Island hopping


PARADISE Edwin McGreal with children Frankie (5) and Éamon (3) taking a break during their walk around Achill Beg. Clare Island is in the background.

The Dad Diary
Edwin McGreal

Frankie and Éamon know they live on an island, but the bridge at Achill Sound has them wondering sometimes.
Last week, they experienced island travel in the traditional way – via boat. A maiden trip to Achillbeg was an adventure and a half. It was part of the superbly organised Féile Chill Damhnait and was a real day to remember.
Over 600 people journeyed over to the island, located just off the south-eastern tip of Achill Island.
It once had a thriving community, but for a combination of reasons, the remaining island population of under 40 people took the hard decision to leave their homes in 1965. Some people still use it for holiday homes, while one man lives there most of the year.
In recent years the island has come alive during Féile Chill Damhnait. When you go over, it is easy to see why.
Achillbeg has the most beautiful beach, and a traipse around the island reveals stunning views around every turn from Croagh Patrick to Clare Island, the Bills Rocks, Currane and Achill Island itself. You can only imagine how hard it was for the local community to leave 57 years ago.
The excitement began for Frankie and Éamon before they even arrived on the island. The trip by ferry over from Cloughmore was exhilarating for them. O’Grady’s Clare Island Ferry brought us right into the beach on Achillbeg, where the car ramp was lowered to allow people walk off. It took plenty of skilled piloting to make sure the boat didn’t get stuck on the shore!
Séimí stayed at home with Aisling. He’s too young, we felt, for being on an island all day. Next time! My sister Ruth came with us, and we had a ball. The kids played on the beach and in the water and two inflatable pubs provided plenty of sustenance on one of the warmest days of the year. A DJ played tunes that had everyone in high spirits. There was just the nicest atmosphere there.
As you sat on the beach looking across Clew Bay to the Reek and Connemara, you really could not have wished to be anywhere else in the world. It was paradise.
Vivian Ruddy, one of the main organisers, with Michael Patten, led a guided walk around the north of the island. We decided to go and bring Frankie and Éamon. It was hilly enough in parts for the kids. Frankie (5) walked the whole way, no bother to her. Éamon found the going tougher but managed the first half before getting a lift most of the rest of the way with me. It was worth it all for the views as you turned south towards Clare Island. We didn’t go to the lighthouse at the southern end of the island; that will be for the next trip.
We’d a lovely picnic at the end of the walk, and by the time the ferry was arriving, Éamon was gassed and ready for home. Frankie didn’t want to leave though, she was just getting going.
Definitely a day for the memory bank.