Ireland '99: Day Sixteen
Day Sixteen -- September 11th, 1999
We woke up to our last full day
in Ireland to mostly cloudy skies. We both gave up most of our hopes of going
out to the Skelligs for the day. We headed on out and drove to Ballingskellig
just in case they were taking a boat out to at least go around the island. We
managed to get to the pier just in time, and amazingly, they were just about to
take off! We grabbed our stuff in a puff and jumped on the little motorboat that
would take us out to the real boat. (The motorboat was so packed with people
that some of us had to jump in a neighboring ship because we had grounded under
the weight). Joe Roddy, our captain, said he would take us out to the islands,
but gave no guarantee of actually being able to land.
The group of people we were with was the typical tourist motley crew. There was the urban couple from Dublin, a young couple from the US that were rather spoiled, an older American couple – the fellow was an ex-navy man and insisted on giving everyone extraneous facts about sea faring, a friendly older British couple who was going not for the monastic ruins but to see the birds, a local fellow who was leaving his wife and child to make the trip, and a few others that I did not really get a chance to talk with. After the experience, we all kind of bonded – both from the terror and from the beauty.
By terror, I mean the trip out
to the islands. The waves of the North Atlantic as they hit the first land since
originating off the shores of Canada were simply massive. I remember going deep
sea fishing as a kid and the waves did not compare in the least. The ship
literally would be enveloped in the trough of the wave, and we were completely
surrounded by water bearing down on us – not a single mountain of land could
be visible over the waves. Then the next wave would come upon us, and we were
suddenly on top of the world, looking out to far distances, as if we were on a
cliff overlooking the ocean. The boat had to be constantly kept pointed in the
right direction, any time we were the slightest off, you could feel the boat
turn as it crested, making the knuckles of all the people on the boat whiten a
bit more. At each crest, the bow of the boat would go airborne, followed by a
crash as the boat landed over the crest of the wave. For me, that crashing was
actually a source of great relief, as it was the only moment, brief that it was,
when it felt like we were on something solid. It reminded me of the fun
experiments with corn starch and water, where liquid would suddenly become
It was interesting to see the faces of my crewmates as we headed out. Everyone was quite giddy at being able to go out. Some had actually been waiting five days for a boat to go out (the ocean had been stormy for that long) and so they were quite happy with finally being out on the ocean. As we rounded the last land and met the ocean waves full force, the giddiness moved to raw excitement. Then, when the waves kept getting bigger, you could see the smiles slowly slip from the faces and the fingers beginning to grasp onto the smallest of crevaces for support. Joe didn’t pass out life vests – an act that would be unheard of in the States. Then, as the waves continued, you could see the faces grow ashen and white as seasickness kicked in. The ride out took nearly two hours, as going against the waves was quite difficult. For myself, I really wasn’t nervous, although looking back, I should have been. But I must admit, I get pretty seasick. The last half an hour or so, it was all I could do to think over and over: PLEASE let us land! Please let us land! Jenn was on the side of the boat that was being sprayed with salt water with every cresting, and so was crouched over seeing nothing more than her shoelaces for much of the trip.
We eventually made it to the
little Skellig Island, which is entirely covered with birds. The surface of the
craggy island seemed to shimmer with the constant maneuvering of the birds, and
the swarm of them flying around the island kept tricking the eyes’ ability to
focus. Boats are not allowed to land on the island, and thus we just floated in
a relatively calm spit of ocean beside it. I must admit that I was not quite in
a mood to appreciate the beauty.
We then headed out to the main Skellig Island and eventually reached the landing point. Joe told us to still not get our hopes up, and kept playing cat and mouse with the dock in trying to decide whether or not to land. In all, I think we sat there for twenty minutes trying to decide whether or not to dock. It all looked a bit theatrical, but I must admit, the way that the dock was set up, if a significant enough wave came in, the boat would quickly find itself crushed up against a rocky cave, with little hope for anyone to climb ashore. Joe finally risked it and we quickly grabbed onto the tie ropes and secured the boat. The most treacherous part perhaps was the disembarking, with the boat swaying up and down. One of the spoiled Americans actually refused to get off of the boat, but finally did after seeing everyone else succeed. For me, it was all I could do to stop myself from kissing the ground – it felt so very stable! Joe gave us one hour to explore the island.
The island really only has one path
open to the public, and it leads straight up to the monastery. When we were
leaving the island, we looked back and actually saw quite a number of old stairs
leading up from the place where we docked, but they looked quite perilous in
comparison to the public one. We climbed up the stairs as fast as we could,
given the short amount of time Joe was willing to give us. The path there had
the most spectacular views, and with the little Skellig in the distance, was
just perfect. The experience as a whole was a definite success! We had the luck
of the Irish that day!
When we reached the top, there were two “guides” that were employed by the government to watch over the site, assist the tourists, and work on the site as archaeologists. To me, they seemed to be modern day monks. When we arrived, we found them sitting on opposite sides of the monastery, and one was reading a postcard he had just received from their weekly supply ship. They told us that our ship was the only one that made it that day, and the first in many days outside of the supply ship
The monastery was quite beautiful, and we took a bunch of pictures. Time quickly ran out, however, and we rushed down the mountain side to Joe’s boat waiting for us. Dreading the trip back (my stomach finally had gotten back to normal), we clambored on. The return trip, however, was much more pleasant in that a) it was shorter, and b) we could ride the waves in instead of fight against them. It felt like one big surfing trip.
We booked home to Dublin, exhausted and still feeling pretty sick. We stayed at Howth again, received a marvelous crystal from Carol and Miles and headed out to the airport at 4:00 AM. There, we met Dan and Kat and took the same flight over to London. From London, we flew all day (20 hours or so) to get to Houston. In Chicago O'Hare, we made a massive dash across the entire airport to catch our plane -- one the most exhausting all out sprints I have had in recent years. They actually reopened the door to the plane for us, and then had the embarrassing huffing and puffing for the next 15 minutes on an otherwise quite crowd waiting for takeoff (we heated up the cabin from our exhaustion). We embraced Emerson, stayed in Houston for an extra day and then, alas!, we headed back to Portland!
The final last minutes are always written far enough after the fact. But, with Ireland still in my veins, I can say all in all, the trip was incredible. We saw some of the most beautiful things either of us had ever seen and came back wonderfully refreshed. Somewhere there is an island waiting for me, a sky waiting for a wall of fire, and a cliff waiting for the next storm to pound upon it.
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