From the four corners of the globe we came – well, from Dublin, Cork, Clare, Tipp and Kilkenny we came. Seven of us. The ‘Magnificent Seven’? Not quite. The ‘Motley Seven’ more likely: a farmer, a teacher, a banker (hey, someone has to associate with them) an engineer, HSE employee, HR person and one self-employed, most of us never having met before! But thanks to my brother-in-law Shane, the lynch-pin, we would soon become acquainted.
And we came to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands, just off the coast of Clare. Our mission? To drink pints of porter, ponder the meaning of life, and to give our respective partners a well-deserved, and I dare say desired, break from our charming, cloying and at times annoying company (and, yes, I am speaking only for myself here, gentlemen)
Actually we did have a more noble, arty even, reason for being on the island. We came to attend the launch of a photographic exhibition by Ennis based photographer Michael Flanagan who has been coming to Inisheer since 1969. Michael’s exhibition is called ‘Ag teacht is ag imeacht’ – coming and going, a clever and apt title if ever there was one, capturing as it does the coming and going of Michael the photographer and the comings and goings of the people of Inisheer over a period of forty years.
Now an added bonus for us motley crew attending this exhibition was the fact that it was being launched by Mary Kennedy of ‘Nationwide’ fame. In fact, and no offence to you, Michael, we might never have taken the ferry across were it not for Mary. And why? Because the sea was ‘garbh’ (rough) as they say on the island. In fact the sea was madra-garbh or dog-rough. So goddam rough that I class the sailing as one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I am not kidding, folks. I was petrified as humongous waves lashed the sides of the boat (ironically called ‘Tranquillity’) so vehemently that I thought it was going to keel over and empty us, like limp, rag-dolls into the Atlantic. The movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ came to mind, though I didn‘t want it to, and although Joe, whom I had just met, thought I was listening to his life-story, I was secretly saying the rosary and wondering if my will was in order.
I also saw one of our ‘gathering’s’ face literally go green and it took all of his six foot plus manly resolve to keep down the sandwiches and soup we’d had en route in Ollie Hayes’s ‘Obama pub’ in Moneygall. As for myself, well my face may not have turned green but my insides turned fifty shades of green, and more, and I am still wondering how I avoided spewing my innards into the wild and turbulent Atlantic.
But we survived. Obviously. Having decamped in Bernadette’s Shamrock B&B we were soon in Ruairi’s pub cum restaurant in Inisheer gulping pints, ordering grub and getting to know each other, one of our company casually, and jokingly, remarked “I wonder if Mary Kennedy made it over?”, whereupon a head at the table beside us turned and lo and behold there was Mary K in the flesh. Mary coyly smiled; we shyly, and sheepishly smiled back and immediately busied ourselves with our roast beef, shanks of lamb, and fish pie.
As for the opening of the exhibition in Aras Eanna, a wonderful little arts centre and community amenity on the slopes of Inisheer, Mary Kennedy was a ray of sunshine in what was a bleak, miserable evening more suited to the month of November than May. After the formalities, Mary, I have to say, was wonderfully generous and gracious with her time, posing for photographs with every Tom, Dick and Harry, or in our case with: Shane, Pat, John, Joe, Gerry, Ronan and Rory, or Mr. Woe-wee as he became known but that’s another story entirely and I daren’t go there. And so, for a few fleeting moments Mary Kennedy became the ‘centrepiece’ of our little ‘gathering’ and a more charming and delectable ‘centrepiece’ we couldn’t have wished for.
Mary, as it happens, was with her sister Deirdre whom I briefly met – and Lord but I loved her firm and sincere handshake. Deirdre Ní Chinnéide, as I learned from one of our ‘gathering’ who likes to linger a little with the ladies (and there’s nothing wrong with that) informed me that Deirdre is a singer, has a CD out called ‘Celtic Passage’ and lives on Inish Mór, the largest of the Aran islands, where she runs a retreat and healing centre – worth checking out I’m sure and a place where we should perhaps check in to recover from the shenanigans of our ‘gathering’ in Ruairi’s and Tigh Ned’s on the island of Inisheer.