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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

Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland 1973

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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How the Myth Was Made: Man of Aran


Kate and Peter Faherty with their friend Colin Tom (center), whose parents worked with Flaherty, watch scenes from family life on a battery-powered 9" monitor. Photo by George C. Stoney, Fall 1976


George Stoney is the legendary pioneer of documentary filmmaking and the son of an Aran islander.

An acclaimed professor of film at NYU University, his insightful documentary How the Myth Was Made: A Study of Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran  exploded some misconceptions about America's famous filmmaker.

By going back to interview islanders who took part in the orignal documentary he was able to unravel how Flaherty had played fast an loose with the facts to make his tale of the islanders even more heroic and dramatic.

Now an acclaimed professor of film at NYU University. Stoney, was also director of the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change project and is considered to be the father of public access television. He is also the director numerous documentary films including All My Babies and The Uprising of '34.
 See his speech below on the importance of filmmakers working honestly with their subjects.

Stoney, was director of the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change project and is considered to be the father of public access television. He is also the director numerous documentary films including All My Babies and The Uprising of '34.

now read on after the jump

Headwinds for seaplane to Aran


A SEAPLANE company planning to launch a seaplane service on the Shannon, which will take tourists to the Aran Islands, has run into headwinds and unexpected obstacles.

Harbourair Ireland Ltd lodged three planning application before local authorities in Galway and Clare to allow it to land a seaplane in Lough Derg on the Shannon, Galway city docks and the main harbour serving the Aran Island at Inis Mór.
The service is a joint venture with Harbour Air Malta, which will be supplying expertise and the aircraft, a 14-seater single-engine Otter seaplane.

In a letter to the Department of the Environment, Emelyn Heaps of Harbourair Ltd has demanded that the department issue a letter of retraction over its request that Clare County Council seek an environmental study over the application to establish a seaplane on the Shannon.

The Clare dimension has attracted a large number of local objections, prompting director of Harbourair Ireland Ltd Ronan Connolly to say this month: "There has been total overkill on this. We are not planning to land a jumbo jet. We are talking about a nine- to 12-seater seaplane."

The Department of the Environment is demanding that the council seek a comprehensive environmental study into the plan as "birds are likely to be disturbed and possibly injured by the operation of seaplanes in Mountshannon bay".

However, this has prompted a stinging rebuke from Mr Heaps. In the letter, he is demanding a letter of retraction over the demand.

"I strongly suggest that you carry out an in-house investigation of the productivity of your staff and attempt to stop them from wasting other people's money, time and effort, especially those who are trying to develop tourism."

Mr Heaps said the company was requesting a letter of retraction from the department to include an apology to Clare County Council for the inappropriate and unprecedented request for an environmental impact statement (EIS).

He said Harbourair was appalled by the demand for what is "a walkway and jetty at Mountshannon as it is not within the remit of the planning authorities to give planning for a seaplane operation.

"This decision will be made by the Irish Aviation Department and not any planning authority. The EU directive states that an EIS is required for freshwater marinas for 100-berth plus. It is inconceivable that an EIS should be requested for a single pontoon and walkway."

He added: "Shannon Development and Fáilte Ireland have endorsed this innovative tourism project and while we have spent over two years in its creation, with a sizeable investment of our own, the Department of the Environment's reaction to promoting and creating much-needed tourism and jobs in the region is to seek an EIS.

"If they have concerns on the impact a seaplane may have on fauna and bird life, they should take time in doing a little research on seaplane operation worldwide.

"They would have found the following: there is no recorded incident of a single-engine light aircraft being associated with bird kills - this is a limited occurrence that is associated with jet aircraft.

"River cruisers cause far more noise and river pollutants than a seaplane would ever cause, and more birds are killed on Irish roads every day than are killed in a year by aircraft."

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Stoned Dog Goes Wild on Inis Oirr

On Inis Oírr a dog considers a swim but decides it's a bit on the wild side
Ireland's biggest treasure hunt is apparently here - say the promoters of this online game who tell us that 87 years ago the Clipper MV Rose pulled into Kilronan harbour. Captain O'Connolly's stolen pirate treasure from the caribbean is still unopened, clue ridden memoirs have been discovered, now all you have to do is locate the key and win 10000.00 euros. Find out the fate of Captain O'Connolly and beware of the letters MMXII which will unfold as ...

Aran drivers go electric

x2 electric car.JPG

Aran islanders are getting the opportunity to skip age of petrol fumes. This week got their first glimpse of the electric car that could pave the way for a total transformation of life as they know it.

The first Mega 'e-City' three-door hatchback arrived on Inis Mór on Tuesday for residents to test drive. One of their most pressing questions for the accompanying boffins was if this brainchild of French engineers could conquer the island's notoriously steep hills without the benefit of petrol or diesel.

One thing they know already is that if the car hits its top speed of 64kph they will almost certainly escape the wrath of the law - the speed limit across the three islands is just 60kph.

The electric car, which is about the same size as a Nissan Micra, is one of ten to be rolled out across the three islands as part of a three-year pilot project to see if the wind and ocean can generate enough energy for electricity, heat and transport for a small community.

The project, which is a collaboration between Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, attracted tenders from 18 companies from around Europe.

From January there will be six cars leased to residents of Inis Mór, two to Inis Meain and two to Inis Oirr, with different households chosen for each year of the project.

Interested motorists must apply to the local co-op, Comharchumann Forbartha Árann Teo, to be accepted, but they must have a clean licence and driving history, they must be under 65 and currently drive a fully taxed vehicle.

According to Fiona Smith of (SEI), successful applicants will have to pay a nominal amount for the lease of the car, around €12, a fee for a connection charge point on the outside of their home, which will be around €330, and then the cost of the electricity to run it. That is likely to be no more than €60 for the year.

The electric car consumes 130 units per km, whereas a similarly sized car such as a Peugeot 107 consumes 520 units per km. Motorists are tipped to save up to 80% in fuel costs.

"It really is a much, much more efficient alternative," explained Ms Smith. "This could become an alternative to shipping in fuel, making the island more self reliant and sustainable."

Dara O'Maoildhia, secretary of the energy community on Inis Mór, said his first impressions of the first bright orange 'e-City' were extremely positive.

"It's roomy in the front, there's no sense you're up against the window. But in the back I would say there's room only for two children. It's got electric windows, reversing sensors, it's comfortable enough. I've no doubt people will be interested in it," he told the Connacht Tribune.

Queries put to the engineers by residents during their day-long visit to the island included how long the car would run before it needed charging, how long it would take for a car to be fixed and how many charging devices were necessary on the island.

These are all issues likely to be ironed out before the launch in early January.

The energy committees on the three islands have been pushing for more energy efficient alternatives for some years. Inis Mór now boasts an electric post van, while tourists can now rent electric bikes to explore the island.

"Our vision for the island is to have no requirement for carbon fuel of any kind, no need for coal, petrol or diesel so that homes are heated and cars are run on alternative energy. We pay more for coal and more for a gallon of diesel than anywhere in the country - at the moment diesel is €1.06, whereas on the island it's €1.20," said Mr O'Maoildhia.

He hopes smart meters will be installed in participating houses within the next three years, which will be attached to the side of the fuse box to monitor the electricity going in and out. Windmills may be built in the gardens and any energy generated will be directed by this smart box into the house to be used in the most efficient way.

"The smart meter will direct the electricity to the battery of the car when the price of electricity is low, but when the price is high, it will be dropped into the electricity grid and you can make a fortune. "At least that's the plan," he said.

More at The Connacht Tribune

Irish Tsunami: Myths and Dangers to Aran?

aranisland-doolin.jpegHat tip to:
DICK AHLSTROM Irish Times Science Editor

IT HAS happened before - and it could happen again. Ireland's coastline could be struck by a huge tsunami triggered by any one of a number of events.

"Yes we do have the potential for a tsunami because we have been hit in the past," said Prof Mike Williams of NUI Galway.

Don't start counting down the days just yet, he cautions. It will take a large earthquake, underwater landslide or even an asteroid striking the Atlantic before we see the next big one.

Prof Williams will deliver a talk, Irish Tsunami - Myths and Dangers this evening at the Institute of Technology, Sligo, an event planned as part of Science Week.

He became interested in Irish tsunami events when trying to sort out why so many huge boulders lie perched atop cliffs on our coasts and in places like the Aran Islands.

Clearly they had been tossed there by tsunami or storms. After extensive research he decided on an answer. Some were tossed out of the sea in 1839 on the so called "Night of the Big Wind", he said.

More spectacularly, a massive earthquake in the Gulf of Cadiz off Portugal on November 1st, 1755, kicked up a huge wave that pushed into the Atlantic. It rushed up Galway Bay to carry away people and knock down part of the Spanish Arch. The "Lisbon earthquake" had unexpected consequences, Prof Williams said. "It persuaded the king of Portugal to live in a tent for the rest of his life."

A repeat represents the most likely cause of a tsunami today, Prof Williams said, but would be impossible to predict.

Spielberg.JPGShort answer: Steven Spielberg explored Ireland on a spiritual David Whyte tour, costing a not so spiritual $3,300.

"Zigzagging through the country's natural wonders, Spielberg listened to poetry on jagged cliffs of the Aran Islands, soaked up quiet village life while in the Burren, and toured on a souped-up motorized bike. Along with his wife and teenage son, Spielberg enjoyed the country's natural wonders (not just the rain). They listened to poetry on the jagged cliffs of the Aran Islands, soaked up quiet village life at country homes in the Burren, and did walking and cycling tours. The esteemed director rounded out his trip outside of Dublin before returning to work, mind, soul and body refreshed after the trip."

But read on about the much more interesting David Whyte, a poet who grew up in Yorkshire, England. He studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He has also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world, including treks among the mountains of Nepal. Whyte's poetry reflects a living spirituality and a deep connection to the natural world. He is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, conducting workshops with many American and international companies. David Whyte currently lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

David's tour to the west of Ireland is pitched as a celebration of Ireland's Celtic culture, both traditional and emerging, set around Galway Bay. "It is a unique and intimate experience of Ireland from the inside out," he writes, "Our days are spent in walking pilgrimages into the mountains of Connemara and the Burren."

There are  poetry sessions with David, and an opportunity to spend time with local Irish poet-philosophers, musicians and storytellers.

Wind and tide permitting at Doolin, they visit the Aran Islands and "bicycle to Dun Aengus at the very edge of the ancient Irish world."

David advises that his guests have "both a strong celebrative experience with other participants and an opportunity to spend time alone and meet the locals." The setting on the edge of the village allows for a cohesive community to form as well as a possibility for disappearing into one of the many pubs, cafes or shops on your own.

With the recession coming to an end its time to sign up. Contact Julie by telephone 360.221.1324 or e-mail.

Cost: $3300 (a bargain)

To apply for the trip,  complete the application and health & fitness questionnaire and mail them, together with the $900 deposit, to Julie Quiring, Many Rivers, PO Box 868, Langley, WA 98260

Health & Fitness form

Read more about David Whyte in Ireland  here

This is what the Financial Times has to say about Whyte:

Twenty years ago, David Whyte, a Yorkshire-born poet, was invited by a consultant into the world of business. Ever since, he has made it his mission, through corporate speaking tours and seminars, to help businesses harness the insights and metaphors that poetry can offer to broaden their language, improve interaction within the workplace and stir imaginations.

He has worked with corporations from Boeing to Microsoft and organisations from Nasa to Kaiser Permanente.

He begins with poetry (his own and that of Rilke, Wordsworth, Yeats and many others), and then broadens out into conversation and reflection. "I do everything from 45 minutes to three days," he explains. He recites the poems slowly, repeating lines until he is clear that his point has hit home. He does not work in soundbites, but through a scrupulous precision over language, listening and talking to a group until he is able to articulate an uncomfortable and unspoken truth.

"All these organisations are like Shakespearean plays writ large, with the nobles telling their truths from the podium while the gravediggers are telling it like it really is in the bathroom. And every epoch ends with a lot of blood on the floor," he says.

With non-Anglophone audiences, different material comes into play. "When I'm working with German audiences, I will call on my Rilke and Goethe in the original. I was just in Spain, so I was using a lot of Machado and Neruda, as a way of saying that not everything is going to be interpreted through the Anglo-Saxon mind."

The differences are not limited to repertoire. "In Germany they have great difficulty with anything that smacks of cultism or messianic leadership. You can't talk about leadership in its charismatic forms."

But one constant is that poetry is a language for talking about the nature of managers' work. "One of the great difficulties as you rise up through an organisation is that your prior competencies are exploded and broken apart by the territory you've been promoted into: the field of human identity."

Poetry, for him, is the appropriate tool with which to analyse the conversations that novice managers desperately avoid. "The idea is to get deeply into experiences where they have different images and metaphors to use out of the poetry. A lot of the images will have to do with being lost, with not having the usual bearings, and therefore looking at the world in a different way."

His new book, The Three Marriages*, explores and rejects the notion of work-life balance. Each of us, he says, undertakes three marriages simultaneously: with our partner, with our work and with our self. Trading off the three is fatal. "It's much more accurate to treat these three commitments as three love affairs, in which all the disappointments and reimaginations you have in an ordinary relationship have to take place."

Of the three, he says the hardest is the relationship with oneself because "it's weighted in the mystery of death and our own mortality". Deepening the conversation with oneself is hard. "[The poet] Wallace Stevens - who was a great [company executive] - said, sometimes the truth depends upon a walk around a lake. It's very interesting to ask yourself what the equivalent of that lake is in your life. For some people it's literally switching off the radio in the car on the morning commute, to get a little perspective on what the hell is going on around them."

 *The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self And Relationship, is published by Riverhead.

How to wing it as Gaeilge, by Des Bishop

SAMSO JOURNAL, (It could be Inis meain)

By JOHN TAGLIABUE of The New York Times

SAMSO, Denmark -- The people of this Danish island have seen the future, and it is dim and smells vaguely of straw.

With no traffic lights on the island and few street lights, driving its roads on a cloudless night is like piercing a black cloud. There is one movie theater, few cars and even fewer buses, except for summer, when thousands of tourists multiply the population.

Yet last year, Samso (pronounced SOME-suh) completed a 10-year experiment to see whether it could become energy self-sufficient. The islanders, with generous amounts of aid from mainland Denmark, busily set themselves about erecting wind turbines, installing nonpolluting straw-burning furnaces to heat their sturdy brick houses and placing panels here and there to create electricity from the island's sparse sunshine.

By their own accounts, the islanders have met the goal. For energy experts, the crucial measurement is called energy density, or the amount of energy produced per unit of area, and it should be at least 2 watts for every square meter, or 11 square feet. "We just met it," said Soren Hermansen, the director of the local Energy Academy, a former farmer who is a consultant to the islanders.

In December, when the United Nations-sponsored summit meeting on climate change convenes in Denmark, many of the delegates will be swept out to visit Samso. They will see its successes, but also how high the hurdles are for exporting the model from this little island, a hilly expanse roughly the size of the Bronx.

On a recent visit, Mr. Hermansen recounted, the Egyptian ambassador to Denmark admired all the energy-creating devices the islanders had installed, then asked how many people lived here. When he was told about 4,000, he replied with exasperation, "That's three city blocks in Cairo!" Undaunted, Mr. Hermansen told him, "That's maybe where you should start, not all of Egypt, take one block at a time."

Jorgen Tranberg, 55, agreed. "If there were no straw, we'd have no fuel, but we have straw," he said, sipping coffee on the 250-acre dairy farm where he milks 150 Holsteins. "Everywhere is different," he said. "Norway has waterfalls, we have wind. The cheapest is oil and coal, that's clear." The farmers, he said, used to burn the straw on their fields, polluting the air. Now, they use it to heat their homes.

Counting only the wind turbines on the island, but not those that the islanders have parked offshore in the Kattegat Strait, the island produces just enough electricity for its needs. (With the offshore turbines it can even export some.) However, its heating plants, burning wheat and rye straw grown by its farmers, cover only about 75 percent of the island's heating needs, continuing its reliance on imported oil and gas.

The islanders have been inventive. Mr. Tranberg uses a special pump to extract the heat from his cows' milk, then uses the warmth to heat his house. He has even invested in wind turbines. He purchased one outright for $1.2 million, with a bank loan; it now stands in a row of five just behind his brick farmhouse. He later bought a 50 percent stake in another turbine.

But all that spins is not gold, he soon found out. When a gearbox burned out in one mill three years ago, the repair cost more than $150,000. He did not say how much he makes from selling the electricity.

Energy experts emphasize that it is crucial for the islanders to squeeze energy out of their island without relying heavily on sea-based turbines. Not every region of the world is blessed with an expanse of thousands of miles of ocean at its doorstep.

Please read the full story here

Inter Island passions

SEÁN KELLYof The Irish Times

ISLANDS FOOTBALL: The All-Islands football tournament pits islands from Inis Meain, Co Galway  to Bere Island, Co Cork, against each other.

ON AN ISLAND off the western seaboard, a football match is being played. A wind that could slice bacon whips in off the Atlantic. A Government Minister, clad in flapping white linesman's coat and carrying matching white flag (flapping harder still), tramps the muddy sideline.

To the watching crowd, the sight is unexceptional. The Minister and stand-in linesman is Éamon Ó Cuív. The crowd are all islanders. Ó Cuív knows his constituency. The crowd know the shirtsleeve-rolling necessities of island life.

In this case, a linesman was needed and the Minister was available. Though doubtless not without political cuteness, Ó Cuív did what was necessary. On islands, the DIY ethic pervades, simply because it must.

It was this spirit that led Donal O'Shea, Clare Island development officer, to found the All-Islands Football Tournament (Féile Peil na nOileán) in 1998, without assistance from the GAA. The event has run annually since - once featuring a member of cabinet moonlighting as a match official - and takes place next Friday to Sunday on this year's host island, Inishmore.

The féile draws hundreds of islanders each year, from Arranmore, flanking Donegal, to the outposts beading the Mayo and Galway coastlines, right down to Bere Island, huddled in west Cork's shadow.

This cordiality - lest the reader mistake fellowship for half-heartedness - does not extend to the field of play. On the pitch, the island brethren are as one only in their mutual desire to defeat the other. Matches are played in an atmosphere of flint and sparks.

"Oh, there is fierce rivalry," says Máirtín Ó hIarnain, an Inishmore native and member of the tournament's organising committee. "It'd be worse than county rivalry. In terms of the three Aran Islands, you obviously don't want to lose to your neighbour. Then there's the Galway-Mayo rivalry between the islands from those counties. It's a friendly rivalry, but it can get intense enough at times."

Behind it all - the huff and puff, the cheers and jeers, each point kicked and every pint sunk - the féile is about identity.

"There is a very strong identity," says O'Shea. "If you ask anyone working on the mainland what their address is, they'll give it as the island. Their home is the island. That's where they play their football. There's a very strong, passionate commitment in the competition, which would surpass the spirit you'd get in normal football on the mainland."

Being at a watery remove from the rest of the nation can hone one's sense of place, Ó hIarnain explains.

"When you're on an island, the level of outside influence is very small. Even on the mainland, in a small parish, you could have people filtering through. But when you're divided by water, it's unique, and it gives you a great sense of loyalty to the place."

Many of those who will don their island's colours live on the mainland, returning as regularly as the vagaries of geography, weather and circumstance will allow.

The All-Irelands are starlit. The All-Islands isn't even floodlit. Teams must often race the gathering dark to complete the programme of matches.

Catch the action 

The 12th annual All-Islands Football Tournament takes place next Friday to Sunday on Inishmore. Teams from eight islands - Arranmore, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Clare Island, Inishmore, Inisheer, Inishmaan and Bere Island - will compete in men's and women's competitions. 

Hundreds of islanders are expected to travel to the tournament and, as such, accommodation on Inishmore is extremely limited. Bearing this in mind, visitors are welcome. Aran Island Ferries sails from Rossaveal, 37km west of Galway city, to Inishmore at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 6.30pm each day during September. A boat departs the island for Rossaveal at 8.15am, noon and 5pm. An adult return ticket costs €25, children travel for €13, while the fare for students and pensioners is €20. 

The tournament consists of a round-robin series of matches, commencing at 9am on Saturday and continuing till Saturday evening, with the women's and men's finals played at 11am and noon on Sunday, respectively. 

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When the British tried to invade the Aran Islands

Galway Advertiser, September 24, 2009.

By Kernan Andrews


In December 1920, the British army, then fighting the IRA in the Irish War of Independence, carried out an amphibious raid on Inishmore in the Aran Islands.

The islands had been evacuated by the RIC in July 1920, but the British suspected that they were being used by men 'on the run'. On December 19, Inis Mór was raided, resulting in the capture of two shotguns, two revolvers, and 10 IRA officers. One man who tried to escape was shot.

The raid is one of several fascinating incidents featured in William Sheehan's new book Hearts & Mines: The British 5th Division, Ireland, 1920-1922, published by The Collins Press. It contains original photographs and previously unpublished information. Also included is the British view on famous encounters such as the Partry Ambush and the burning of Ballinlough RIC Barracks.

The book is the final volume of a trilogy based on primary sources that includes British Voices (2005) and Fighting For Dublin (2007). According to the author, the book "will provide readers with the British army perspective on events in Ireland from 1919 to 1921".

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Synge: entre Paris et Inis Meàin

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John Millington Synge ((1871-1909), poète, écrivain et accessoirement musicien, était aussi photographe. Issu de la bourgeoisie protestante irlandaise, il passa une partie de sa vie à voyager pour étudier les arts et la littérature.

En 1897, malade, il décide de vivre entre Paris et Inis Meàn, dans les îles d'Aran. Il y effectue un véritable travail d'ethnologue, sillonnant la campagne avec son appareil-photo, collectant récits et chansons à chacun de ses passages.

En 1907, il publie son livre Les Iles d'Aran, illustré par Jack Butler Yeats. Les photos prises par Synge dans les îles d'Aran entre 1898 et 1902 ne seront rassemblées et publiées qu'en 1971 dans un recueil intitulé My Wallet of Photographs aux éditions Dolmen Press.

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