This Easter, as Atlantic rollers make landfall on the western shores of Sherkin Island, birdsong thrills the air and sunshine floods the fuchsia-filled boreens, this achingly beautiful place is out of bounds to all but those who live there, writes.
The population of 100 are in lockdown mode like all other islanders and are just biding their time while the virus burns itself out.
Aisling Moran of the Sherkin Island Development Society says the island is quiet and people are observing government strictures on movement and health.
“It’s much quieter. There’s no pub open. There’s no community hall open, no dancing. People are being really good about social distancing and there are a lot of elderly cocooning and that’s quite difficult, but in other terms life just goes on. People are going out for their walks and being careful.
“It’s like a storm, we’re waiting for it to pass. Islands and islanders are well used to storms and also seclusion, rather than isolation.
“People are quite hardy to the weather doing this every now and again but this is obviously much more serious and much longer term,” she says.
This Sherkin support group is funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and is also tied into Cork County Council’s Covid-19 Community Support Programme. “All the islands are linked in. The support network from the council is excellent,” says Aisling.
The public health nurse goes to Sherkin once a month but not at the moment as there is no one seriously ill on the island and it is thought she could be at risk of spreading it.
“We have an active retirement group on the island. They normally go for a meal once a week and Skibbereen Geriatric Society has been super supportive. They have extended their service to a few more people on the island. In general people are doing really well, they have a good mentality to it, to keeping safe and keeping to themselves,”she says.
“We’re ringing around to islanders and if they’re doing social isolation and on their own and they are getting a call once or twice a week. There’s a lovely caring and kind network of people phoning around,” she says. The main foodstore on the island has been closed for a number of years and instead islanders order their food from Field’s Supermarket in Skibbereen which has been delivering food to the island via the ferry for years.
“So when Field’s delivery comes, we have a rural transport bus that will deliver food to the elderly and vulnerable so they don’t have to come out for it. It’s a mighty service,” says Aisling.
Medical supplies also come in with the groceries. “The pharmacies are really good — Drinagh, Cleary’s and Hamiltons. You can WhatsApp in your orders to Skibbereen and someone will go down and put it into your Field’s order. They are brilliant and really supportive,” she says.
“Normally at this time of the year Sherkin is welcoming back friends of old, people that we love and care about and we see every year and they are dearly missed but it’s to everyone’s benefit that they’re not there at the moment and when the time is right people will be standing there with open arms welcoming them back onto the island.
“We have island businesses and tourist businesses that will need support but we have to wait until the time is right.”
And what about private boat owners who might push the limits?
“It is a concern that private boats will start to come in as the weather gets better and it is against the law to be outside 2km from your residence. We would definitely be asking people to not do this to protect the vulnerable community that is on the island.
Majella O’Neill Collins is an artist of international renown who lives on the northern end of the island overlooking the fractured archipelago of the Catalogue Islands.
“We’re used to looking out and seeing planes overhead and now there’s none. You see boats passing up and down all the time but not now, there’s very little movement. There’s a kind of silence in the air, a different atmosphere,” she says.
Majella is hopeful that the impact of Covid-19 will have some positive outcomes: “I think things will be positive when we come out of it. I think people’s values will change for the better.”
Sherkin has a very popular BA Visual Arts Degree Programme in which Majella is involved as a facilitator. They are hosting a virtual open day for the September intake on April 24. For further information see www.bavasherkin.com and www.westcorkartscentre.com/ba-in-visual-arts.
How to get there: Ferry from Baltimore after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Other: www.monc.ie; sherkinisland.ie; facebook - Sherkin Island Development
Association; www.sherkinisland.eu/ferry; www.facebook.com/Robbie-Murphy-Photos; Cork County Council Covid-19 number: 1800 805 819.