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NATURE A coastal treasure trove

Outdoor Living

Caher island at sunset.
PILGRIM’S PEARL?Caher island at sunset.

A coastal treasure trove

Country sights and sounds
John Shelley

Inside the dunes at Doughmakeon the fields are littered with windblown plastic waste, the majority of which has travelled countless miles of ocean before being cast ashore by the waves and heaved over the cobble ridge by recent gales. James and I walked the tide-line first, looking for anything that might prove useful at some time in the future. Are all beachcombers the same?
My pockets were filling. A long feather from the rear end of a wading bird, barred brown on white, was far too good to leave behind. It joined the fragile, sand-washed skull of an auk, a small white orb with staring, empty sockets and a masterfully neat bill, that we found in a tangle of wrack – too small a sailor for the night it had been, run aground and drowned in the anger of the storm. With bone and feather were a stone that looked like an eye and a small, barnacle encrusted, green glass bottle that I thought looked old, or even antique.
James was gathering those orange oval floats that had been employed to keep fishing nets afloat on some distant sea before finding themselves free. He had a dozen or more of varying shades; I already possess more of these than I shall use in my lifetime – indeed, I can think of nothing to use them for, though they live at the back of the shed, just in case. One never knows...
Halfway along the beach a block of hardwood had been wrestled to a point where the waves would not likely reach. I scraped the surface with a stone to see the colour inside: teak, I thought. Three-feet long and a foot thick, a rough-sawn remnant of rain forest thrown up on an Irish strand after drifting for thousands of miles and who knows how many years? It deserved to be immortalised, fashioned into a boat seat, a keel board, oar blades or similar. The man who had wrested it from the sea’s grasp had placed not one, but three flat stones upon it, as part of an ancient, unwritten code that marked it as claimed. I do hope it was not destined for the fireplace.
Later, as we walked back over sandy flat pasture, we waved a greeting to the man that watched us from his field across the road, his forearms flat on the gate, weathered fingers entwined. A red and white cow with stubby horns stood a s hort distance behind him, and both watched us pass without a murmur. Perhaps the teak was his.

Out of sight
We stood to look back across the sea, with Clare to the right and the shadowed shapes of Caher and Inishturk distant to the left. A small passenger boat rode peak and trough between the two, more out of sight than in, hidden partly by waves and partly by the dense clouds of spume that exploded at the prow as the vessel nose-dived ridge after ridge of white-topped water as it ploughed a brief south-westerly furrow.
“We should go,” suggested James. “They don’t get many visitors this time of the year.”
Indeed they don’t, and no wonder. Even during the more benign months the crossing to Turk can be challenging, although some of the drama has certainly been lost with the arrival of a commercial-sized ferry. Now, we might like to think we are at the tail end of winter, but nobody told that to those mid-Atlantic depressions that keep the water heaping at the side of this island.
“That,” I said, “is a journey for madmen at the best of times and fools at any other.”
“And which of the two are ye?”
“I was there last summer.”
We had sailed across on a flat, blue day and told folks we met how lucky they were to live on a real island, whereon they had gazed and murmured they supposed we were right. Their summer consists of 12 broken weeks and the odd few days through early autumn. The rest of the year is quietly cut off from our world. We leave them their storms and the salt-laden air without so much as a thought.
There must be compensations though. James is right. We should go, now, before everybody else does, and take the coastal path as far as the stream that drains Coolaknick. We might wait until March though, and then we shall see what stamp of trout, if any, inhabit that little lake. I shall take with me my stone that looks like an eye, and wedge it high up where it can watch over all who come and go to that secluded spot. Yes, the year is opening up and there are things to do.