To many Irish ears the name Inishmurray may sound strange. It is a small rocky island lying out in the Atlantic about 10 miles off the coast of Sligo. I venture to assert that of all the islands of Ireland it is the most destitute of tourists. It will never be overrun with them, for the Island is almost inaccessible; and granting that there were suitable boating facilities the Island would still remain immune. The reason is simple. There is no accommodation. There are eleven houses on it, all thatched and clean, and their inhabitants - more's the pity - speak English. There are some cows, a few donkeys, one jennet, some fields of potatoes, barley, and grass, and a host of coloured hens and quacking ducks. There are no shops, no rats, no post office, no wireless, no regular church, no residing priest, but it can boast two graveyards and a number of interesting ruins. Such, then, is Inishmurray.
During the summer I saw its outline on a map. It seemed to be lonely lying in the Atlantic without even a brother island in sight. It attracted me, and one evening, with a pack on my back, I came into a little village in County Sligo. I entered a pub, and I said to the barman: 'Could you tell me how I'd get to Inishmurray Island?'
'Well,' said he, 'there's an Islander here and he may be going out this evening...... Heigh, Dan!' he shouted to a small red-faced man who leaned on a far counter, 'here's a gentleman would like to go to the Island.'
The Islander, dressed in a blue jersey and grey trousers, approached, smoking a clay pipe. He looked at me with sad expressionless eyes, but he never spoke. Instead, he ordered two bottles of beer, put them into his pocket, shouldered a sack half full of sugar, and went out. I stood amazed, but the barman told me to follow him, which I did. I kept behind at a respectable distance, and occasionally made noises with my stick on the road, but the Islander never looked behind. We walked like this for about a mile, then we left the road, proceeded along the side of a field, and soon we came to the sea. Here there was nothing to be seen except a boat anchored by a rope to a big stone that lay on the shore. A man moved in the boat when he saw us coming, and jumped ashore. It was then I was noticed. Dan left down the sack, straightened his back, and, looking at me, he laughed and said: 'Sure it's coddin' I thought you were; you're as welcome to the Island as me father or me mother. Step in now, and watch your feet on the lobster pots.' The two men lifted their oars, took off their caps, and crossed themselves in prayer.
Déantús an Phoitín: Poteen Making
A head wind was blowing, and I offered to help at the rowing. With the strong outgoing tide, and with three oars, the boat made headway; so fast were we travelling that Dan turned to his companion and said: 'It's well we brought him. Sure it's the spiritual itself weather we have in the boat.' Whether the compliment was passed to induce me to further effort I do not know, but I was glad when Dan ordered Johnnie 'to give her the cloth.' As the boat sailed along in the gathering darkness Dan talked about politics, business done in Sligo, and the condition of the fishing industry.