With its clear water, impressive sea arches, interesting monuments and meandering stone pathways leading to a rustic cafe-cum-information centre, Gola Island is an idyllic, picture-book getaway from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
And if it wasn’t for Captain Sabba Curran and his daily ferry service, few people would be able to enjoy this west Donegal island’s rugged beauty.
Many’s the time, stiff from sitting on a chair in front of a computer, I’ve jumped in my car and driven the ten minutes from my home on the slopes of Bloody Foreland towards Magheragallon Pier near the Gweedore Golf Course to catch Sabba’s regular crossings, greeting an old acquaintance on board or meeting a new friend ‘up from the country’ or from another country altogether.
After a short hike and a refreshing seawater swim if the notion takes me, I head to the Uncrowned King of the Island, Eddie McGee, sup an cupán tae and enjoy his lively raconteurship at one of the outside cafe tables overlooking the back pier near the toppled stones of the old schoolhouse.
So enamoured am I of the island and its quiet, unassuming personality, I included it as a key location in my novel, ‘Pretty Ugly.’
In honor of Sabba, Eddie and the beauty of the island, I penned this short news story for the ‘Donegal News’ this week.
People welcomed the re-launch of the ferryboat service to Gola Island this week following easing of Covid restrictions, with some hailing it as a major boost for tourism.
Captain Sabba Curran, 58, from Dore, began the Gola Island Ferry Service five years ago after he purchased and renovated a 38-foot, 300-horsepower Aquastar, named ‘The Cricket’ (also known as ‘The Love Boat’) with 12-passenger capacity.
“There was a great need for a regular ferry service and as I have a strong interest in boats it was a good match,” said Sabba, who operates his service every day until September, leaving from Magheragallon Pier beside Gweedore Golf Club. “I’m delighted how things have gone so far though I encourage the county council to recognise the island’s tourism potential. It’s been twenty years since the council maintained the roads and the island has only one Portaloo. More are needed, as visitor numbers have increased.”
In addition to individual sightseers, Sabba caters to school groups, as well as hikers, rock-climbers, paddle-surfers, and those attending the island’s festival. Estimates vary but at least several thousand people, including visitors from the US, France and Germany, go to Gola every year. Among island highlights are old schoolhouse ruins, sea arches and monuments to victims of 9/11 and local people aboard the Asgard, used in a gun-running operation for Irish Volunteers in 1914.
Sabba provides other services to the council including transporting the island’s only Portaloo twice a week to the mainland for cleaning. He also brings leftover rubbish to a skip on Magheragallon Pier, thus keeping the island tidy.
Margo and Paul McGinn from Rathcoffey, Kildare, often travel to west Donegal for holidays. “The Gaeltacht region offers some of the best scenery in Ireland, with Gola, ten minutes by ferry from the mainland, a jewel in the crown,” said Margo. “I like seawater swimming and the island has some of the clearest water I’ve ever been in, as well as sandy beaches. We’ve also enjoyed hiking there and have been rewarded with wonderful views. As a tourism destination, it’s greatly underrated.”
Added Eddie McGee, who manages an island information center-cum-cafe, “It’s great the ferry is back running again. Gola is becoming better known, with many Irish people coming for the first time after Covid prevented them travelling abroad.”
Local Sinn Fein Councillor John Seamais O’Fearraigh said, “without the ferry service, the island wouldn’t have developed as it has over the last few years. I will be pushing the council to fund better amenities to support this. I expected road funding this year but it went to three other islands.”
Before discussing the important role Nature can play in setting scene, mood and suspense in creative writing, let me confess a couple of things.
First and foremost, I’m married to someone who in a previous not-too-long-ago era might have been accused of witchcraft, perhaps even tied to a stake and burned on a pyre for her beliefs and her potions – basically for her comprehensive understanding of Nature.
My wife is a medical herbalist. Here is a video of her beloved garden.
Secondly, I am one of those lucky people who happens to live in what I modestly describe – to plagiarise the Carlsberg beer commercial (which was probably plagiarised from somewhere else) – as ‘probably the most beautiful place in the world,’ plum on the picturesque ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ on the northwestern coast of Ireland. A place known as ‘the Forgotten Land.’
As such, it is easier for me than for many other writers to access relevant information on Nature either through what I’ll lovingly call ‘pillow talk.’ Or simply by gazing out my front living-room window across to the forest, over the turf bogs, past the mountains and down to the ocean and the basket of islands that nestle snugly quietly below (what, you don’t believe me – well then, have a look at this.
So, integrating Nature into my novel ‘Pretty Ugly’ was less due to the power of my imagination than the power of my senses, mainly seeing, hearing and smelling. And to a great extent, feeling, using my heart-brain.
That being so, I’d like to share with you some of the instances in which I relied on Nature to help me encourage a certain mood or expectation in my readers.
I hope this will encourage you to enter this edition of the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards (WAWA). It’s a lovely autumn writing challenge. And remember: deadline is coming soon, midnight, Thursday, December 10th.
CURIOSITY AND INTRIGUE
“Ernie turned, moving upwind towards the abandoned houses, the bog moss soft underfoot, brown water oozing out from under his heavy boots with every step. He felt strange, as if he was trespassing on sacred ground, walking a place he didn’t belong to anymore. In the distance, he could see fog approaching, a fluffy gray pillow rolling gently along the sky. He watched it creep silently landward. It was as if the floating mists carried wisps of memory curled in their spidery nets. As if ghosts were coming ashore. Out at sea, in the caesura between waves, an eerie lull lurked. He remembered the wailing winds and the loneliness. He shrugged off the thought. He wouldn’t stay long. A quick check things were fine. He’d promised. Then he’d be gone. He took a folded sheet of paper from his coat and opened it. Two lists were typed neatly on it, one on each side. He scanned the first – ‘Arthropoda – cockroaches, millipedes, termites, earwigs, crab-spiders, grasshoppers, dragonflies.’ He flipped the paper over. ‘Lower Invertebrates – ribbon worms, mussels, anemones, hydra, jellyfish, slugs, limpets, cockles, moss animals, abalone.’
Above him lay a menacing sky. He had to be up at the house before dark. He’d promised Patricia. He fingered the keys in his pocket. He felt trusted but an inexplicable sense of apprehension rushed over him, of events out of his control. Secrets were hard to keep around here.”
“Below, a band of mist stretched across her vision etched with tiny lights blinking like stars indicating the whereabouts of scattered homes among the hills. The silhouetted slopes of Errigal and Muckish mountains loomed around her, their respective pyramid and bread-loaf shapes barely recognizable in the gloom. Beyond lay the endless sea, its constant ebb and flow the sound of a slumbering giant snoring softly, each rhythmic breath, she imagined, blowing a ripple of surf along the surface of the water. The dark humps of Gabhla, Inis Oirthir and Inis Meain islands lay in a disheveled cluster, mismatched jigsaw pieces, their jagged edges like fingers reaching valiantly out to each other.
Trees swayed beside her, their branches waving to and fro maniacally as if delivering a dire warning, ‘Stop, go no further, go back, go back…before…’ She felt goose pimples form on her arms and started to shiver, the damp seeming to enter her very bones. She felt a sudden urge to rush back to the house but when she turned the house had melted into the fog, which had grown denser and was billowing all around her. It seemed as if she had stepped into a limbo, a non-man’s land between the living and the dead. She stopped nervously in her tracks listening, sensing a presence nearby. But there was only the groan of the wind, the smack of raindrops splashing against leaves. She started walking again but felt ever more disoriented in the fog and was forced to stop every few minutes to avoid sliding into the deep ditch that ran along the side of the road.”
“He raised his hand slowly to the thing stretched across his cheek. It felt spongy, string-like. He brushed it off then tried moving his other hand but jolts of excruciating pain shot through him almost making him black out. With sheer willpower he remained conscious staring into the gloom. Within minutes, his eyes began to decipher vague shapes and forms. Stones, rocks, weeds. A desolate terrain bereft of bushes or trees. To his fevered mind, it seemed a futuristic, post-Armageddon world. His eyes fell upon the spongy substance, recognizing it for what it was – a clump of sphagnum moss.
Then realization dawned: he was lying in the middle of a bog. He could feel it under him, soft as if alive, clasping him closer. Thinking back as to how he had got here his mind conjured up a series of fast-moving images as if on a film spool. A woman’s sad face; raised voices; a slammed door; heavy rain; tendrils of fog; screeching brakes; the world turning upside down; pain. Then nothing. Feelings rushed at him snarling like rabid dogs foaming at the mouth – guilt, fear, loneliness, an abject sense of failure.
Feeling a tugging sensation from behind, he turned his head slightly. A thick swathe of mud had encased itself around his legs, just below his waist. It clung to him tenaciously like wet cement. Then he felt the tug again. Was there a reptile below the surface pulling at the cloth of his pants? The sinking sensation made him stiffen but he couldn’t muster the strength to pull himself out. The more movement he made, the more pain he endured, the more he was being sucked in. The viscous mud itself was dragging him slowly downwards into it.”
“Yanking open the door, he strode purposefully outside, the sudden chill making him shiver.
The storm had gotten worse, matching his mood. Clouds as black as ink. Rain pelting down as if heavens’ drains had opened. Fog as thick as cement draped the coastline, blotting out buildings, fields, islands. He could scarcely see his car standing in the driveway. A blustery wind howled around him, plastering his hair in a wet mess against his forehead. Impatient to put miles between him and this brooding place, he twisted the ignition key sharply, stamping down hard on the pedal. The tires squealed, tossing up gravel. He didn’t care. There wasn’t too much he cared for anymore. Past memories, present frustrations, they made for a potent cocktail. He careened out of the driveway, the car slipping and sliding on the muddy ground. Then he was on the steep slope leading down between the bogs, Patricia fading into his past with each passing second.”
“A line of hefty oak trees bordered the road, a battalion of soldiers keeping intruders out of the ancient turf bogs beyond, but these gradually gave way in the glare of the headlights to straggly bushes like war-weary remnants of a bedraggled army in retreat, then to stunted patches of grass and reed. Sturdy drywalls that had defied a thousand storms and the bone-chilling winds sweeping across the Atlantic seemed to retreat now in the glare of his headlight, leaving behind a sullen emptiness, a bitter, forlorn landscape that matched his mood.
Questions rushed at him, tormenting him, reminding him of feelings he thought he’d buried deep inside. It was as if his heart had been ripped from his chest and tossed raw and bleeding into the cold, wetlands around him where it lay inert and shapeless. The mask of hope he’d dared to wear upon entering her home had been torn asunder and cast into the billowing waves below. And the awful, gut-wrenching truth that whatever he’d tried, whatever efforts he’d made, he’d failed, rushed at him, drowning him, sucking his emotions in a downward spiral. Then a sudden realization dawned. It wasn’t Patricia he was hearing. It was the ghost of Maria. Taunting him, blaming him, accusing him of not caring enough to believe in anything. Or was it just himself, refusing to forgive himself for not being there for her? And now, here he was. Running away yet again.”
I was delighted to write this feature piece for the ‘Donegal News’ recently supporting the hard-work, communal spirit and creativity of people in Gaoth Dobhair, Falcarragh and the Rosses in hosting their respective festivals.
For such a small rural area, often there are more diverse cultural activities – dance, theatre, sporting events, concerts, to be name but a few – than in major urban areas.
Delightfully, making choices as to which to attend can be the biggest challenge.
Ignoring doomsayers who said very few would turn out for a protest on a damp Saturday afternoon just before Christmas, organisers of an anti-water-charge protest in Dungloe, Donegal placed trust in the will of the people and deservedly enjoyed even greater success than they expected.
Independent local councilor Michael Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig, Thomas Pringle Independent TD, social activist Brigid O’Donnell and all those organizing the enduring ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ campaign stood on a rise opposite the Garda Station in Dungloe and watched proudly as a lively group of several hundred people marched determinedly through the town centre.
Many wearing decorative Santa hats – some even dressed in the Bearded Fellas’s full bright-red regalia – the marchers called out the names of those TDs who voted in favor of the water charges, including Donegal TDs Joe McHugh and Dinny McGinley, and encouraged everyone to face up to them and not pay.
Pringle said his home had been metered but added that he would not pay the bills when they arrived next year due to their unfairness.
“It is very gratifying to see so many people here so close to Christmas, it bodes well for the success of this campaign,” he said addressing the crowd. “We will fight this throughout the coming year, and the year after if we have to.”
Mac Giolla Easbuig, who has put himself in the forefront of the protest by blocking workmen trying to install the meters locally, said, “Even if they go ahead and install meters, we all have the choice whether to pay or not. Boycott is a long-held tradition in Ireland and by doing that we can frustrate a government that continues to impose unfair taxes, hitting those who can least afford them.”
Starting from Ostan na Rosann, the marchers, young and old alike, with children holding parents’ hands, walked to the top of the main street, past the library, then along to Lidl’s supermarket and back again, before stopping to hear a number of speakers, including O’Donnell, who had called for the protest and who’s birthday it was that same day.
For her efforts, she was greeted by warm applause and an impromptu chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ from all those gathered.
As we move into a New Year, we all nourish the hope of better things ahead. But sometimes hope is not enough. There has to be real discussion and there has to be real action. That’s why my wife and I showed our solidarity and marched with so many other people who turned out on a cold, damp day this past weekend when they could so easily have stayed snug at home beside a warm fire.
In passing so many stealth taxes since it came into power and failing to raise a wealth tax or deal properly with cronyism and the banker-cum-Irish-Water-bonus mentality, the government relied on people’s apathy.
But they severely underestimated the depth of feeling of the electorate and have paid a hefty price for that failure thus far. If opinion polls are anything to go by, they’ll pay an even bigger price when national elections come round again – unless they start doing what they promised to do – to create a more equitable society in Ireland than there has been in generations.
Let’s hope 2015 proves to be a momentous watershed in this regard, and certainly a big improvement over this past year.
Approaching within 30 feet of a minky whale out on the Atlantic takes courage – but such is his concern for the welfare of local marine life that’s exactly what Gareth Doherty did recently.
With the sighting of so many such baleen whales off the northwest Donegal coast over the last few weeks, Doherty, a skilled seaman (he manages Selkie Sailing in Gaoth Dobhair) and knowledgeable environmentalist, realized it would be a prime opportunity to try to identify them and monitor their movements and thus understand better the thriving whale population off Irish coastal waters.
“It is only by recording the twenty-four cetacean species recorded thus far in Irish waters that we can protect them,” he said. “The fact that so many are now visiting us is wonderful news.”
Doherty also believes that greater numbers of such healthy marine animals locally means greater opportunities to both educate people about this vital segment of sea-life and strengthen environmental tourism efforts throughout Donegal.
Here is yet another local cultural tourism-cum-educational project worthy of financial support. Udaras na Gaeltachta, the state-sponsored economic support group in the area, has refused to pay for much-needed equipment for Selkie Sailing.
Readers of this blog and of a series of articles I penned for the Donegal News will remember Gareth for the sterling work he and others did to bring important publicity about the plight of a pod of stranded whales at Ballyness beach in Falcarragh earlier this year.
Not only did Gareth and colleagues highlight the stark inadequacies, both in equipment and training, of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to deal with such incidents (it has since become known that Donegal wildlife officials didn’t even take sample tissue from any of the dead whales to ascertain what may have stranded them and led to their slow suffocation) but they also banded together to organize marine lifesaving training programs for people that continue even now.
Visiting my Bun na Leaca home recently, Gareth said his intention was also to launch a series of educational visits to local schools to make presentations about the importance of marine life around our shores. It is an excellent idea and there seems no more qualified and enthusiastic a person to host such a program than Gareth.
Minke whales grow to about nine meters in length, weigh around 10 tons and can live about 50 years. Their bodies are dark grey to black on the back and lightening to white on the belly and undersides of the flippers. There are often areas of light grey on the flanks, one just above and behind the flippers and the other behind the head. Those in the northern hemisphere usually have a diagonal white band on the upper surface of each flipper. Smallest of the seven great whales, minkes often enter estuaries, bays and inlets and feed around headlands and small islands.
I was shocked to read in a leading Donegal newspaper editorial over the last few days that John McNulty had behaved ‘with dignity’ over his recent Fine Gael botched Senate nomination.
Let’s call a spade a spade.
The last thing Mr. McNulty behaved with was dignity. He condoned the onward march of cronyism and ‘stroke politics’ thus giving his full support to this age-old blight on Irish society.
John McNulty – guilty as charged, complicity to hoodwink. Photo courtesy Independent Newspaper.
Selling Mars bars at a Mace grocery shop in Stranorlar hardly qualifies Mr. McNulty to contribute much, if anything, to the development of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) (unless his business is merely a front for a secret network of art collectors storing priceless Van Gogh’s under the petrol pumps). There are many throughout the country with decades of high-level experience in the arts sector and thus much more qualified than he.
Yet when Fine Gael spin-doctors whispered in his ear they’d pull a few strings and shove him on the (already full) board, thus giving him an easier ride into the Senate, he leapt like a deer in heat, omitting to point out the simple fact that he was completely unqualified for such a key position.
In doing so, the 37-year-old Kilcar man is as guilty as those people – mainly under Fianna Fail’s governing stewardship – who greedily grabbed places on other boards such as FAS and the Central Remedial Clinic and proceeded to claim hefty payments and generous expenses on the backs of struggling tax-payers. (Fianna Fail actually rushed 182 of their members on to public boards in the dying days of its last reign).
It must also be remembered that, far from being a credible Senate nominee, Mr. McNulty failed to even get elected to Donegal County Council having won just over 800 votes in May, less than half of the quota required for the six-seat electoral area. In fact, he finished the race at the rear of the pack at a distant 10th place.
Choosing him shows just how desperate Fine Gael are to shore up its political representation in Donegal, especially with the additional failure of John Curran, its choice for the Udaras board, to get elected to the local council (in great part over his willingness to hand over more than a million euro of tax-payers money to the Catholic nuns to run an addiction center in Falcarragh when there’s already one in Donegal, and after the dead babies scandal in Tuam). With Donegal South-West deputy Dinny McGinley due to retire at the next election, Curran’s failure and now McNulty’s means there’s nobody in place as a successor.
John Curran – until recent local elections, was being groomed as potential successor to TD Dinny McGinley?
Public boards or private clubs?
In a bizarre twist to the tale, Fine Gael Arts Minister Heather Humphreys said in the Dail this week that Mr. McNulty was appointed to the board of IMMA “on the balance of talent and experience.” That’s a joke. The minister then added that she and her party were committed “to using the public appointments procedure in line with the guidelines.” That’s an even bigger joke. It recently emerged that at least two of the six appointees to the Board of the Heritage Council last year were made by her colleague Minister Jimmy Deenihan in contravention of that very same formal application process.
Further, a 2012 report by the Institute of Directors In Ireland on state boards showed concern at the lack of transparency around the appointment process and the lack of consideration given to the skills required to fill them. Since then, board positions have featured on Government department websites and advertised via the Public Appointments Service but some describe this as ‘pure window-dressing’. The McNulty situation, and perhaps the Curran one too, are cases in point.
Plain-speaking (maybe too plain) Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said election to the parliament of a candidate who has withdrawn – as McNulty has done to avoid further embarrassment – would not be good thing for the political process. Duh, really?
Obviously, the only way forward is to make the recruitment process entirely transparent, minimise government involvement in choosing appointees, and actively engage individuals with the appropriate skill set to fulfill these positions.
Fine Gael’s Arts Minister Heather Humphreys in the Dail struggling to deflect accusations of cronyism and stroke politics. Photo courtesy RTE News
No crying over spilled milk
Ultimately, however, we have only ourselves to blame.
Most of those who voted for Fine Gael over Fianna Fail three years ago knew deep in their hearts exactly what they were doing. Being conservative, as we Irish are by virtue of our Catholic upbringing, we voted for one party knowing full well deep down it was little different to the other. Then we deigned to pat ourselves on the back for ‘taking a bold stand.’
What baloney! Ours was nothing less than a cowardly act.
To make matters worse, when we had the chance to regain some degree of pride and do away with a Senate that is, and always has been since the foundation of the state, a complete and utter waste of public money, we declined to follow our instincts and put pen to paper. How could any of us vote for such an anachronistic and discriminatory institution highlighted by the fact that with so many worthy universities and colleges throughout Ireland, only two – Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland – are permitted to have Senators? Not to mention that 11 Senators are simply appointed on the whim of the Taoiseach. No elections, no vote.
Padding expenses? Investigations well underway on shenanigans of Fianna Fail’s Brian O’Domhnaill: Handsome salary as Senator not enough?
Today the Irish Senate, unlike the American one, stands as a perfect model of cronyism and stroke politics, with even appointed party members such as Donegal’s very own Fianna Fáil Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill under investigation for milking the system by duplicating expenses.
We tossed away the opportunity to fling the Senate into the bin of history where it firmly belongs. Let’s not now cry over spilled milk. Like McNulty’s reluctance to apologise publicly for his complicity in attempting to hoodwink us ordinary folk, it’s so undignified.
Below is a more extensive story to the one I wrote for the front page of yesterday’s (Monday) ‘Donegal News’ on the seeming lack of co-ordination, expertise and simple know-how that led to the tragic deaths of a pod of 12 young and adult pilot whales from slow suffocation at Ballyness beach near Falcarragh last week.
Wildlife service and Donegal county officials on whale death watch
One wildlife service official, who declined to be named out of fear his job would be in jeopardy, acknowledged “it was a disgusting situation, terrible decisions were made,” adding “management heads at the service should roll over this debacle.” The official added, however, that calls were made to the IWDG seeking guidance and were not returned. “Where were the experts when we desperately needed them?” the official added. “We could have done with that, a simple phone call back to talk us through what we should do. Even a picture, a video on a smart phone would have helped.”
It is believed internal reports – mainly critical of the overall operation at Ballyness beach – are to be submitted within the next few days to higher levels of national management within the wildlife service. “We have so many lessons to learn for this mess,” one official said.
Referring to two stranded pilot whales – highly-intelligent members of the dolphin family – that were helped back into the water by Gareth Doherty, local environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast with Selkie Sailing in Derrybeg, Berrow wrote: “Gareth, well done with all your efforts on the beach. These whales should have been euthanized after they re-stranded. It is not that difficult. Pentabarbitone or shooting would have been effective. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are seeking a meeting with NPWS to try and establish who is legally responsible for managing these live stranding events. IWDG think it is NPWS. It is simply not good enough to say there was nothing that could be done.”
Tortured whale draws its last breath.
In contrast, Pat Vaughan, a local district conservation officer for the National Parks and Wildlife Service in charge of the stranded whale operation at Ballyness, said during the week that ‘mercy killing’ could not be used as “it is hard to find the drug and no vet has been trained locally to administer it as it requires special skill.” Vaughan acknowledged that no vet was consulted before the decision was made to allow “nature to take its course” and the whales to suffocate. “No vets are trained for this kind of thing here in Donegal,” he said. “No local vets want to be involved in situations like this.”
The Donegal county vet nor any of his associates offered to help deal with the tragic situation. This being the case, with no expert advice on hand, wildlife and environmental officials say it is quite likely some whales were buried alive. “Without the proper training and because the mammals are so large, knowing when they have died is not easy,” one official said. “What might have happened doesn’t bear thinking about. Their agony must have been excruciating.”
The message on the Selkie Facebook left by Berrow – a national expert on marine life who is a full-time lecturer at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and has worked with the British Antarctic Survey and the International Whaling Commission – reflects confusion surrounding the handling of the situation at Ballyness beach. His communication highlights the lack of clear policy on such incidents in Ireland, not only with regard to which organization should be in charge but how to conduct a proper assessment about how the whales should be treated. After founding the IWDG in 1990, Berrow also helped establish the Irish Basking Shark Study Group in 2009.
Environmentalist and wildlife lover, Gareth Doherty, tries to assist struggling whales at Ballyness beach.
A clear SOP (standard operating procedure) for dealing with whale strandings has become ever more important in Donegal as the ‘Ballyness tragedy’ is the 13th such incident in the county this year, not to mention the pod of 32 whales that died in Rutland Island two years ago that were cut up and transported to Cavan for incineration. A minke whale’s body was discovered off Bloody Foreland and left there on the rocks below a cliff to rot for two months and sperm whale was washed up on Magheraroarty beach and died.
“Statutory bodies – health, county officials, the Gardai, the coastguard, the whale and dolphin, wildlife services – we all need to sit down and work out what should be done and by whom in such situations,” said Vaughan, who added, “Our (the wildlife service) remit is just to measure the whales, identify the species and take blood and tissue samples.”
In a further development, the international Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) group, active in over 25 countries globally, said after being contacted that it had provided the IWDG with a formal protocol procedure for cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) strandings. That policy clearly states, “IWDG will normally only consider reflotation after looking at individual circumstances (eg coastal or offshore species, body condition, location etc) and recommends consultation with an experienced veterinarian.”
Outdated protocol? Wildlife service official watches on while whales die slowly from suffocation.
In addition, those in charge at Ballyness could have availed of one the IWDG’s ‘live stranding kits.’ These kits are located in three strategic places around the country and “are designed to cater for animals up to 4m long and contain air mattresses, tarpaulins, veterinary equipment, torches, buckets etc. The pontoons are used for reflotation of larger animals, to about 6m in length, and if necessary, the smaller kits may be used to stabilize these animals while waiting for the pontoons to arrive.” Reports indicate that no such equipment was brought to Ballyness beach nor concerted efforts made to transport the whales back to deeper water. None of these three locations is in Donegal, even though so many whale strandings take place here every year.
Also, while in other parts of Ireland, the coastguard service is used to bring stranded whales out to sea to try to save them, in Donegal last week, the service was not asked to do this. “We follow best practise but bringing them out to sea is a futile exercise,” said Vaughan. “Rules are rules. We have to follow protocol.”
While in other parts of the world people assist in saving stranded whales, (see video of a humpback whale successfully rescued after being beached for 38 hours in Australia), at Ballyness beach wildlife authorities in charge deliberately discouraged people from helping, with one woman who was bathing a dying whale’s eye in saltwater to comfort the mammal was told to leave the scene or she’d be forced to do so.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people who arrived at the scene of the carnage at Ballyness, many of whom came there to help, were left disgusted at what they witnessed, as reflected in letters to the editor printed in local newspapers and on-air radio and television comments. Their concern for better co-ordination and more humane treatment of the mammals, including euthanasia where necessary, is being harnessed in a special petition that has been launched HERE. It is a petition well worth signing.
In a future blog: Toxic waste dumped at sea off Donegal’s coast – hazard to human as well as marine animal health? The inside story.
“These kind of events (‘Goitse go Gaoth Dobhair’ festival and ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat‘) reflect cultural tourism as its best. With a rich tapestry of culture, history and legend in Donegal, the powers that be should be investing heavily in these kinds of activities. Any other place in the world would be delighted to have such a rich background as a platform to promote tourism and the economic benefits it brings.” Jane Gilgun, Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota and participant at the recent writing retreat
International participants at the ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ writing retreat enjoy blue skies and sunshine outside Teac Jack.
From creative writing workshops and authors’ talks to ceildhe dancing, from hillwalking to studying the secrets of lyric writing, from performance of Irish sean–nós singing to learning ‘cúplafocal’as Gaeilge and insights into Celtic mythology – such were some of the experiences of international participants at the inaugural ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held last week in Donegal.
Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí chats with writing retreat guests at Cabaret Craicailte in Teach Hiúdaí Beag.
A host of local people helped guests from three different continents – Australia, America and Europe – immerse themselves in local Irish tradition. They included Eileen Burgess, Divisional Manager of Donegal County Council Cultural Services; Pat Gallagher singer-songwriter and band leader of ‘Goats Don’t Shave’; Mary Nic Phaidin, former school principal and prime organizer of ceildhes in Teac Jack; Noeleen ni Cholla, sean–nós performer and Foras na Gaeilge representative; Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí, RnG broadcaster and founder of the dynamic Cabaret Craicailte; Seamus Doohan, walking guide and local historian; Moya Brennan, singer-songwriter, formerly of Clannad fame; Màirin Ó Fearraigh and Síle ui Ghallchóir, sisters and Gola Island guides; Caitlin Ui Dhuibhir, leader of An Crann Óg music group; Martin Ridge, long-time detective and author with transport provided mainly by Grace Bonner, winner of this year’s ‘Gaelforce’ event (over 40s category).
Noeleen ni Cholla, sings sean-nós and explains to guests about the activities of Foras na Gaeilge.
While most of the creative writing, language, music and dance classes took place inside Teac Jack’s in Glassagh, participants also enjoyed hiking around the base of Lugh’s Mount (Errigal) where they learned about native flora, local history and Celtic legend. Time spent at Leo’s Tavern in Crolly, Teach Hiúdaí Beag in Bunbeg and a day over on Oileán Ghabhla (Gola Island) during the ‘Goitse go Gaoth Dobhair’ festival added to the depth of their overall experience.
Retreat speaker, award-winning author and movie expert, Rachael Kelly, enjoys an informal get-together with Mary NicPhaidin, friends and family in the lobby of Teac Jack.
The next ‘Forgotten Land. Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreattakes place this September. Spread the gospel and help attract more international tourists to your area.
For those unable to attend the week-long ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat, here is a reproduction of a feature story published in Monday’s ‘Donegal News’ indicating some of the many highlights from it.
Donegal’s largest circulation newspaper, Donegal News, focuses Monday’s edition on the ‘Forgotten Land, Remembered Words’ Ireland Writing Retreat.
There are some among us (either through ignorance or greed) who consider Donegal unfit for cultural tourism – but a quick glance at what’s happening right now in the area proves them wrong.
Take, for example, the Slí Cholmcille (Slighe Chaluim Chille) project.
As I started writing this, many people – tourism and community leaders, teachers, retired air-force pilots, sociologists, photographers, authors, solicitors, doctors and academics – were gathered at Óstán Loch Altan, Gortahork, in the scenic northwest of the county, talking enthusiastically about developing Ireland’s very own ‘Santiago Columba’ into a successful cultural tourism pilgrimage project that could attract thousands to both western Scotland and Ireland.
Speakers at the conference air their views as to how the proposed pilgrimage trail could be developed.
Organized by The Islands Book Trust, led by John Randall and ably assisted by the ever-helpful Mairi NicChoinnich, in association with Colmcille Éirinn is Alba and supported by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Foras na Gaeilge, this three-day conference which ended today (Sunday) aims to develop a heritage trail based on the travels and travails of the Celtic mystic, Columba. Such a project could not only inform Irish and foreign visitors about local history, archaeology, folklore and heritage but also create employment and business for hotels, B&Bs, cafes, restaurants, museums and bars alike in the two regions.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to expand our learning and to attract visitors on a significant historical route from south-west Donegal to the Isle of Lewis in north-west Scotland,” said Randall, chairman of the Islands Book Trust.
This united effort is supported by renown authors-cum-academics such as University College Cork’s Máire Herbert (Iona, Kells, and Derry: The History and Hagiography of the Monastic Familia of Columba) and Brian Lacey (Saint Columba: His Life & Legacy).
Renown University of Cork researcher and author Máire Herbert beside the old stone cross on Tory Island with her groundbreaking book on the mystic monk Columba (Colmcille).
With additional speakers such as University of Galway’s Mícheál Ó Dónaill, Calum MacGilleain, Tristan ap Rheinallt and Aidan O’Hara from Scotland, Noel O’Gallchoir from Gaoth Dobhair, Noleen Ni Cholla, Moira Ni Ghallchoir, Maolcholaim Scott, Liam O’Cuinneagain and even the King of Tory Island himself, Patsy Dan MacRuaidhri, the conference comprehensively analyzed the tantalizing persona of Columba from the sociological, archaeological, historical, religious and mythological perspectives. And, more importantly, how interest in the fellow can be turned into a dollars and cents/euros and pennies booster for local tourism.
Brian Lacey, medieval historian and author, informs guests at the Sli Cholmcille conference about Pagan and druidic practices in and around Errigal and Muckish mountains.
The only drawback to an otherwise excellent symposium of speakers was the often poor technics, the out-of-focus projection of some otherwise well-researched multi-media presentations.
But the development of Sli Cholmcille is just the tip of the iceberg.
A quick glance at the local newspapers – the Donegal News and the Donegal Democrat – this weekend alone, shows a rich vein of cultural tourism – including the weekly music seisúns and this summer’s ‘Gaelturas’ initiative at Teach Hiudai Beag; the year-long programme of music and dance at Teac Jack and Leo’s Tavern; the ‘Goitse Gaoth Dobhair’ events in Bunbeg this coming weekend, which emerged from the ‘Dearg le Fearg’ language equality campaign, as well as ‘Luinneog Lunasa’ in the same area; the ‘Swell Festival’ on Arranmore; and ‘FestiFál’ and ‘Evil Eye Festival’ in Falcarragh to name but a few. Other local diverse activities with strong potential range from rock-climbing, wind-surfing and kayaking with Rock agus Roam; horse and pony riding at the Dunlewey Trekking Centre and elsewhere; the craft demonstrations at Ionad Cois Locha; and the educational Walking Donegal, the hill, coast and lake hikes with informed guide, Seamus Doohan; as well as specialty walks such as the ‘Tullaghbegley Heritage Walking Weekend.’
The list is endless.
And that’s not to mention the many literary tourism opportunities based on the art of creative writing.
Antonia Leitner from Carinthia in Austria is not shy to show her love of books and learning at Magheroarty Beach.
With the national initiative ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ now well underway and Donegal an integral part of it, there’s only one thing stopping the cultural tourism momentum that’s building up – a continued reluctance by Údarás na Gaeltachta, the primary economic development organisation in the Gaeltacht – to fund the many projects with serious money not just the few pennies it has been doling out until now to stave off a rising tide of protest.
‘Acupuncture of the body, acupuncture of the earth’ – author Brian Lacey describes a theory he learned from a Slovenian artist.
As many people are now saying, this organisation must host regular, open, community meetings and really listen to what local people – the very people they are there to serve – want in terms of more innovative community development; provide much greater transparency in its spending of an estimated 1.2 billion euro in public money, than it has to date; and an end to kow-towing to political parties and their funders (first Fianna Fail and now Fine Gael) which has resulted in far too much money going into the pockets of a rich elite of developers/builders who make easy profits from building simplistic, unneeded, industrial estates.
A new direction is required and a Catholic Church-run sex, drugs and alcohol addiction center in Falcarragh, with no guarantee of decent local jobs – especially as such a centre already exists in Donegal and research indicates this is sufficient for need – is hardly the panacea for high unemployment and emigration from the area. Some say real investment in local cultural tourism means shelving the proposed investment of three million euro by Údarás in the addiction centre and putting those euro millions into local tourism projects, the one sector a beautiful region like Donegal can benefit widely from, now and in the long-term (if that three million euro is spent on the proposed addiction centre, it spells the end for any real investment in anything else – no other board members of Údarás in other Gaeltachts will vote for any further significant monies for Donegal).
In this regard, it is quite sad to see how much Tory Island has fallen below its full potential – far behind many other attractive island retreats dotted around Ireland. The dismissive attitude of relevant funding authorities – and perhaps the disunity and lack of concerted lobbying and effort by local people (full burden cannot rest solely on the shoulders of one man, King Patsy Dan) – has meant its tourism income has suffered greatly, with accompanying lack of promotion (not even a regular newsletter on events or significant signage on the mainland and on the island itself).
“I am tired of trying to persuade Udaras na Gaeltachta officials to properly fund projects here on Tory Island, their ears are deaf, they simply don’t understand,” said King Patsy Dan MacRuaidhri. “The people here deserve such support. Our ancient and colourful history calls out for it.”
Befriending Royalty. Modern version of the horse-drawn carriage?
It’s make-or-break time for northwest Donegal.
Let’s put an end to the notion that cultural tourism is an unimportant, peripheral activity, the kind of mind-think that Údarás officials are stuck on, and have been for decades. This specialized sector has the potential to provide immense, long-term economic benefits for this hard-hit, hard-pressed part of the county and country, but it requires serious commitment and financial support.
In a future post I will give specific examples from my extensive sojourns in other parts of the world as an international travel writer where cultural tourism has transformed and enlivened a local and often paralyzed economy.
Meanwhile the next post will focus on what precisely various speakers at the conference said about Columba, this larger-than-life monk who seems to defy description, someone about whose background we know very little, either because documents were destroyed by marauding, book-burning Vikings, or were deftly confiscated by church abbots on a precise propaganda campaign.