It was 3 July 1989 and a 23 year old kiwi girl boarded the ferry from Galway to the main island of the Aran group, Inishmore. She was the only passenger and she imagined herself as an intrepid adventurer – the wind was roaring and the Atlantic was at its angry best. It was breathtakingly cold though it was the middle of summer. After tying up the boat, the man on the dock helped her off the ferry. She thanked him and hurried down the steps looking for somewhere to warm up. She headed toward a small group of whitewashed buildings where she fell into an easy conversation with the old man leaving the tiny post office. She was fascinated by his accent – she’d never heard anything like it despite her weeks already in Ireland. He thought she was South African and wouldn’t be convinced otherwise. They shared two fingers in the dark and smoky bar next door and he suggested she take his bicycle to explore the tiny island.
She almost laughed when she saw the bike – it was older than she was by years and though she hadn’t ridden a bicycle since she was a kid, she bravely pushed off and proceeded along the bumpy roadway.
It was a day to remember.
She marvelled at the ancient beauty of the place and stopped often to talk with islanders going about their business. A farmer stripped to his waist and clearing rocks from his field offered to share his lunch with her and she gratefully sat with him on the low stone wall and accepted a slice of soda bread and half his lump of cheese.
They talked while they ate and he told her with pride that every square inch of dirt on the island was created from seaweed and manure over the last 1000 years. His grandfather’s father had moved his family to the island more than 80 years earlier and though his own son was now at university in Dublin studying “the law” , he hoped that one day he might return to the island permanently with his own family. As the shadows lengthened and the sky turned pink, she knew she must end her exploring and head back to the village as the last ferry back to the mainland left each evening just before dark. There was no sign of the old man so she left the bicycle with the woman at the post office.
As the boat pulled away from the dock the young woman looked back at the island and held her hair from her eyes. The sun was setting and she was almost overwhelmed with the sheer joy of being able to travel to places of such raw beauty and to enjoy the simple hospitality of such warm and open hearted people.