THE HANDSTAND

JUNE 2004

some sketches in Inis Meann, Galway, Ireland
The interesting break up of huge cubes of rock on the coasts here give an awesome, even threatening aspect to the island....


There are however few images to find of the thatched houses of the recent past and this house recently had that thatch lascerated by storms. This house was where the relatives of the "Playboy" of the Western World once lived (re. John M,Synge's play), and below is depicted the crevice in which the islanders hid him from the Aranmore police before he was fleeing to safety in America.



Also in the past a solitary hermit once lived in this cell and there is a well nearby and little walled gardens where, perhaps, he grew herbs .





















In relation to religious matters; the island men built a road from the first townland encountered on landing at the pier, this road with a sheltering wall was was a year or so ago almost eradicated, it leads to the ancient churchyard where the chapel built in the earliest centuries of the advent of christianity has some interesting features.



The alterstone is one massive piece of stone that runs the entire width in this small chapel wall and there was possibly a channel beneath it, or gutter. There is also a small peaked window above it. As you can see here the long protruding stones at the ends of the walls imitate the carrying poles of The Ark of the Covenant which these early chapels emulate. The entry door is low and only two and a half feet wide. It is surely one of the oldest examples of its kind in Ireland. There is a gravestone the head of which is cut in three leaves as a trefoil and has a hole in the central shaft which diminishes into a rough point where it once entered the rocks to be supported. It is now thrown over. There is also a well in the vicinity which has an outlet in the field nearby but has its original position of grace as a Holy Well under a large canopy of stone at the base of the palisade of cliffstones near the church. When we found it, it was glittering with bright green gems floating on the water, they turned out to be miniscule green beetles drowning there.
And on the ice-crested heights of Armenia,
And in the valleys of broad Abyssinia,
Still spake the Oracle just as before -
Wouldst thou have peace, leave the world to its obstinacy
Things to their natures and fools to their folly.
Beetles were blind in the ages of yore
..A Song from the Coptic J.Clarence Mangan

The churchyard road was destroyed when the new pier for deep lading was built. Now there is

another churchyard on the sandhills to the east of the pier overlooking the strand between Inish Meann and Inish Oirr, the smallest island, (where in contrast to the other islands Irish with a CoClare accent is spoken).This drawing is of the grave of a woman Saint Cinnhearg which is by a derelict chapel full of weedgrowth near the priest's house in the townland of Baile an Lisin.The Chapel is called Teanpall na Scheacht Mac Ri - the Church of the Kings Seven Sons.
The fields are full of magnificent cows running with calves and there are hundreds of these stone walled fields. Previous to the English occupation of Ireland the island resolved all agricultural matters communally as regards to grazing and materials for food and roof thatching and grain. However during the English occupations life changed; the English wished to break up these communities, and it was decreed that families should allocate fields and build walls which were grant paid to the farmers at 2 per 22 yards of wall. This is the way new walls were built:



Thus miles and miles of small fields were created on the Aran Islands and where those walls spread over the barren rock these fantastic people continued to create fertile fields with extraordinary patience breaking rock surfaces,spreading seaweeds, burning sea weeds that had been harvested and collected for drying in rock temples (no less) of which one remains on the eastern shorelands, and mixing in sand and the sediments full of broken shells that were pounded by storms on the rocks, providing a calcareous material for seeding and manuring

However, the concept of an island commune was never broken and it is the Communal Achievement on Inis Meann that now, having collaborated with the Galway County Council both by work and finance, the Island Council provides all electricity needs from three windmills on the West coast and also the island's natural water supply is supplemented by a watertreatment plant that provides pure water from the sea. I saw this machine, of incredible complexity, the only one in Ireland, a smaller version of those that are used in Saudi Arabia. Seanin Faharta also opened the door of a windmill and we entered but did not climb up a ladder into these elegant organs of the wind. Seanin has a considerable job there as detailed records have to be kept everyday of the combined output of electricity and water and repairs have to be alerted. Indeed as this water is actually a supplement to the island's own spring wells that are piped to huge reservoirs, I question the Galway County Council who, it is said, plan to metre water on this island. If perhaps the manufactured intake from the sea should be metred,why should the houses pay any more than a trifle on that yearly input - otherwise they would be robbed, or paying for their own island resource waters - a blessing of nature.Metreing would be unfair also for those providing Bed and Breakfast or lodgings for the short summer period to modern tourists, whose incredible hygeine regime demands showers, sometimes twice a day, etc.. A use of water that they could never be charged for.


As it is modern life is too attractive for the young, and when the generation of children that is now in their mid thirties left Inis Meann ,( they were "the mental and physical cream of our island people"), the large school population gradually dropped to the present handful of primary school children. The islanders recently secured secondary education premises and pupils were taking their end of term exams while I was there. There is also expertise in language teaching available for large groups of teenagers, that are regularly in residence in accomodation provided for them, for courses of 3-4 weeks length.But if the young people decline to stay how will these advantages so recently undertaken be maintained?


The hay is still cut with the scythe.The local fisherman still make the beautiful timber and canvas curraghs from which they work their lobster and crab traps; a man must stand up in these wildest wave leaping boats to cast out their traps that are marked by bouys.


The very house and domestic properties of the family that housed the first Irish language school, where, among many others, Padraig Pearce, Tomas Mac Donnagh, Eoin MacNeill, William Butler Yeats and Kuno Meyer the German scholar had all been visitors, is still in existence as a small Museum.. There lived the writer John M.Synge who wrote three strong plays from stories he was told by his friends and hosts here. The house is maintained by Treasa Ni Fhatharta who is the grandaughter of John Synge's friend and mentor which can be visted, she has collected photos also and the atmosphere of past times is completely represented, the thick indigo coloured hand-knitted socks hanging over the fire, the red flannel skirts on a hook, the beautiful Lustre Jugs made for jam gleaming on the dresser, the fishing nets in the rafters. Treasa has annecdotes to tell handed down by her father and mother and for a moment the illusion persists that the man himself may be sitting on the bed in the "best" room writing his letters and diaries.






The Poet Dara O Fatharta


Thank you Moira and Seanin Fatharta, Treasa, Dara Beag and all the islanders with whom I had the privilege to speak, who minded not atall that I had not a word of their language. Your enormous St.John's Night fire that was still smoking in the dawn beyond will bring luck on the island blessed with the sally gardens, the lakes. the tawny mosses on the sandhills, the great variety of wild flowers, the sturdy cattle, the sober eyes of the donkeys and the startled calves and goats leaping over the rock cavities. May your weather be kind to you and the grazing thick, the sailors sing in ship-pass and the wind's storm never reckless.....

Jocelyn Braddell, editor.