Irish Update: Notes on the trip to the Gweedore Parish in Donegal

This update is mostly about the trip to Ireland, but before jumping into that, I wanted to share that the programs are now underway. We had our instructor training and planning meeting yesterday in Stari Brod, Croatia and we are excited to start work next Wednesday with our first group of the season. Vanja and Josipa Kožina and Maya Sertić will lead the trips in Stari Brod, while Marko Knezević and I will run the coastal Programs from Biograd na Moru. 

Trip report

The trip to Ireland had several purposes. To see some of the most remote islands in Ireland, learn about the traditional boats and the state of wooden boatbuilding in the most northern county. Also, to learn about my history and where my grandfather was from and get a feel for the rugged landscape of these lands and waters. 

Visit to Tory island

We came to the ferry on an isolated pier, Mahergallon is longer and more fortified than others with a long windswept beach. It seemed that we were the only passengers till the boat was about to take off and a few more jumped on. I chose this day because of the weather. The wind the day before and the day after were 25+ and today is 10-15 with 6 foot swell, a good day. There was light rain breaking at each cloud not enough to get you wet just to keep your hood on as it licks your face. 

On shore we met some kids at the school and Liam played with them. I ask about boat building and one of the parents says we should go meet Babbie Dugan. He is a gem, mid 70s, big smile, talks very fast, but in a mix of english and Irish. I have had this experience before with Captain Gruje from Komiža. Great story teller but mixes dialect in so you are not sure of every third or fourth word, but you know when to laugh. This past winter Babbie built a Curragh with a teacher from the school so his craft is still going and he would love to build another this time maybe with students.  

When he was a kid, he used to do trips with sailing boats peat for burning. They didn’t have bags, they just put them in the boat. He and his brothers built a 38’ fishing boat and fished the whole Irish coast. He said in those days it was dangerous and it was not a good idea to put all the family in one boat because many boats were lost. He said they didn’t have a choice, they were the crew and the builders. 

The year round population is 130-160 summer is over 200. There are four boat builders left on the island. The Tory Curragh has a keel with help to keep it tracking well and the other curragh are landed on the beach. In Tory there are no beaches, only rocks so the keel is a plus.  

Galway curragh has a sharp rise and the bows are lifted. I always thought that was for big seas Babbie told me that was so when the boats hit the beach they don’t break. The Tory curragh have keels full bow that is for the seas. They were used to carry passengers and goods from the big boats on to the island. 

A visit from former students

While in Bunbeg two former AMI students made their way to the Donegal coast to meet up and catch up after many years. Zelko and his brother Drazen moved to Ireland after finishing high school. They are now 22 and 24 years old and work as a team installing and updating communications equipment. They have their own vehicle and work independently around Ireland. Zelko did several trips including the Peace River Odyssey 2016 and his brother joined as well for the Geographic Storytelling Program where we used 3D maps of the island to talk with the elder about the history of the land and sea in the Kornati Islands. 

It was great to see them. Since the weather was a bit rough for getting out on boats as storm Allex was off shore, I thought it would be good to climb Errigal. Errigal is a mountain that looms over the coast like a watch tower and has many tales and history going back to ancient times.  The climb was tough but even Liam was able to get up. I think mostly because he was trying to impress the boys. 

~Bonus episode~

Waiting for the bus to Bunbeg, Donegal in front of the Hugh Lane gallery Dublin, Myself and my five year old son Liam. 

Smattering of aged folks and a few young people about ten to twelve total. A dad with two kids. I thought he kind of looks like my Uncle Joe, I guess returning to the place my grandfather will make you think you are related to everyone. We do seem a bit out of place. Not that they all seem rugged but there is a certain far away aire about, which obviously we don’t have. 

Time passes, No one talks.

An old woman humming a tune and tapping her foot to a song that is obviously playing in her head. I am sure it must be a jig or a reel by the way her foot is tapping.

I look up from my notes, and the old lady says,  “I wonder what happened.” 

“He’s only two mins late.,”I say.

“Well, He has never been late in 50 years,” as if she knows the driver. 

A younger lady standing next to her starts humming a tune. One guy who overhears our conversation calls the bus company a minute later he informs the group the bus has broken down and they will call back with an arrival time.

“I knew it,” she said. “I knew something.”  

The inquiry: the old lady asks questions, Why are we going to Donegal, How long will you stay? When were you there last? I told her we will go to visit my relatives and my grandfather was from Brinlack. She seems pleased that we are not just tourists. She says her Name is Agnes McBride, from Derrybeg, the next village over from where we will be staying.  After a few minutes the bus company called the guy back and let everybody know the bus will come at 12:30. Two hours later we all come back as old friends and get on the bus to Donegal. After four and a half hours we arrive in Bunbeg and Agnes is the only one left on the bus. She wishes us well, as we collect bags. A light mist falls. Welcome to Donegal.

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