Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roan Inish Rediscovered

Yes, we finally got there. At last the weather relented, and blue skies plus calm seas meant we were able, at long last, to set foot on the enchanted island.

Hang on, let's get a few knitting matters out of the way first, though, just to ensure that those who log on here solely and only for matters fibrous and looped will not be disappointed.

Sock Madness continued to an exciting finish, with the final winner being Erica from Oslo. Strewth that girl can tackle a pair of entrelac socks (yep, entrelac, no kidding) between breakfast and lunch, and still have time to look after the family, weed the garden, whip up something pleasant in the kitchen, and probably write out a detailed plan for world peace for all I know. I forthwith determined to learn Norwegian speed knitting and you'll hear more about that in my next posting.

This was where I called it a day. Full length, fully-fashioned knee socks, no less, with Celtic motifs on the sides and a most cunning sideways slip on the foot. They were designed by Jenny Lee, and I don't mind admitting that they nearly sent me over the edge. Gorgeous stockings, and I'm thrilled to have them to show off on state occasions, but millions of stitches, thousands of rows... it was a marathon and no mistake.

So what does one do when finally it all comes to an end for this year? Why immediately cast on another pair of socks, of course. OK, so it's an addiction. Maybe I like addiction.

These are the Rigel design from Anna Zilboorg's Socks for Sandals and Clogs. I love the way you have a plain and demure sock from the front, and then turn round and ZA-ZOOM! I added the fuchsia toe myself, thinking it gave just that extra touch of je-ne-sais-quoi. Didn't have the right yarn in the stash (do I ever?) so plied some angora-blend twice and some Shetland three times to get the two colours.

Even found time to dye up some new sock yarns but still haven't found a window of opportunity in which to list them on eBay. Tonight, tonight, I must do it. No point having all that yarn hanging around when there are eager knitters out there clamouring for it. Merino/tencel and merino/bamboo, nestling on the buttercups and daisies of an Irish June. We've waited long enough for the weather to get better here, but finally it has. Which is why we decided to try again for that elusive island.

It was a beautiful morning when we drove down yet again to the remote stretch of coastline beyond Glandore and Union Hall, hoping to find someone who would rent us a currach or kayak. Nobody around though. And no kayaks lying invitingly on the shoreline either which one might borrow casually for an hour or two.

It was so frustrating to sit on the cliffs and look across at that little silver beach and those ivy-clad ruins, so near and yet so far. It was almost close enough to swim, but that really wouldn't be advisable with the undercurrents you get on this stretch of coast. Was it going to be yet another day of disappointment?

Somewhat downhearted, we got back in the car and made the long detour inland and out again to get to Squince Harbour (it's only about half a mile if you traipse over the rocks and cliffs) and here our luck changed. DH leaned over the sea wall and saw a fisherman loading gear into his boat. Casual pleasantries were exchanged, and then DH very casually let drop how much we wanted to visit the little island. 'Sure, come along with me and I'll drop ye off on my way out to check the pots,' said the fisherman genially. 'I can pick ye up on the way back, in a couple of hours, if that would suit.'

Would it suit? Would it? We were down on the shore and in that boat before you could blink.

And so at last we came to Roan Inish. Yes, yes, yes, it's called Rabbit Island on the large scale ordnance survey map, but you can't tell me that isn't Roan Inish.

Look, even the guardian seals and the all-knowing gulls were there, watching us, ensuring we were kindred spirits and not likely to break the peace of this place.

The feeling of actually landing at last on that silver strand, of waving goodbye to the friendly fisherman, and then climbing a steep track to the grassy top of the island, knowing we were the only people there, was indescribable. A lost world, with the sea breezes blowing over it, bluebells and buttercups growing rampantly in the unmown grass. Of course we headed first for the old ruined cottages - wouldn't you? Oh, I forgot, I'm taking you along on this trip, so that's what you wanted to do too. Look, you're there, right now. Climb into the pictures, relax, breathe deeply. Now, don't you hear the gulls crying, and get the scent of the salt air?

You couldn't really see it from the shore, but from this vantage it's much clearer that there were once at least two and possibly more cottages here, facing each other across a green lane and built sideways on to the sea (as all sensible seaside cottages were until the trendy days of double glazing and superstrength picture windows). Totally quiet and peaceful now, can't your imagination just see and hear what was once there? Children shouting at play, women's voices calling, the cluck of hens and the mooing of a cow waiting to be milked. The grating sound of a currach being pulled up on the beach. The whirring of a spinning wheel at a cottage door. There was a whole community living here for centuries. Now they're gone, but the landscape is still imbued with their presence.

From the cliffs on the seaward side it's easier to see that this is actually quite a big small island, if that doesn't sound too contradictory. You could spend a good afternoon following its indented coastline. See that tiny beach up there at the top of the picture? The one that looks totally deserted?

Not deserted now. Just one castaway Celtic Memory. Wonder how many islanders came down here after a storm to search for timber, firewood, anything useful washed from a ship's deck? All islanders are natural foragers and it's not unusual to find furniture, doors, windows, even carts, fashioned from wood picked up on the shoreline.

In places the thick grass, prickly furze, and wiry heather made walking quite difficult, especially if your four little legs were rather short. Someone got rather tired and appreciated a bit of a lift now and again.

Fortunately we found a stream trickling down a gully in the cliffs and Sophy was able to clamber down the rocks and have a large and lengthy drink. Trouble was, she then decided that it was rather nice in there in the shadowy cool, and just lay down and refused to move. Now you will appreciate that when a small dog stirs up a small pool, a great deal of mud is the result. And furthermore, when said small dog is disinclined to bestir herself for the homeward journey, anyone seeking to assist in such bestirring is likely to acquire quite a bit of said mud. As was indeed the case in this instance.

The Roan Inish imagery was everywhere. You could just see Fiona picking bunches of these bluebells. I expected to see baby Jamie pushing off his coracle from a dozen tiny hidden coves we chanced upon.

And what better place to fall asleep and dream on a sunny day? The feeling everywhere was - how can I describe it - like a long-ago afternoon is the best I can do. You know that feeling?

It was very hard to leave. Those cottages cried out to be lived in once more, to be whitewashed and tidy, with sturdy thatched roofs and geraniums in the windows. The little overgrown fields wanted to be tended and dug, and planted with potatoes. The island wanted voices again, laughter and busy movement and a way of life that had endured for centuries. But our fisherman was hailing us cheerfully from the beach, and we had to go.

We'll be back, though. We'll return to you, Roan Inish, one day very soon. Promise.


knitski said...

As always what a treat to read your blog! Thank you for sharing all your adventures . . . I just love your photos and writing!

carlarey said...

Ahh, exactly what I needed to read on a sultry morning when it is already too hot to stir outdoors in these parts.

HPNY KNITS said...

the purple beauties are magnificent!

Windybrook Spinner said...

That sounds nothing short of heaven. What a wonderful afternoon. It looks exactly like Roan Innish. Fabulous.

Bionic Laura said...

Jo I was just checking your blog yesterday and wondering if you'd disappeared and if you'd ever managed to get over the lost island. Then today I check and here you are with tales of the beautiful Roan Inish. What a lovely journey, thanks for taking us along with you. It must be wonderful to wander the uninhabited fields in search of echoes of times past. Magical...

Freyalyn said...

I'm there already, and I've never been so far as Ireland. But I know spots just like it in the South West, and up in Western Scotland. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Jo.... such a joy to find this post! Yours are so special and worth waiting for...... thanks for this lovely trip with you and Sophy. It made my day!

Barbara M.

Angeluna said...

Excellent, you made it! What a trip for little Sophy. Though I would love to have seen a photo of Sophy's muddy porter on the way home. What a trip for a very little four-legged girl. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy being on the water.
Now I know you asked questions...who owns this little island? Why did they leave?

Waiting breathlessly for Norway.

Unknown said...

Welcome back! I love reading about your knitting adventures and your magical Ireland. You were missed!

SharonO said...

My fantasy place to live. Roan Inish, indeed. Thank you for taking us along and nice to have you back.

Bella said...

Those socks are gorgeous!
The photos of your trip to Roan Inish were so inviting that I almost could get the salty sea air in my face.
Beautiful - thank you for another memorable post!

Susan said...

Beautifully put, in words and pictures. How I long to be there.

Audrey said...

Thanks for taking all of us with you! Now, bring on the yarn. LOL

Dez Crawford said...

Once again, your ability to transport the reader through the photo and into the place shines forth. If I promised to restore the houses on that enchanted little island, could I immigrate? I can completely imagine my address as "Dez Crawford, Roan Inish, Cork." Magical place. I want to fix up those little cottages, plant gardens (and perhaps a few hardy trees), raise sheep, catch fish, and open a craft school on that island. I can only imagine that the last occupants became too frail and elderly to manage on their own, otherwise, why would anyone leave?

Oh, and the socks are stunning. Especially the purple ones.

Charity said...

Jo, your photos and words put me right there with you - thank you for that!

And those socks!!! Amazing, lovely, incredible! :o)

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for sharing your pictures--absolutely stunning..exactly what I hoped it would look like! :)

Elly said...

Lovely post, have missed you.

Roggey said...

Those red and white socks are very cool, woman! Good going :)

And as always, lovely nature photos - I especially like the one with the seal in it.

Dez Crawford said...

Happy Solstice, dear Jo!

Judy G. said...


PM said...

Hey Jo,
Loved this post. The island is so idyllic, wish I could visit it some day...Don't know what roan inish is but will look it up!

Unknown said...

Hi Jo,
I wanted to let you know that my husband's grandfather owned Rabbit Island "Roan Inish". They were the Driscolls. The family lost the property to an English person because they didn't know nor did the family in the states know that the property just needed taxes to be paid on it. His grandfather was one of 13 children and he used to row back and forth to the main island for their needs. The whole family had to leave the island after a devastating fire took place and they lost everything. Those ruins that you see was where his family lived. Thought I would share with you some history. It is truly a beautiful, magical and serene place!

Unknown said...

Hi Jo,
I just wanted to let you know that my husband's grandfather and his family owned Rabbit Island, "Roan Inish". His grandfather was one of thirteen children. They lost the island to an English person. The family did not know that they had taxes owed nor did the family in the states otherwise, you can be sure we would have taken care of it. His grandfather used to row back and forth to the main island for their needs. One day there was a terrible, devastating fire and those ruins are the result of the family having to come to the main island to live after that fire. It is such a beautiful and serene place!

Unknown said...

see this link to the Irish Census.. I just came across this a few days ago. I find it so intriguing.

Unknown said...

This link may work better but if you copy this into your browser look for Myross under the census or National Archives.

Onefeistystitch said...

Thank you for posting this! There's not much information out there about the island and ever since seeing the movie I've dreamed of spending some time there. Your pictures are wonderful and made me feel as if I were almost there!

Darren said...


I was reading your piece on Rabbit Island and I am an ancestor of the occupants of the 2 cottages the Driscoll's, they lived on the Island until the cottages were burnt down, my grandad then age 7 use to cross from the island to go to school in Union Hall.



Anonymous said...

In Ireland it's said "inis roan" not roan inish, that's incorrect grammar

Ocean said...

I live on the mainland opposite 'Roan Inish' - Rabbit Island. We look at it from our windows and watch as it changes colour, month on month. Up until @ 1920 three families, each with ten children lived in those, now ruined, buildings. Imagine the hard life, rowing the children to Carrigillihy to walk two miles to the local school and back again in the evening. Sometimes horses are grazed on the island - they swim out alongside small boats.