I was greeted by a youthful and exuberant Billy Mundow, who offers off-road tours in his jeep to lazy tourists like me and the two nice Bostonian women who also couldn’t be bothered renting bikes.
Billy is highly rated online: “Billy Mundow’s off-road tour was really excellent — a combination of driving and walking so that we could get to places that otherwise would have taken ages to get to.”
Billy is a real character. He has some colourful stories and he knows everyone on the island. A really good tour and a lot of fun. We saw birds, seals, archaeology, and amazing views on luckily, a very clear day. We were taken around the island like celebrities, though it’s clear that the real celeb was Billy himself.
Going off-road onto all manner of mad and dodgy tracks had me hanging on to my seat and contemplating my past and future and holding on for dear life, but in the best possible way. He showed us the posh side of Boffin, I was confused, how could a craggy, yet beautiful island be posh?
Yet it is, being a hideaway for money-rich mainlanders with small yachts who didn’t seem to be too put out by recession. Half a mil for a cottage? Handy if you have it spare.
Inishbofin is beautiful, it can’t be argued. Inishark can be seen clearly from one side, and the tragic story of how the islanders were forcibly evacuated for ‘their own good’ not so long ago, is heartbreaking. Surely islanders should be supported in every way to stay living their lives in places that are soon to be totally depopulated?
Then I saw it, the second best part of my day; a London double-decker bus parked up on the island outside someone’s house. A full-scale, double-decker bus sitting very close to the ferry port — it’s run as a food truck by Kartika who hails from a Keralan family though she was born in Tennessee and met her islander husband while living in New York many moons ago.
“I was working in a restaurant in Brooklyn when I met my now husband and we decided to move back and make Galway our home”, says Kartika “I worked in Ard Bia and then we decided to come back here and bringing the bus over is something I’d been dreaming of.
“We had to wait for ages for the right tides to get it over on the cargo ferry, but it’s here now”.
The downstairs is where Kartika makes her delectable dishes while upstairs is where you can relax on cosy seating with cute tables in a carpeted interior, there’s even a bed to stretch out on for the inevitable Boffin hangover.
This woman has cooking in her blood and every day she makes a small number of dishes that are incredible, I know, I tried them all. Boffin lamb is in her amazing spicy meatball sandwich, served up in a soft bread roll she bakes herself and slathered with an amazing sauce.
The seafood chowder has a creamy tomato and coconut base, an Asian twist on our coastal classic and smooth and rich, loaded with the best of locally-caught fish and crustaceans.
The pollack tempura in real corn tortilla was a real treat, the tortilla, conveniently gluten-free, was light and crispy with a fiery sauce and salad grown in their own garden, just feet away.
Veggies are not left out — a beautiful beetroot burger, the beets also grown organically in the garden, was delicately spiced and loaded with flavour and great texture, served up in a home-made flatbread with crunchy leaves.
Kartika bakes one cake every day and we were lucky to get the sticky toffee cake, too good to share, and so I rolled back to the ferry with wild Billy to say my goodbyes to Inishbofin and the best day trip ever.
If you can take yourself away for just one day this year, do this one, and say hi to Billy for me.