Inis Tearacht is the triangular peak of land which erupts from the Atlantic a few miles northwest of the Blasket island. It is a very dramatic sight. It houses a significant lighthouse and Europe’s smallest Helipad. Only 30% of scheduled aerial landings actually succeed in landing there. The lighthouse is on the western face of the island and consequently the view of the Tearacht from the Blasket island is a view that nature intended, only at night is it obvious that humanity has a claim there – as the lighthouse light sweeps powerfully across the sky above the horizon.
A year before I was born, in the time when the Tearacht was still maintained by man, not machine, my Mother became one of the very few women to have ever landed on the island. The reason for this was that women were, strictly speaking, not allowed to land there as it was, and still is I suppose, deemed unlucky. I guess the only other women to have landed there were islanders – if any ever did – but who has and who hasn’t been able to land there in the years since the evacuation is impossible to ascertain. Indeed, my Mother’s landing there was not official, planned or organised. It was spontaneous, adventurous and with perhaps a degree of impishness on her part; only a handful of people know she landed there. Perhaps other women have landed there and only a handful know of that too. My Mother’s arrival there was certainly stylish though for she arrived in a traditional curach.
My Mother, Don the American and a Fisherman who lived on the island in those years set off for Inis Tearacht on one of the most beautiful days they had had in recent times. The sea was placid and the air warm. They set off in a curach which had a sail and went along the south eastern side of the island, picking up what little wind they could. They passed the end of the island and sailed between that and the great Cathedral rock-spires of Inis na Bró then headed toward the Tearacht as planned, but the wind dropped and the two men began to row. It was at this point that they decided to tell my Mother something about the island: “ Lesley, women aren’t really allowed to land on the island – so don’t be too surprised if they don’t let you land.” My Mother was not aware of this at all and she thought it careless of them to only mention it now when they were barely a mile from the island!
As the curach arrived by the little quayside they were greeted by two men, both lighthouse keepers, and the men’s reception of the unannounced visitors was a frosty one. They basically wanted all three to leave at once. However, my Mother’s two companions were persuasive with their talk; and told the lighthouse men how they had rowed practically all the way to get there. My Mother kept quiet and let the men talk – and they did for a long time, until finally the lighthouse men talked privately to each other then acquiesced o their landing. My Mother tells me that they seemed like men who had not seen a woman for a very long time – so perhaps rather than being unlucky it was fortuitous of her two companions to have brought her.
My Mother remembers walking on the little paths on the island and feeling very privileged to be there, then they were all shown around the lighthouse and learned from the lighthouse men, how they had one month on and one month off the island, and how there were always two people manning the lighthouse. They were even shown up to the light itself, which revolved around continuously – my Mother remembers having to duck her head to allow the contraption to pass over her head. Then my Mother’s companions went for a walk to explore the highest and most treacherous part of the island while my Mother sunbathed down by the quay.
My Mother had one of her most beautiful swims there by Inis Tearacht, certainly one of her most memorable. She went in on this calmest of calm days and swam freely around the cliffs and the harbour. The lighthouse men must have been quite happy about this: weeks alone on an island with only a seldom sight of a fishing vessel passing in the distance, then one fine day a pretty lady appears and is seen in a bathing costume, sunbathing and then swimming around below them. She swam a good deal but remembers it for a particular reason – she was used to swimming on the Blasket and all around Corca Dhuibhne but here it was different – she could feel the depth below her, it was almost as if she was being pulled down by the very depth of the water where she was – far out into the Atlantic save for this giant rock of the Tearacht.
They spent a whole day on the island then they rowed all the way back, for the wind had gone and the small sail was of no use. Arriving back to the Blasket island their night was spent eating and drinking in the fisherman’s cottage with members of the Haughey family, minus Charles Haughey himself, who had all sailed over from Inis Mhic Uileáin
A true story by Simon Francis Hambrook.