Islands Of Connaught
Exhibition of Paintings
by Ros Harvey
2005 - Ongoing
Notes by Wallace Clark
"I am haunted by numerous islands
And many a Danaan shore
Where time shall surely forget us
And sorrow come near us no more."
The White Birds by W.B. Yeats
Ireland is an island, the second largest in Europe. So all of us who are lucky enough to live here are islanders and can share in part the problems and pleasures of those who live on our remoter offshore islets. Ireland's islands lie round her shoreline like water drops fallen from the head of a swimmer. Some are single, others in little groups thrown off by the swimmer's nose and chin as he turns his head sideways to breathe. Like water drops they glisten in many colours. The islands each have their own special character. Many are far enough from the coast for there to be a sense of achievement in get-ting there but all close enough for a weekend visit. Why do they attract us? Editors like islands because they make catchy headlines. Biologists like insular work because they can do a finite survey of plant and animal life. Teams have done this twice at long intervals on Clare Island and discovered lots of species unknown to science. Perhaps it is just as well these are mostly insect-sized. We don't need any mini-dinosaurs just yet.
Sailors like islands for their shelter, ready friendships, fresh water and wild life. Tourists like islands to get away from appointments and brown widow envelopes. And because they are different and have sparkling waters and private bays that need no blue flag to tell you they are unpolluted. Island people tend to be happier with their lot and more philosophical than the rest of us. Misfortunes which would make a mainlander bang his head against the wall are shrugged off with "Augh! These things happen." They live in a real world of cause and effect. My cousin Ros, as an artist, likes islands because of the special overall radiant light. She likes the rugged wild approaches and the anticipation of what lies ahead when the boat slips round a point to a sheltered harbour or cove. She likes the atmosphere of the past inhabitants and the warm welcomes of the present. Ros thanks the District Nurses on the larger islands, ready to bandage, sooth and administer orthodox and alternative medicines, at any hour, and bid you farewell with crabs and carrageen moss! I like islands for almost everything but best for re-meeting old friends who live there, including the seabirds. Also because there is a chance of adventure along the way; more so if you are able to go in your own small boat. This book which Ros and I have had such fun putting together is about the isles in the middle of the west coast. Connaught has a hundred and fifty miles of coastline pitted and riven where Atlantic storms have played ballyhooly with rocks and bays.. The Scots define an island as any detached piece of real estate with enough grass to support a family or one sheep. Anything smaller is a rock. By that standard there are about fifty islands between Sligo and Galway. From this we have selected a couple of dozen. Please don't be upset if your favourite isola bella is omitted. There isn't room in a book of this sort to mention them all. Anyway if you want to keep your isle private the less said about it the better. Harbours giving full shelter on islands are rare. Connaught includes two of the best protected in Ireland, Inishmore in the Arans and Inishbofin. Perhaps it is these and the shorter distances from the Continent that first gave Connaught closer contacts with French, Spanish and Dutch traders and raiders than islands up north.
From outsiders came dangers as well as new ideas. Island forts were needed to protect families from pillage and enslavement. More varied architecture came in and monks - lots of them - with strong faith. Connaught sailors from as far back as the 6th century knew more of the Atlantic than other Europeans. Columbus in 1492 took William Irez of Galway with him as a pilot.
Islands produce strong characters. From Clare Island came Granuaile, Anglice Grace O'Malley the most famous character in Irish maritime history.
It is widely, and scurrilously, believed that sailors have a girl on every island. It took my Russian sailor friend Nikolai Litau to refute such slander.
"Nonsense." he said. "Totally untrue."
"We haven't been to every island!"
Confucius knew that a thousand years ago when he remarked, "The humane man takes his pleasure from the mountains. The wise man takes his delight from islands."
Let's go and take our delight among plenty of isles with lots of uninhibited inhabitants.
Wallace Clark, 2005