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.
The first flight is routing from Inverin in Connemara to Inis Oirr/Inis Mor/Inis Meain and back to Inverin. Four passengers disembarked here at Inis Mor - three from Inverin and one who transferred from Inis Oirr. Three passengers for Inis Meain stayed onboard and I seated my two for Inis Meain and two for Inverin after giving the weight information to the Pilot. We took off two bags from Inverin, three boxes of vetinerary supplies put on for us at Inis Oirr, and put on the bag of wool for Inis Meain. Island ground crews provide accurate counts and weights of what departs from the islands, but it's the Inverin staff who plan the overall numeric jigsaw that is a three-island flight. The pilots keep track of the changes in numbers and weights at each stop on the route and they have the last word about their aircraft's load. If you work at Aer Arann Islands, odds are you're a champ at the Japanese number game, Sudoku. One pilot regularly skates through the Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper in the time it takes me to make a pot of coffee.
Back at the desk doing paperwork I came across a note from the weekday crew who have been doing an airport clean-up to get rid of a year's worth of accumulated junk. A clean-up is a logical chore for the low season, but it's also a tradition of Samhain, the deep winter months of November, December and January in the Celtic calendar. Samhain is the time to get rid of unwanted baggage, including habits and attitudes, in the same way that dead leaves are shed from the trees and swept away by the winter wind. In the course of the clean-up I'm sometimes asked about what to keep and what to dump. The note read: 'See the 5 umbrellas in the back - what do you think??' Underneath, another crewman had written, 'The ugly brolly couldn't get a date'. And a third had added, 'It's obvious these brollies are a couple & a threesome - this is New Ireland!' Rascals.
I'm not sure I have a handle on Old Ireland, never mind the New. But I do know a brand new Irishman is coming home today with his parents on the 1130 flight. Newborn babies, flowers, birthday cakes, glassware, and anything delicate (including granny) always come in on the plane. The new parents, the 7 pound baby and 110 pounds of baby gear were unloaded and reloaded into the family car. It was time for lunch and a look at the newspaper - the headlines lately are more scary than Sci-Fi movies.
Seven of the passengers who arrived on the 1430 flight were oblivious to wind and weather; they're here for a Stag Party. When aircraft EI-CUW departed for Inis Meain to take funeral attendees back to the mainland, I went over to speak to the eighth passenger from the flight who was waiting to be picked up. He told me he will be departing on the 1600, he's come in to take some measurements for a conservatory. 'Conservatory', I mumbled. 'Yes', he said, and went on about styles and colours and double glazing. I caught myself bobbing my head at him like a toy dog in the rear window of a car. He gave me a business card and hopped into his client's jeep. I needed to hear the word 'conservatory'. Like a hinge it opened a door to images of sunlight and pots of daffodils. In one tick 'late January' became 'nearly February'. I trotted back inside to do a little clean-up job of my own.
I took down the Brigidine cross that hangs on the bulletin board behind my desk. Two right angles bound at the center, it was woven out of rushes by an Aran schoolchild, and was a present from my husband on the first day I started work at Inis Mor Airport, February 1, 1996. Besides being my work anniversary, February 1st is layered with meaning in Ireland. It's the festival day of the Celtic goddess Brid, the feast day of the saint and patroness of Ireland, Bridget of Kildare, and it's the first day of Imbolc, Spring in the Celtic calendar. Over time, the myth of the goddess and the legend of the saint have become intertwined and blurred. The goddess Brid is associated with fertility, healing, the hearth and forge; Saint Bridget is the patron of mothers, nurses, and female warriors. 'Female warriors' always brings a smile. I don't know any woman, including myself, who isn't a female warrior at some time or another. I gave the cross a gentle dusting and rehung it in its place between the calendar and the work roster. Set for another year. The airport needs new flower troughs for the front windows and a box ball tree (or four) might be fun. I scribbled a note to the weekday crew: 'I'm planning a Galway shopping trip - need anything?' I can't wait for the replies.
The passengers for the 1600 started to arrive. I wish I could say the weather had changed magically for the better now that it's nearly February, but no, it's as cold, windy and dim as it was this morning. An island family of four checked in. They're headed to a Galway hotel to swim, a birthday treat for the kids. The dancing teacher and the couple who came in this morning arrived on the bus, and with one minute to spare, the conservatory salesman puffed in the door. I gave him a full 100-watt smile in exchange for his ticket. Finals, video, manifest, biro, and I'm out the door into the wind to meet the arriving aircraft.