Inis Meáin brings out the best in a Dublin girl


Monday  -  

- I'm 16 years old and in sixth year at Coláiste Naomh Eoin, on Inis Meáin, in the Aran Islands. I started school here the September after my Junior Cert and went straight into fifth year. Before coming here I went to John Scottus School, a fee-paying school in Donnybrook, Dublin. I really liked it, and I only ever planned to leave it temporarily, for transition year, to improve my Irish.

It didn't work out like that, and island life grew on me. The year on the island was so worthwhile academically that it served as my fifth year, a common occurrence among students who come to Inis Meáin for transition year. I didn't have to think twice about coming back for sixth year.

When the idea of coming to Inis Meáin was suggested to me first, I was sceptical. To spend an entire school year away from home - and not just away from home but on a small Irish-speaking island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? No thanks. But I thought about it a lot and talked it over with my friends and family. I have two older brothers, David and Eoin, who are in college and who I miss a good bit when I'm away. Both of my parents thought moving here was a great idea and completely supported it, although my mam gets a bit sick of being the only girl in the house.

Irish had always been one of my favourite subjects, but the idea of being almost completely independent of my parents for a whole year was probably what tipped it for me in the end. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht run a scholarship scheme, so I completed the application form, did the interview and was offered an accommodation scholarship.

My adventure started there and then. This island has attracted great scholars, including John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and Patrick Pearse. They were influenced by island life and folklore, as well as learning Irish. That set the bar for my ambitions.

I was woken up on Tuesday morning by one of my room-mates getting up early for Irish traditional-music lessons. I really relish these leisurely mornings, because last year my Tuesday mornings started with a chemistry class before school, an option offered to those who take it as an extra subject. I took up construction studies for the first time in fifth year, as it wasn't offered in my last school.

Coláiste Naomh Eoin has only 28 pupils, with just eight in the senior cycle, and the small size of the school really comes in handy.

In the first week of term the entire school went on a bonding day trip to Galway. We went kayaking on Lough Corrib, using NUIG's facilities, and then to a big sports centre called Pure Skill. It really helped to break the ice with the new students. By the time we got back to school we were all a lot more comfortable with one another. In such a small school, one person can affect the entire dynamic. 

Going to school here is completely different from Dublin. You always feel so safe here. The idea of having an alarm on your house or even locking your front door would be laughable - completely different from having to watch your handbag as you walk around Dublin city. I found it a bit difficult to settle in at first. Not that I was homesick, as such: more that I have always lived in the city. You can jump on a bus into town after school or stay the night at your friend's house. I'm too busy for that here.

read more at The Irish Times

Celebrating Tim Robinson

By Richard Marsh
I've always loved maps.  I can't think about travelling or a new place without a map, not always to find my way but more usually to try to get a picture in my head of context and the shape of things.  I recall my delight  on a visit to the Zanskar Valley in the Himalayas where the only maps available in Stanford's emporium were US Surveys with whole patches carrying warnings that, in these areas, the maps could be out by 5,000 feet in elevation and 5 miles awry in other dimensions.  It didn't seem to bother the locals that they were living somewhere which hadn't yet been properly mapped, but I was entranced by it.

But not all maps are about defining context.  The maps of Connemara, Aran and the Burren made by Tim Robinson are an entirely different proposition.

The fractured limestone landscapes of Western Ireland, and in particular, Connemara, the Aran Islands and the Burren are the subject of Robinson's cartographic and literary output.  A Yorkshire-born, Cambridge-educated mathematician, Robinson brings to his task linguistic diligence, an inquisitive spirit, and the capacity to translate and communicate the abstract into his maps and writings and make it  wonderful. Last year, my partner Ro and I explored the islands of Inis Meán and Inis Oirr, clambering over dry-stone walls, walking down ancient boreens accompanied by Tim Robinson's increasingly dog-eared map.  Monochrome, with the greyness of the landscape itself, and covered with hints and gifts, here a dolmen, there a blow-hole. And, on one memorable afternoon in the spring sun sat on the stones of an ancient fortress with the sea a distant but insistent drone and found the music of a flute that brought the first cuckoo to an eerie duet.

This is fractal cartography that describes the intersection of geology, human activity, the ascent of the human spirit in myth-making and story-telling and the ever-present sea.  The maps guide the traveller to look harder, listen longer and take time to absorb his/her surroundings.

Robinson's two volume work The Stones of Aran is a loving, irritating, learned, experienced account of the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor in which, so it seems, the history, geology and mythological landscape of every red kelp-clad field is described and laid out to view.  But this is very different from the writing of  urban flaneurs or psychogeographers, though no less personally experienced or etched into well-worn shoe-leather. I first came to these islands with my father who had seen Robert Flaherty's 1934 film, Man of Aran and, with that etched on his childhood memory had always wanted to visit.

Tim Robinson's recent work has been a triology of books of essays distilling a lifetime's learning and engagement with Connemara.  The latest Connemara:The Last Pool of Darkness, is a thing of great beauty and includes an essay on the time that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein spent in the village of Rosroe. Not only is it a wonderful description of place, time and biography; the mathematician Robinson manages  a masterful articulation of the development of Wittgenstein's thinking from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations.  There are few writers who could achieve this.  Robinson maps more landscapes than those of Connemara and Aran, he maps the intersections of landscape and imagination that belong to all of us.


Inis Meain Sig.JPG

Photo: Leonard Doyle

He was blind in one eye and couldn't see especially well out of the other, wore dark-framed, vaguely government-issue glasses, but they're lowered, he's turning his head and squinting over the top of them. He reads from "The Portable James Joyce," my mother's Penguin paperback from college. He's holding it close to his face. me the famous last paragraph, "The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. . . ." Nothing of the actual language remained with me, except, years later, reading the story at school, there was something like déjà vu at the part where Joyce first says the snow was "falling faintly," then four words later says it was, "faintly falling." The slight overconspicuousness of that had stuck, as I suppose he intended.

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The Burren, a rocky wilderness in western Ireland, is a region of ancient magic and infinite strangeness The cliffs of Moher Nearly halfway up the west coast of Ireland, at about 53 degrees north, nine degrees west, there stands the presiding symbol of one of Europe's most peculiar places. The thing is peculiar enough in itself, being an ungainly megalithic structure, five millennia old, that stands there all alone and looks to me, especially in silhouette, suggestively like a witch's supper table. It is the Poulnabrone dolmen, and it is a proper symbol of the Burren, a place of infinite strangeness. The Burren is an indeterminate limestone region of about 100 square miles, sparsely inhabited, with small towns and villages only at its edges, and a landscape that can seem, at first sight, forbiddingly unwelcoming - stern bald hills, apparently devoid of life or colour, crossed only by a few narrow roads, and with nothing much to see, so the map suggests, but tombs and ruins. But wait. The witches of Poulnabrone stir their cauldron and the Burren reveals itself to be a place of paradoxical magic. As the clouds shift, those grey hills are suddenly tinged with mauve or violet, those uninviting lanes blossom with gentians, an ancient history comes to life and almost everywhere you go you will stumble across the geological wonders that have made these 100 square miles celebrated across the world. Stumble is the right word, for the Burren's most famous features are the immense platforms of limestone slabs that figure on the jackets of books and travel brochures. Patterned with crevasses, they can be treacherous to the unwary. These huge expanses of empty stone vary from pavements that might almost be man-made to wide piles of rubble, and there are patches of them throughout the Burren, sometimes noisily attended by tourist coaches and hiking parties, more often weirdly silent. The Irish name for the region, An Boireann, means simply "a stony place", and probably the most famous quotation about it comes from the Cromwellian general Edmund Ludlow, who said it had "not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him". Summit fever Send out the speedboat, we need more champagne! This is karst country, akin to the limestone highlands of Slovenia or the Mendip hills of Somerset, riddled with caves and potholes, sparse of foliage, conducive to poetic legend. It has its own jargon - the big slabs themselves are called clints, the cracks between are grykes, and the big boulders that stand here and there, left behind when the ice of the Ice Age melted, are properly known as erratics. There is a pub in the middle of the Burren, called Cassidy's, which overlooks a wide green declivity: it seems a kindly pastoral prospect but is really a geological hiccup called a turlough, and every now and then water floods into it from hidden springs, turning it in a matter of hours into a lake. That's the stuff Burren legends are made of, like the cave in the north they call the Cave of the Wild Horses, because once upon a time a herd of mustangs suddenly emerged from it and laid waste to the country around. But it is not all turloughs, caverns and grykes, because all over this place of secrets a sweet sub-alpine flora flourishes. Everywhere, subtle touches of colour, in between the sterile rocks, show you where the gentians lurk, or the wild orchids, Lady's Smock, milkwort and irises and honeysuckles. The Burren is like one vast botanical rock garden but infinitely subtler than most, and minus all labels. There are wild goats about, too, and pine martens, seals in the sea, kestrels in the air, and in some of the waters a kind of water-beetle so rare it has been found only at five sites on earth - one in Sweden, the other four here. . . . There are also walls, miles and miles of walls. The place is criss-crossed with dry-stone walls, on flat ground as on hillsides, walls of such complex fascination that they amount to a kind of composite art form. Where do all the Burren walls go? Where do they start? How old are they? What are they for? They may be just piled together any-old-how, they may be carefully patterned, and they have been lovingly analysed by scholars and artists alike. Some are age-old, some were probably piled together by a farmer's bulldozer the week before last, and they are a constant reminder that the Burren, far from being a desert or a wilderness, has been the home of humanity for longer than history. The place is instinct with human allusions, often curious, sometimes unique, from the bones of the 33 people buried beneath the Poulnabrone dolmen to the shades of the German U-boat crews who, locals say, came ashore during the second world war to draw water from the holy well of Gleninagh. There are supposed to be only about 1,700 people living permanently today in the Barony (yes, the Barony!) of the Burren; many thousands, though, have lived and worked there, from the Stone Age until now and, almost into modern times, they were governed by the local clans and chieftains, O'Louchlins, O'Connors, O'Briens, living by their own immemorial laws, honouring their own bardic traditions. Since then, famines, wars, evictions and economics have all conspired to lay waste to the Burren's population but not to destroy its sense of continuity. Those ageless walls help, of course, and so do the countless miscellaneous lumps of masonry, once tower houses, villages, shrines, monasteries or churches, which hauntingly litter this countryside. Customs and allusions die hard here. On islets off the coast, I am told, the odd farmer still makes a raft of seaweed, and poles it ashore to use as fertiliser. In taverns fiddles, flutes, accordions and whistles still play the old music. Cassidy's, that pub beside beside the turlough, was not always a pub: it was a British army post long ago, and then a station of the Irish garda, and its walls are full of mementos of a man from down the road, Michael Cusack, who was the original of the Citizen, Joyce's anonymous and curmudgeonly character in Ulysses. Christianity came to the Burren at least a thousand years ago and the most substantial of its monuments is the ruined abbey of Corcomroe, near the northern coast. It was founded by Cistercians in the 13th century and is now evocatively isolated in its silent valley but those monks knew what they were doing when they dedicated it to Holy Mary of the Fertile Rock. . . . For, despite tinges of desolation and touches of the forlorn, the Burren has been wonderfully creative - fertile in a wider sense, a sense that needs no rafted seaweed to maintain it. Artists and writers have long been inspired by it, the ancient music has been sustained by it, eccentrics and enthusiasts of every kind have pursued their convictions in a place where the extraordinary is so often the norm. Think of it! The minute village of Kilfenora has its own 10th-century cathedral, and its titular bishop is the Pope. Inside the grykes of the limestone platforms, land winkles live. The glue fungus, I am assured, is almost unique to the Burren, but the dear old slow worm showed up for the first time only in 1971. Tolkien's Gollum, they say, was conceived in a Burren cavern, and the longest free-hanging stalactite ever discovered in Europe hangs in one of them. Many a rare bumble bee frequents this countryside, 70 sorts of snails prefer it. At Lisdoonvarna, they hold an annual mating festival, where young men and women are united under the equivocal blessing of the Burren. So whichever way you leave this place, you will be taking with you, in your mind, a jumble of paradox and peculiarity. If the strangeness mixture has all been a little too rich for you, you can always go home via the Cliffs of Moher, a last astonishment of the Burren. There you may look down the sheer 200 feet of cliffside and see to your relief, far, far below, the very ordinary Atlantic. For information on visiting the Burren, see and Read more here

Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson">Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson
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Inis Meáin, through the peephole, 1973

Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland. 1973 from Brendan F. on Vimeo.

A short film on life in Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) in the early 1970's. Inishmaan (meaning "middle island") is the middle of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. It is part of County Galway in the province of Connacht.

Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland 1973

Aileen's is the perfect wave

surf_Aileens.jpgLORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent The Irish Times

IT IS a magnet for surfers, a nightmare for rescue agencies, and now it has attracted the attention of NUI Galway (NUIG) researchers.

A team of geoscientists at NUIG have found that north Clare's infamous surf break, Aileen's, is the nearest thing to the "perfect wave".

What's more, the NUIG team has applied computer modelling and physical analysis to determine how Aileen's regularly reaches wave heights of over nine metres (29.5 feet). National seabed survey data shows the full extent of the jagged shallow rocky reef that helps to create it.

Aileen's, which breaks below the 200-metre-high Cliffs of Moher in north Clare some four kilometres southwest of Doolin, has become a key location on the world surfing map, and was captured in the award-winning Waveriders film documentary by Joel Conroy in 2008.

At last the west awakes to broadband

Despite criticisms, the roll-out of the National Broadband Scheme is providing vital business links in remote areas, writes SUZANNE LYNCH 

FOR SEÁN O'Flannagáin broadband access is more than simply a luxury. The former investment banker left Merrill Lynch earlier this year to set up a small investment management firm, Kinsale Capital Management. Based between Dublin and Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands off the west coast, O'Flannagáin depends on high-speed internet access to successfully run his business.

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Op-Ed Contributor
"Well, the heart's a wonder," says Pegeen Mike in John Millington Synge's comedy "The Playboy of the Western World." It was a sentiment first articulated by Patrick's converts, who put down their weapons and took up their pens. They copied out the great Greco-Roman books, many of which they didn't really understand, thus saving in its purest form most of the classical library.

Brian Cronin

No doubt, several reasons could be proffered. But for me one answer stands out. Long, long ago the Irish pulled off a remarkable feat: They saved the books of the Western world and left them as gifts for all humanity.

True enough, the Irish were unlikely candidates for the job. Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.

more after the jump

How Many "Greats" in Obama's Irish Grandfather?

President Barack Obama walks with Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., after a Friends of Ireland luncheon for St. Patrick's Day, on Capitol Hill, March 17, 2010.

(Credit: AP)

Updated 8:45 p.m. ET

It's genealogy be damned on St. Patrick's Day - even at the White House. Every president claims to have at least a small branch of his family tree than can be traced to Ireland.

Again this year, President Obama trumpeted his bit of Irish blood from his mother's side, though he added a couple of "greats" to his description.

"I believe it was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather," he said at Speaker Pelosi's Friends of Ireland Luncheon today in the Capitol.

But that's two "greats" more than the far-removed Irish relative he referred to on St. Patrick's Day a year ago as "my great-great-great grandfather."

St. Patrick's Day With the Irish and the Jews

mic_moloney.jpegAboveMick Maloney's new album recreates music from the nearly forgotten era
 of collaboration between Jewish and Irish songwriters in pre-World War New York

By Sarah Litvin, The Forward

The first time Mick Moloney visited America, he fell in love with a library. "God almighty!" Moloney said when remembering it in a 1993 interview with Steve Winick of Dirty Linen magazine. "I couldn't leave it. I used to stay up all night reading these books." The library belonged to Kenny Goldstein, then chair of the University of Pennsylvania Folklore and Folklife Department. After enticing Moloney back to the States in 1972 to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania's folklore program, Goldstein served as Moloney's mentor, advocate, and friend, guiding him to international acclaim as a folklorist and musician. Thirty-six years after meeting Goldstein, Moloney noticed a trend: ?
Nearly all the significant partnerships I've had with people professionally have been with Jewish people."
Now read on after the jump


After a month in Kosovo, the Unofficial Embassy has shut up shop and moved home. The money ran dry and the gig was up. The ambassadors said ciao to the newest country in the world with moist eyes and trembling lips. We had enough laughs for a lifetime but we also learned some valuable lessons about diplomacy that we'd like to share with the rest of you not fortunate enough to have had your own embassy.

Lndon_bound.jpgby Peggy Hernon

The wind blew me in the door of Inis Mór Airport this Saturday morning, a cold east wind that sprayed fine sand in ahead of me and fluttered the notices on the bulletin board. It feels like it's been January since 1962 and the wind has been blowing even longer. Coming to work this morning through a dim, windswept landscape, it struck me the island could be a location for a science fiction movie set either in the distant past or the distant future- so old it's new. That, however, does not apply to Inis Mor Airport which is just old. And draughty. And full of ooky little corners that fill up with piles of fine sand when the wind is from the east. The crewmen were already at them with brooms. 

Peggy Hernon has written a wonderful collection of short stories chronicling her experience working with Aer Arann Islands and life in Connemara. Pggy is a member of the Ground Operations staff at Inis Mor Airport. She was born in the Bronx in New York, attended NYU and worked on Wall street for 18 years. She moved  to Inis Mor in 1990 where she married Micheal Hernon, Inis Mor Airport Manager and has been living on the island ever since.

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