Journalism: a funny thing, sometimes

Sometimes it’s not writing about political showmanship and skullduggery or economic booms and busts that create good journalism.

Sometimes, it’s the simple quirks of everyday life that make for a good story.

You can imagine my delight in unearthing these two tales of near disaster in Donegal that end happily.

They give new meaning to the term ‘missing people.’

Missing boy (5) found safe – in a hot press on Gola Island

gola island donegal, donegal tourism, gaeltacht tourism,

He almost ‘missed the boat’ 

gaeltacht tourism, gola island, donegal tourism

 

Irish officials designate Donegal’s Gola Island nation’s first nudist holiday resort

Irish officials are soon to designate one of Ireland’s prettiest islands, Gola Island off the northwest coast of Donegal, as location for the nation’s first official nudist holiday resort.

The announcement comes after an exclusive article in one of the county’s leading newspapers.

gola island, gola festival donegal

“Nudism, or naturism as it is often termed, is one of the fastest growing niche segments in the tourism market worldwide and we consider Gola Island a suitable place for such development,” said a spokesperson for the newly-formed Irish Ministry, Roinn na nDaoine Nochta. “This innovative initiative is a creative extension of our highly-successful ‘Oscar Wilde Atlantic Way’ programme, one that will boost tourism revenues over the coming years for the northwest, an economically marginalized region that has not benefited as much as other areas such as Galway, Dublin and Kerry from the rising tide of visitors.”

She added, “With top foreign guests to Ireland being from the US, France and Germany where naturism is well developed, we expect rapid economic benefits. Stripped to its bare essentials, this is extremely positive news for the island.”

According to respected international magazine, ‘Tourism Review,’ (https://www.tourism-review.com/nudism-now-amp-then-news980) nudist tourism is a 440-million-dollar a year industry in the US alone, with the International Naturist Federation having over 2.5 million card-carrying members.

nudist beaches donegal, gola island donegal

Funding for this naturist initiative will be substantial, added a spokesperson for Government Agency, An Roinn um Fhorbairt Mhíchéillí. “With the support of the World Bank and the IMF, an emergency budget of 666 million euro is being aside immediately for a wide range of substructure and superstructure works supporting this island project. We consider this a bare minimum to fully cover cost of materials and manpower necessary for upgrade of facilities. This project will provide gainful employment for construction workers including carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, not to mention masseuses. It will also help redress the unfair balance in island funding nationwide. Under the present system, Donegal islands receive much less than islands in other parts of the country such as Galway.”

The spokesperson added, “Depending on the number of nudist visitors that descend upon Gola, we’ll consider further funding. If numbers rise as quickly as we expect, we may invite experts from Holland to advise on best methods for reclaiming submerged land and extend Gola out to the Three Sisters. That’s if they don’t mind, of course. Naturally, we’d seek their views before beginning such works. As Pagans, at One with Nature, I don’t foresee there’ll be any protest.”

nudism in donegal, nudist tourism, nude beaches in ireland

Views from Gola Island in the future?

Officials from An Roinn um Fhorbairt Mhíchéillí, Roinn na nDaoine Nochta and Aire na Forbartha Craiceáilte are also seeking private investors for the project.

Four officials, two men and two women, visited Gola last weekend for final inspections, including the evaluation of existing accommodation, the cleanliness of offshore water and the suitability of beaches as nude bathing sites.

irish naturist association, gola island donegal
Could cruise liners such as this soon be anchoring off Gola Island?

A horticultural expert from the Irish Parks and Recreation Association and another from the Irish Bird Life Society have been recruited as consultants on the project.

“We are particularly worried about clegs, or horse-flies, which can leave severe red welts on the bodies of unwary victims,” said a government inspector with the newly-formed An Roinn Turasóireachta do Dhaoine Lomnochta. “If they are found to be in abundance on the island, absolute mayhem could result. Quite frankly, it could be a bloody unholy mess.”

The inspector added, “We’re also very concerned about corncrakes, an endangered species. They’re shy birds and we’ll be monitoring their reaction to flocks of naked people. Such trauma could cause their mass migration from Irish shores forever.”

Island households as well as boat owners, especially passenger-carrying ones, are being asked to convert all wooden furnishings to metal. “When it comes to people without clothes, we have to be careful about the dangers from wooden splinters, especially in certain sensitive areas of the body,” said a health and environmental specialist. “Splinteritis is a very dangerous condition, one that can be handed down from generation to generation.”

Naturist Federation, gola island festival,

Could such facilities soon be common on Gola Island?

Gola, spelled ‘Gabhla’ in the Gaeilge language, lies about a mile off the northwest coast of Ireland, a region considered by many to be one of the most picturesque and attractive in the country. It may have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, ‘Treasure Island.’

Electricity connection to the island was installed some years ago but officials are now renovating an underwater cable supplying water as part of a general upgrading of facilities in advance of the naturist initiative taking effect.

Government officials said factors leading to their decision included Gola Island’s close offshore position, easy and convenient access by ferry, its many quiet coves and discreet beaches providing an acceptable level of privacy for both clothed and non-clothed people and, of course, its hot tropical micro-climate.

Other islands under consideration for the major economic boost included Inis Mór in Galway, Rathlin Island in Antrim, Clare Island in Mayo and even the Skellig Islands in Kerry, which gained famed recently as a location for the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie.

nudist beaches donegal, gola island

Naturism: now a popular practice in urban and rural areas.

While realizing the obvious economic benefits locally from the substantial cash injection, elected representatives are assessing the views of Gola islanders on the surprise initiative before making official statements, either for or against.


That’s when I woke from my dream. And into the bright light of reality.

It’s Saturday. It’s the first day of the annual Gola Island Festival. A committee led by Máirín Ui Fhearraigh has put together a wide range of enjoyable activities for both children and adults. Hard-working Sabba Curran, captain of ‘The Cricket,’ is busy ferrying passengers over.

Alas, Irish officials haven’t given the island 666 million euro for a ‘natural development’ or indeed development of any kind. Donegal still remains poor cousin to Galway, Kerry and Dublin when it comes to public funding.

Ah well, at least there’ll be a good bit of craic going on at King Eddie’s wee café.

I urge you. Go along and support this worthy community initiative.

For information on this weekend’s Gola Island festival, contact Máirín at 087 413 4244.

 

Singing lobsters and boxer shorts

A gentleman if ever there was one, Dore man Sabba Curran wore an undisguised look of contentment seated comfortably in the captain’s quarters of ‘The Cricket’ gazing out beyond a sleepy sea to the quaint houses lining the crust of Gola Island.

The Cricket boat to Gola Island, ferry to Gola Island, Donegal islands

Full steam ahead, Captain!

Behind him, a lively group – young and old, locals and tourists – stood on the open deck breathing in deep draughts of fresh warm air under a clear, azure-blue summer sky (no, I’m not color blind, though with the torrential rain we’ve had since it’s hard to believe).

Though barely mid-afternoon, the Gola Ferry Service was already completing its fourth return trip from Maghergallon Pier, having started early Saturday before any of us had even finished our scrambled eggs and scones (okay, okay, maybe just me).

painting classes, painting on the island, Gola painting

Maureen Ferry (l) and colleague prepare for the island painting class.

Meanwhile, the ‘island crew’ of Maureen Ferry, Sheila Gallagher, His Majesty, Eddie Joe Mac Aoidh, the Uncrowned Island King and family and friends, all members of the Gola Island Development Co-op, had finished their stuff.

Gola Island festival, Celtic traditions, pagan traditions in Ireland

Some lead a life of leisure and some gotta work – guess which is which!

A crowd of over a hundred was expected for the annual Gola Island Festival and things had all been put in order. Colorful buntings fluttered in the light breeze, the kettle was on the boil in the wee café (it really should have a name – any suggestions?) and assorted materials for an outdoor painting class were well in hand.

Der Spiegel, New York photographer, Pól Ó Muireasáin, sea-forager

(l to r) Photographer and reporter from New York and Cologne on Gola Island ready to capture the ‘Pól’ moment.

Even the day’s star guest, bearded philosopher, polyglot and sea-forager, Derry-man-cum-transplanted Bunbegian, Pól Ó Muireasáin, was ready and eager to rock ‘n roll. He’d powdered his nose, coiffured his hair and got his bits and bobs together, ready to lead a merry band of Marine Apostles, including Der Spiegel’s correspondent from Cologne and a photographer all the way from the Big Apple, on a hazardous two-hour, search-and find expedition for monsters of the deep among the sand and rocks of the coastal inlets.

And what a delightful day it turned out to be.

visit Gola Island, ferry to Gola Island, Donegal islands

(l to r) His Majesty Gola Island’s King Eddie and cousin Thomas from Aberdeen take a break from playing family catch-up.

King Eddie had a good ole chin-wag with his distant cousin, James Sharkey, now plying his trade in far-off Aberdeen;

Gola island caffee, scones and tea on the island, walking on Gola island

A pretty picture!

a smiling Marie Moloney-Pearson did her thing behind the café counter beside the island’s photo exhibition;

TG4, Irish islands, Irish television,

The Long and Winding Road…..Niall McCaffrey decides to takes a walk.

and boatman-cum-scriptwriter, Niall McCaffrey of TG4 ‘C. U. Burn’ fame, enjoyed a leisurely wander along winding paths (by the way, did you know his family name as Gaeilge is ‘MacEachmharcaigh,’ meaning basically, ‘son of a jockey’).

celebrate your engagement, Hollywood couple, visit the Irish islands

35 years may seem a long time, but it really ain’t, so treasure every moment.

There was also George and Yvonne Adams, a lovely couple from Hollywood (not the Tinseltown variety), who’d first landed on the island 35 years ago to celebrate their engagement and now had returned for a heartwarming taste of nostalgia.

Gola Island Donegal, lobster catching Ireland,

Pól Ó Muireasáin explains to visitors the intricacies of the skeletal-muscular make-up of lobsters.

And to top it all off, there was the rare (the rarer the better) sighting of a shy and reserved Pól the Peacock perched on a stone wall stripping to his nifty boxer shorts singing a German ditty at the top of his voice having just splashed through hell and high water to ensure the life of a young and wayward lobster.

Yes, a most memorable day had by all.

Sea lettuce, sugar kelp and snakelocks anemone: exotic foods of the Gaeltacht islands

Pól Ó Muireasáin’s the kind of guy who’s hard to miss – especially in a quiet, rural place such as Gaoth Dobhair sweeping down to the islands of west Donegal.
He’ll talk to anyone – no-one being above or below his broad radar of interest.
guide tour of Donegal islands

Sea voyaging is filled with danger – Pól explains to participants at the Wild Atlantic Way ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ during an expedition on Gola Island, as he recites the names of those islanders who died engraved on the pier wall. Photo by Sean Hillen

Walking with him from A to B means inevitably stopping off at G, H, K and Z as he meanders this way and that to chat with most men or women who happen to come within his quite well-developed range of vision.

Not that you’d want to miss him anyway cos that’d mean you’d suffer the loss of hearing his colorful, homespun tales about wildlife and ghostly sightings; his abiding interest in the intricacies of the Irish language; his poetic lyricism on the beauty of the local landscape; and his whimsical descriptions about esoteric delicacies he manages to find hidden along nearby shorelines.  
Sea lettuce, sugar kelp and snakelocks anemone – these are just some of the lesser-known foods uncovered on the solo ‘search-and-find’ missions that Pól Ó, a committed, skilful ‘sea forager,’ conducts around the islands of the west Donegal Gaeltacht.
Sea lettuce, sugar kelp, snakelocks

Sea lettuce and snakelocks anemone make for tasty snacks (Photo by Pól Ó Muireasáin)

Wearing waders, a waterproof vest and carrying an aquascope, an underwater viewing device, the exploits of the Derry native now living in Bunbeg and a guest speaker at this weekend’s annual Gola Island Festival (Féile Ghabhla), have now attracted national and international attention, with Der Spiegel, the German national newspaper, despatching a photo-writer team this week to profile him and Raidió na Gaeltachta’s ‘Mo Ghrá Thú’ featuring him in a special.
“There is as much nutritional food underwater than there is above and we haven’t even really begun to understand it,” claims Ó Muireasáin, a youthful-looking 49, who worked for two years as the first Irish language proof-reader in Legal Services at the European Commission when it was granted official status in 2007, before moving to Gaoth Dobhair. “It’s sad when one reads about world food shortages and the lack of a nutritional diet, especially when so much healthy ‘cuisine’ exists in our seas and oceans.”
Sea lettuce, sugar kelp, sea forager, snakelocks anemone

Sea urchins – yummy, yummy! (Photo by Pól Ó Muireasáin)

An island lover, Ó Muireasáin, whose local nickname is  Pól a’Bhicycle, spends much of his time on Gola. In fact, he was the official island guide during the recent Wild Atlantic Way, ‘Ireland Writing Retreat,’ at Teac Jack, which featured former CNN news editor, John DeDakis.
Needing to take time out to contemplate what was important in my life, I went seeking solitude,” he explains. “I wild-camped and developed an avid interest in sea-foraging, enjoying a calm convalescence, observing and listening to nature at close quarters. Doing so helped me appreciate the important things in life – mental and physical health, giving help to others and receiving help in return, smiling and making others smile and having a deep gratitude for simply being alive.”
writing in Donegal, Ireland Writing Retreat, lobster

On the pier at Magheraghallon, Pól explains the difference between male and female lobsters – “See, one is hard and erect,” he says, much to the ladies’ rising curiosity.

As for the obscure foods he finds on his foraging trips, Ó Muireasáin refers to the Atlantic Ocean as “freesupermarket.com,” adding, “All you need to know is which aisles to wander down for whatever type of seafood you want. The Japanese convert sugar kelp into crispy snacks, the Spanish deep-fry snakelocks anemone which they call ‘ortiguillas de mar’ (little sea nettles) in olive oil for a tasty dinner. You can also boil shrimps or prawns with sea lettuce for a nutritious meal or make a fine stew from limpets, not to mention using both types of duileasc – dillisk or creathnach – in a whole range of culinary ways.”
Ireland Writing Retreat, writing courses Donegal, Gola Island

His Excellency King Eddie of Gola (in blue T-shirt) listens attentively as Pól talks about some of his island adventures.

During his sojourns on Gola, near the dilapidated Teach Charlie Uí Fhrighil, the polyglot, fluent in five languages, has undergone a number of intriguing experiences, including ghostly apparitions in the dead of night that sent him scurrying like a madman out of his tent (though where he could scurry to on an isolated island, alone, without a boat or a paddle is beyond me), as well as his sighting of a six-foot conger eel sunbathing off Portacrin Pier. “Experiences I’d hardly get in Brussels,” he said, smiling, recollecting some of his adventures on the ‘high seas.’
Gareth Doherty, Selkie Sailing, Pól Ó Muireasáin’s, Pól Ó Muireasáin

Two seafaring environmentalists (l to r) Pól and Gareth Doherty share a joke on an island pier. (Photo by Sean Hillen)

Ó Muireasáin voices admiration for many local people who’ve befriended him since his arrival in west Donegal, including Gareth Doherty with Selkie Sailing, who organises training in water-sports and eco-tourism trips and has lobbied for greater protection for stranded sea mammals. Ó Muireasáin describes him as a “a committed and deeply knowledgeable environmentalist.”
Both men passionately believe environmental tourism coupled with the rich cultural history of the Gaeltacht can bring strong economic benefits to the marginalized rural area, describing the Donegal islands as a “a paradise of wildlife.”
“There’s dolphins, both bottlenose and Risso’s; otters, porpoises, whales, especially Minke; you’ve even got eels that travel around seven thousand miles from the Sargasso Sea,” said Doherty. “Not to mention diverse birdlife – sandwich and arctic terns, the largest migratory birds in the world; puffins, around two thousand on Tory Island alone, the most westerly of colonies; sand martins, skua, corncrake, as well as manx and sooty shearwaters, which fly about a million miles during their lifetimes.”
fishing in Donegal, Gola Island Ferry, sea foreger

Dinner is served! (Photo by Sean Hillen)

Adds Ó Muireasáin, “There is tremendous potential here for attracting international visitors, especially from landlocked areas of countries such as Germany and the US, but local people need to pull together. They can’t act like islands.”
Ó Muireasáin, who studied Celtic languages and literature at Queens University before completing his Masters in Irish translation studies, teaching at the University of Ulster and working for the Department of the Gaeltacht, also admires Eddie Joe Mac Aoidh, the ‘Uncrowned King’ of Gola (Rí Ghabhla). Eddie, born on the island, has set up a café there to cater for visitors, many of whom travel over on ‘The Cricket,’ a ferry service organised by Captains Sabba Curran and his son, Daniel, of Gola Ferry Service.
Ireland Writing Retreat, John DeDakis, writers in Donegal

Participants at the Wild Atlantic Way ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ with Pól and Captain Sabba Curran (in T-shirt) before embarking on ‘The Cricket’ courtesy of Gola Ferry Service for Gola Island.

They’re all hoping this weekend’s island festival and the promotion in Der Spiegel, RnG and other media outlets will provide a welcome tourism boost and bring greater focus on the traditional Donegal island way of life.
See feature article on page 28 of today’s Donegal News.
Sean Hillen writer Donegal