19th March

The Inhabited Islands of West Cork

‘Islanders have a strong sense of love of place. The island instils it in them, it is felt in the blood. It is a feeling of being at ease with oneself and one’s surroundings. If you have smelled the sea, tasted the ocean in the wind, the salty breeze, it becomes part of you. You don’t want to leave. The mainland is a foreign place, out of harmony with your sense of self.’

These closing remarks by Tony McGettigan in The Inhabited Islands of West Cork resonate throughout the pages, describing everyday life on the seven islands in this study that is beautifully illustrated by photographer and co-author, Francis Twomey.

reviewislands front cover

By their very nature, islands are immediately attractive and enticing, ‘large enough to require effort to get to know yet small enough to allow a satisfying familiarity to be obtained’. Lest the reader be seduced into the notion of idyllic romanticism, island life can be very challenging. Emigration; dependence on declining fish stocks/increasing fishing regulations; cuts in services and grant aid, fall even heavier on communities separated by water and have limited other economic opportunities. Yet in spite of these inherent, practical difficulties, many choose it as their way of life.

It is important for all of us that they do because, in doing so, they keep us aware of, and in touch with, some of the most important, fundamental values of our humanity, self-reliance, community interdependence, oneness with nature'.

In seven sections, the islands of Cape Clear; Sherkin, Heir, Long, Whiddy, Bere and Dursey are explored. We get glimpses into everyday life: children making their daily journey along bohereens that might seldom see traffic; ferry boat operators doubling up in many roles; men and boys equally comfortable on land or water and women making a living from a range of crafts.

We learn of traditions deep rooted in time but remain unchanged, and of events from past centuries that have left indelible marks – not just on the landscape but are now part of an island’s make up. Despite their relatively close proximity to one another, each island has unique characteristics that the authors in words and images have captured.

But common to all is an abiding sense of belonging, of deep rootedness. ‘Island people exemplify this in the way in which they refer to travel to and from their island, invariably they go “out” to the mainland and “in” to their island.’

The authors are in no doubt that once visited, islands leave a permanent mark on your soul. ‘If you have ever watched quietly, the sun rise and the sun set on the island, the light on the ocean flood slowly into fullness and fade gently into darkness, the sweep of the lighthouse beam, regular as a heartbeat, you will know how it seeps into your soul.

'If you have ever heard the music of the sea, the waves breaking murmurously or thunderously, the songs and cries of the birds, the wind sighing or howling, the peace it brings, you will know you will never forget it. If you have experienced the freedom of spirit, the weight lifted from your shoulders, the lightness of being that the island gifts to you, you can never leave it behind you.'


The Inhabited Islands of West Cork

By Francis Twomey and Tony McGettigan

Published by Woodpark Publications

ISBN: 978-0-9557554-2-2

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