Inishlacken

ImageStone. There is just stone everywhere on Inishlacken. I felt compelled to walk the periphery of the island as soon as I arrived. It’s a small place, but encircling it can’t be done quickly. The ground is uneven and changes underfoot often. It takes time to pick steps over the boulders and flagstones and to find a path around the boggy places. If it’s green and plushy, beware.

Greenery often gives way to a soft, squelchy and sodden underbelly and while it is tempting to dander among the flag irises, it’s not smart unless of course your intention is to sink into it. It’s better to step out, surefooted onto stone.

On the Atlantic side of the island, even as late as the summer solstice, I watched a sheep drop her newborn lamb onto a sloping slab of solid stone, exposed to the weather coming off the sea – the wind brought mizzly air and, while it wasn’t colder than about 12 degrees that day, it looked an inhospitable cradle. The ewe was practiced and focused. She licked the lamb clean and nuzzled it in a businesslike and systematic way. Eventually, it staggered to its feet.

The lamb stood, fell, propped itself up on its front legs, fell, and did that all over again and again until it managed a few steps………. backwards………. and fell again.

I only stayed a while to watch them. It felt a bit intrusive to do otherwise, though they didn’t seem at all bothered. At one time this tiny island had a population of 200 people or so. They farmed and lived off the sea.

There are plenty of rabbits – another reason to walk slowly and to take care where your feet go. They burrow deep into the shell midden and the dunes on the east side of the island. Catherine Gaston, a gifted visual artist from Belfast who was also on this residency could hear them underground when she pressed her ear to the earth.

On our residency, we were blessed with beautiful though changeable weather. Catherine, myself and another artist Helen “skuldugery tatu’ McDonnell, stayed out in the schoolhouse overnight around the summer solstice.

The school house, with a view to the small harbour of Inishlacken, late at night - the summer solstice

The schoolhouse, with a view to the small harbour of Inishlacken, late at night – the summer solstice

There is no electricity on the island.  We lit the fire and sat and later, we slept, near it, telling stories, watching the light change, drinking wine. It was still and quiet otherwise. We did have a ‘voice’ join the conversation at one point during dinner. It became a bit of a pre-occupation amongst some of the others next day when we talked about it again. It was a man’s voice.

We were there at the invitation of Belfast artist Rosie McGurran. Rosie has organised this residency every year since about 2000. She followed the footsteps of Belfast artist Gerard Dillon who created some of his most famous works on Inishlacken.

The place itself is charged; there is a life-force about it and the gathering of the artists, apart from being a privilege, has, it seems, some reciprocal impact for the better, on the place  – it’s special. The light, the panorama, the raucous, hiving life of it – everything is alive, whether you experience the place up close, or take a long view. You are in the painting – it might be a Gerard Dilllon painting where you are among the stones, the donkeys, or sitting at the fireside. You might, equally, be within a Paul Henry as the colours of the Twelve Bens shift and stretch the definition of the spectrum of blue/grey/lavender.  On the beach, you step into the well-lit searing clarity of a world created by Mick O’Dea, and in the evening, the playful, imaginative,feminine, fantastic feral otherness, of a Rosie McGurran.

The experience will stay with me for some time to come. I had time and space to reflect on all that has changed for me in the past two years in particular. I am grateful to the people and the place. More later.

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17 thoughts on “Inishlacken

  1. Tell us more about that voice. What did it say? Could it have been a sheep? I have heard three different people say that they have heard the sheep talk. The sheep have reportedly said “dad” and ” four to one mix”.

    • Hilarious Steve…….. na…. it wasn’t a sheep.

      Tim had a theory that it was a donkey scratching its arse on the windowsill outside…….. but it wasn’t that either…. he even gave a very detailed description.. eh….. and a demonstration of how that looked and sounded. I’m certain it wasn’t a donkey either – nor, indeed was it Tim doing an impression of a donkey.

      • I wasn’t joking about the sheep talking. They don’t sound like sheep when they talk—- How do I know?– well ok then! one of those people who have heard them is me.— no one claims to have actually seen their mouths moving , but the witness’ have heard speech coming from neighboring fields where there were only sheep. The other 2 witness’ are a thirteen year old girl and a 16 year old girl- separate occasions and neither had ever met as they live on different continents.

      • What I know is, Inishlacken is other worldly, liminal.

        The conversation we were having at the time was a really delicate one and two out of the three of us heard it.

        The speech wasn’t clear- a mumble….

        Sent from my iPhone

      • Don’t think it was a sheep then – as the sheep havn’t been known to mumble- they have been quite forthright and usually give advice on questions that are only though and not spoken. ie there is some sort telepathy going on. ( might aswell get hung for a …Ha!) seriously though – a mumble– male ? female? accent? what was the delicate nature of the conversation?- now I’m just being nosey– If you dont tell me I could ask the sheep when i see them at the weekend.- though I don’t know if they tell tales.

      • Speculating what the ‘mumble’ was, I’d say he said……..”you dont know the half of it………….’

        If you get an update from the sheep, let me know, yeah?

  2. Maria, I enjoyed a lot your writing, also the photos. The lamb must have been amazing… I’ve only seen such scenes on TV. I noticed I slowed down myself by the time I reached the last paragraph of your words.

  3. Must have been 1958 – I was 9 or thereabouts. In the company of mother – an adventurer who spurned the modern assistance of a boat with an engine from Roundstone in favour of local fishermen of Urlough. Clearly their swimless skills in manoeuvring a currach – or maybe some other aspect of their character not clearly understood by a nine year old – impressed her greatly. They were all called King, I recall, to the point where only first names – necessarily two, of course – were used. These then were to be our guardians and boatmen for our short passage to Inishlacken.
    Not the luxury of a schoolhouse though. No – a croft near a beach on the southern side. A bedroom and a living room only, I think. Thick walls, small openings for doors and windows, and an isolation that was at once eerie and delightful. The measure only varying with the available daylight.
    And, of course, the talking!
    Not ever ascribed to simpleton sheep – but to that much more wily, resourceful and crafty creature – a goat. Not content with the occasional murmured or even spoken offering that was its’ contribution to the conversation, he was eventually emboldened to come calling.
    It may have been the third night when for sure the human population of the island was counted with only two fingers of one hand, we heard the knock on the door. Not timid, or circumspect. But forthright, insistent, belonging and certainly questioning.
    It was late. We had, of course, been telling stories. It was some moments before we summoned the courage and fear – definitely in equal measure – to open the door.
    So we met our bearded island companion. Like a good conversationalist, he was more of a listener than a talker. Which was just as well, as we heard nothing more from him during our stay.
    Good memories – Inishlacken.

  4. Thanks Noel

    This is a lovely evocation of Inishlacken. It really is a special place among special places. I’m heading back that direction in September, all being well, and I look forward to it very much.

    Keep in touch,

    Maria

    • Hi Maria.
      Actually your reply and the memories re-kindled by your blog, remind me that I often promise to revisit the island. However my Googled efforts – meager enough, mind you! – have failed to identify any properties available for rent.
      If you have any suggestions I would be very grateful to hear them!
      If you would prefer to reply directly, you can reach me on noelma@eircom.net
      In the meantime I wish you a pleasant trip in September.
      Many thanks!!
      Noel.

      • Thanks Noel, I am not sure that any of the accommodation on the island is available for rent as such – I just dont know. I was lucky enough to be there are part of a wider residency of artists and was lucky to be facilitated in that way. If I learn anything further I will let you know.

        It’s a really special place -though I know you know this already.
        All the best for now and if I learn anything new, I will be in touch.

        Maria

      • Thanks for that Maria! Always nice to chat with someone who knows of, never mind actually set foot on, the island! I’m sure we will find a way! Perhaps there will be an addition to the blog? Look forward to it.
        Noel.

  5. I’ll keep you posted. I’m really looking forward to being back in Roundstone and back in Connemara. It’s an inspiring place and I feel lucky. Thanks for your comments too Noel. I appreciate it.

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