On the Cleggan Ferry, by Mary Lynch Swander
I stood in the little shelter at the Cleggan pier, waiting to get on the boat to Inishbofin Island, my wheelie bag in hand, a rainy mist falling down on my slicker, the hood pulled over my head. Lobster traps were stacked against the seawall and the ferry boat was docking, inching ever closer to landing. Tourists, students, parents pushing babies in strollers and family dogs all pressed together waiting to board. With x-ray vision I scanned through my bag, hoping that I had everything I needed—poetry books to toothpaste. I was off to Inishbofin to teach writing in a summer ecology seminar where I’d been on the faculty for many summers. There was no turning back to Cleggan, no turning back to the States and the landlocked area where I ‘d lived in Iowa.
I loved my yearly trips to Ireland, temporarily leaving behind the heat and humidity and the rich soil of my Iowa garden, soil formed by the decomposition of prairie plants and animals. My land was once the bottom of the sea—now gently rolling farmland that represented the layers of life that had come before me. My neighbor’s plow routinely turned up Indian arrowheads in the field trailing down into the valley. When I weeded my plot, I often thought of all the prehistoric mammals and fish that once inhabited the space that I now call home.
Fossils held the secrets of my Iowa landscape. An outcropping of limestone revealed trilobites and the thought of a once vast expanse of water, the marine anthropods thriving in the Cambrian age, then gradually going extinct. Invertebrate brachiopods, crinoids, cephalopods, corals and bryozoans told of past climates and animal populations deep within their beds. Larger vertebrates like sharks and joint-necked armored fish painted a Devonian seascape.
Then I was one with the fish, shedding my armour. I was on the ferry, heading out into the bay, looking back at the Pier Bar that my uncle had once owned and lost in a poker game, saying good-bye to cousin Oliver’s Pub and B&B where I’d spent the night, dining on a delicious meal of fresh salmon. I hunkered down on a bench on the ferry-- outside where I could feel the fresh sea air hit my face, my eyes gazing into the water. This seascape was alive and I could sense the energy of flippers and fins just beneath the surface of the waves.
“Dolphins! Dolphins!” someone called from the other side of the boat, and I caught a glimpse of a beak dipping into the water.
In the past, I’d relished setting off on this journey to Inishbofin, drinking in the fun and knowledge of the seminar, connecting with the staff and students, hiking the island, visiting more relatives, listening for the corncrake, wading into the tide pools along the shore. But I always tried to savor the ferry trip, the transition from land to sea. On that ride, I lost myself in thoughts of geological time, that realization that one day we will all be extinct. And how do we respond to the idea of non-existence? By embracing movement. Movement in a boat between two continents, between two cultures, two branches of a family, two land and seascapes
I leaned back into the bench and felt the force of the ferry pushing through the pull of the waves.
About the Summer School
The Inishbofin Summer School, an annual pilgrimage for some, a new adventure for others, is Ireland’s longest running environmental summer course, established in 1984. With a focus on Island life, biodiversity, heritage, history, stories and music, the week-long course provides an opportunity to clear the head and be inspired by the natural world around us after another busy school year.
This year’s course will run from the 4th to 8th of July and is a week long exploration of the magical island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Connemara. A multidisciplinary team of storytellers, archaeologists, artists and scientists including botanists, zoologists and marine biologists explore the human and natural history of the island which includes field trips, lectures, workshops and evening events.
The school is approved by the Dept Education and Science as in service for teachers but is open to the public also.
Our goal is to share the diversity of stories that reflect the beauty of the sea, we are doing this by sharing images, stories, art, reviews & interpretation of the beautiful blue ocean we are only discovering.
This blog is to record the adventures , ocean literacy, discoveries , and showcase the hidden beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way.