January 24, 2015
“Have you decided what you are going to do today?” Our B&B host asked as she placed our ordered breakfast of pancakes in front of us.
“I think we are going to try to go to Inishbofin,” I replied.
She didn’t seem to think our travel plans to the nearby island were good in this weather, especially if it rained, and insisted on checking to make sure a pub was open in case we needed to get out of the weather, and verify the ferry times. She returned from the kitchen, as we devoured the delicious pancakes, with news that the ferry would be leaving the port by noon and that the pub was indeed open. With that good news, Gabbi and I finished eating and ran up the steps to gather our bags for a day spent on the island.
We caught the bus that took us to a small seaside village called Cleggan. We had 45 minutes to spare, allowing Gabbi and I to venture around the small town. It took us a whole 10 minutes to go from one end to the other.
Noon soon came and the small ferry opened its deck for passengers. Amongst us were a family of tourist from Eastern Europe, an older man with a suit bag, two young adult aged men who looked like they were going home for the weekend from work on the mainland, and a woman carrying a cooler and reusable grocery bags with goods to take back with her to the island. The ferry ride was treacherous, to say the least. The small ferry was no match to the huge Atlantic waves that tossed and turned the boat, and my stomach. Thank goodness I do not get sea sick, because the entire time I felt like I was on a roller coaster the way my stomach dropped as the boat rocked.
Thrilled to be ashore, we unloaded and started walking up the small seaside road to wherever it may lead us. I originally planned to unload and go straight to the pub for lunch, but my stomach thought otherwise. After that boat ride, Gabbi and I both agreed that we needed to walk off the stomach pains. We walked and talked as we continued down the Irish road. Along the way, we made stops to take photographs and stop for oncoming cars. The views of the ocean were beautiful, especially the view of Oliver Cromwell’s 16th century fort ruins placed across our side of the island in clear view. As we continued on, we entered the residential area of the sea village. While living by the sea in a small community may seem great for a weekend, I could not imagine doing it permanently. The whole time I wondered what these people do on the island. Do they work? Or just hang around? It was hard to tell, but kudos to them. I certainly would not be able to live in such isolation.
Around the corner and further down the road was a beautiful ocean view completed with a rocky and seaweed-filled beach, grassy rolling hills to the west, and waves crashing against the cliffs to the east. Gabbi hiked down to the rocks along the beach while I continued to walk along the road towards the west of the island. When we caught up, we turned around and decided to hike up the hills where the family of eastern Europeans were coming down from. I tried to dodge sheep feces and water puddles, but eventually gave up and endured the water seeping into my tennis shoes. I have no idea why I thought bringing tennis shoes would be a better idea than bringing my hiking boots… Up the hills and to the north side of the island we walked until we reached the edge of the cliffs. It was incredible to embrace the fierce Atlantic wind and watch as the waves crashed against the sides of the cliffs in front of us. Standing on the top of the island, we could see the village and shore below us. An amazing view.
Growing tired from the long day walking and exploring the island, Gabbi and I walked towards the port to try to find the pub that is supposed to be open. Being the off season, very few businesses, of the whole ten or so, on the island were open. Even the horseback riding center was closed for the winter.
When we reached civilization once again, I stopped in a convenience store to ask about the pub. The kind girl walked me to the doorframe and pointed to where the pub would be located. I thanked her for her help and we continued to walk until we got to the pub. Inside, an older lady drank a pot of tea by the bar as a bartender greeted us. Like everywhere else on the island, the pub was unpopulated and quiet. But after a long day hiking along the island, and our stomachs finally settled, Gabbi and I ordered a sandwich and warmed up in the booth by the entrance. The kind bartender/chef took our orders and small talked about the weather and what brought us to the island. When I asked him what brought him to the island, he said he and his wife enjoyed to vacation here and decided to stay for part of the year. He owns a catering company for the pub and hotel while spending the rest of his time in Clifden. As nice as that sounds, I would hate to have to take that ferry each time to commute.
As expected, the food was wonderful and hit the spot. I looked out the window and onto the fort admiring its beautiful architecture. When the bartender came back to take our plates, I asked him about the history of the fort which he kindly told me about. Apparently, Oliver Cromwell built the fort as a naval base during the 16th century. It’s location was prime on the island and because of where it was placed, it would be too late for the enemy to retreat once they came upon the fort. He also added that the Irish were not too fond of Cromwell. I can certainly see why. Curious about the islanders, I also asked the bartender what the source of income was on the island. He said tourism during the summer, agriculture (sheep, cows, chickens), and fishing. Of course, how did I not think of fishing? It is an island… I thanked him for the great food and Gabbi and I left the pub by waving good-bye to another man we rode the ferry over with first.
With an hour to spare until the ferry arrived, Gabbi and I decided to walk off our lunch by hiking towards the direction of the fort in the hills above the bay. Had I known it was possible to hike to the fort, I would have planned to do that when we arrived, but I didn’t want to risk missing our ferry and hike to it now. When we walked back in to town from the uphill climb on the sheep fields of the rolling hills above the bay, an Irishman by the pub asked if we hiked to the fort. The Irish always seem to treat visitors and strangers like old friends, similar to the hospitality of the South with a little added curiosity and friendliness. We said we did not and he asked where we were from and what brought us to the island. After conversing with the islander, Gabbi and I walked towards the port to see if the ferry was ready to load. We had thirty minutes until the call time, but both of us were tired and ready to load the boat. Besides, I was not about to be left by the only ferry going back to the island before tomorrow.
Before we could load, the deskmen had to help a tractor carrying a crane unload the firewood cargo they had transported to Inishbofin. While we waited, Gabbi and I took a seat by the edge of the dock and let our feet hang over the shore below. We both sat in silence as the wind blew through our hair and the waves softly crashed below us. “It’s so peaceful,” I said to Gabbi after a few minutes. She nodded and we went back to embracing the serenity amongst us.
The deckhand called for boarding and we made our way to the ferry. We both dreaded getting back on the ferry, but we had to do it, so I sucked it up and prayed it would not be as treacherous as the ride over. Extra passengers joined the group for the ride back, three dogs. The islanders must be going into the mainland for the night or maybe for the weekend and decided to bring their companions along. As the ferry left the dock and swayed gently with the motion of the waves below, one of the dogs braced himself in the center of the ferry near Gabbi and me. I giggled at his terrified face and lack of sea legs as he stood completely still bracing the motion. Feeling bad for him, I reached my hand out and he tucked himself below my legs. For the duration of the ride, I petted his head gently to reassure him that he would make it to shore after all. His owner, with a young German Shepherd on a leash talking with the other dog owner and islander, checked off and on throughout the ride and smiled as the dog found comfort under my legs. When I caught his glance near the end of the ride, I asked the dog’s name. “Arthur,” he said from across the other side of the ferry. It took me a few moments to process the name since he pronounced it like a true Irishman, “Art-ur.”
The mainland came into view and our ride soon came to an end. I petted Arthur goodbye and followed Gabbi off the boat and onto the deck. We had an hour to spare until the bus arrived, and since the return ferry ride was much less horrific, we both decided we could use a pot of tea. A nearby pub appeared to be open, so we opened the door to find a typical Irish scene: the bartender behind the bar chatted to the men huddled together by the bar with Guinness pints set in front of them. Recognizing we were not from the area, the men stared at us but I disregarded the uncomfortable reaction and asked the bartender for a pot of tea. I peaked around the corner to a table near the windows, and away from the bar, where Gabbi and I sat and talked over a much needed pot of tea.
Night set in and the bus would be arriving any minute. We paid the bartender and an elderly gentleman mumbled something directed to me. “I’m sorry?” I asked. “
“Where are you from?” He muttered a little louder so I could understand. I kindly told him that Gabbi and I were from the States, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. He was impressed that we were in Cleggan from the States and continued to mutter words I could barely understand. I couldn’t tell if he was missing a few teeth or his dentures, or if he had just had one too many Guinnesses. The bartender looked at me in sympathy that I was listening to the older man. I told him we had to catch a bus and told him good-bye. It’s always a pleasure to meet such kind Irish natives. And in Ireland, they are not hard to come across.
Rushing to the bus stop, Gabbi and I took a seat on the bench near the bus stop. The bus soon arrived and we took a seat near the back for some peace and quiet. Both of us fell asleep off and on throughout the ride back to Clifden. I didn’t realize how tired the day made me until I sat down on the warm bus. But the bumpy bus ride did not seem to completely agree with tea-filled stomach. I was beyond ready to get off the bus by the time we were back in Clifden.
Back at the B&B, Gabbi and I tried to decide about dinner plans. Letting our stomachs settle, we flipped on the television to watch “Shrek 3” for a little until we both decided to get dinner from the local Lidl and eat in the room over a movie. We purchased gourmet ingredients of peanut butter, strawberry jam, bread, and chocolate chip cookies to make PB&J’s for the night. A stop by Supermac’s for some fries, or “chips” as they are called in Ireland, and we were set. To our delight, it was all under 7 euro! Happy with our dinner choice, we made our sandwiches in our room and finished our meal with the chocolate chip cookies while watching “The Proposal” on Netflix. A perfect way to end the night, if you ask me.