|Day 5: Island #2: Clare Island
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
|The Pirate Queen||Today we're off to the home of Granuaile (Grace O'Malley). We have a hearty breakfast in the morning, courtesy of Becca and her mad cooking skillz. Eggs and beans on toast, with a big glass of OJ and a cup of tea. I buy a newspaper and a liter of water. We go to the tourist office, buy our ferry passes and sit on the steps to wait for the bus to Roonah Quay. Becca snaps a fabulous photo of me glaring at the newspaper and Kegan frowning at his book. The only other passengers are an Italian couple, so I wonder if the ferry is going to be empty. It seems that most people who travel from Roonah Quay to Clare Island don't start from Westport, as the parking lot and the ferry are jammed.|
The ferry is aptly named the "Pirate Queen."
The ride lasts only fifteen minutes, which is less thrilling than the ride to Inishbofin, which we can see to the south. The coastline of County Mayo is rockier and less lushly green than that of Connemara in Galway.
The ferry flies the Jolly Roger, of course.
|Clare Island's pastures are mostly dedicated to sheep farming. Its beaches are not as whitely sandy and undeveloped as Inishbofin's. We walk leisurely around the single-lane road circuit from the quay to the abbey at the center of the island, around past Knockmore mountain and back down to the quay. In an area with no fences, we pass right next to grazing uncanny black-faced sheep, who take little notice of us.|
The graveyard where Granuaile may or may not lie surrounds the abbey. It's quite lovely and overlooks the sea. Although we circle the graveyard several times, we can't find her purported canopied tomb. The abbey is locked, so it's possible that, had we joined a bus tour, we might have been permitted inside or at least been able to get an explanation from the driver. We don't mind too much, anyway.
This sheep treats us to a prolonged opus from its hilltop. I doubt the intent of the discordant baaing was to provoke laughter. Don't quit your day job, Sheepy.
I take Kegan's picture at the top of a set of stairs in a deteriorating portion of the abbey. The proportions of the remaining structure were decidedly from centuries past.
|The abbey graveyard||Grace O'Malley (1530-1603) is one of the few female pirate leaders about whose existence a great deal is known, legendary as her biography seems. Although she lived most of her life either on the sea or in her second husband's castle in County Mayo, it's rumored that she spend her early childhood on Clare Island in her father's domain and that she is buried there. |
Her nickname, "Granuaile," means "bald," because she cut her hair short for utility on voyages. She took command of her father's fleet upon the death of her first husband. She was already a hardened sea-farer, probably a skilled fisherwoman and bargainer, in addition to leading and assisting in battles, both in defense of her family's territory and on piratical raids. Her choice of a second husband was likely driven as much by tactical strategy as it was by love, for it gave her fleet complete control over Clew Bay.
|Her fleet consisted of around twenty vessels, and evidence exists to show that some of these were oared galleys. They were likely the only such vessels in operation on the Irish coast at the time. Her attacks on merchant vessels that ventured into her domain were so successful that they provoked screams of outrage from the English aristocrats who owned them. Technically, the English lords outranked the Irish chieftains of Connaught, but these were among the least obedient of their subjects. She clashed with the English navy as a result, more than once. Although she often won, she was captured at least once and spent some time in Limerick jail.|
When her husband died, she defended her borders valiantly, though the law didn't allow her right to his land. The British landlords of Connaught impounded her fleet. In distress, she appealed to the Queen of England to grant her pardon and clemency, in exchange for which she would pledge her family to defend her lands against enemies of the English crown. She met the Queen at Greenwich Palace in 1593 and won her case. She left her sons to run the fleet, and they succeeded admirably in carrying out her promises to the Queen while retaining a good deal of autonomy and control over their lands.
Summarized from Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates, David Cordingly
|Kegan at the top of the abbey stairs|
|Miniature deltas on the beach near the pier.|
|We've worked up an appetite on the walk, so we eat our sandwiches on the rocks in the harbor and hop around peering into the tide pools. We walk up to the island's hotel to have a beer at the bar and watch a little Gaelic football (Armagh [ar-MAH] vs. Laois [leesh]) before taking the ferry back to Roonagh Quay.|
My face is wind-burned and red, but a nice exhaustion brought on by exercise and salty sea air permeates my limbs. A cup of tea restores me before we go shopping for dinner. Green vegetables, pasta and a couple of bottles of Guinness, followed by a tisane and a hot shower and I'm ready for sleep. Tomorrow we'll be going north into what many consider the last outpost of Irish culture and language: County Donegal. I know I'm right in the middle of it, but each night I go to bed feeling as if the real adventure begins tomorrow.
|The rocky shoreline near the hotel||Kegan and Becca. One last look at Clare.|