Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 28 July 2013, Gola Island, Ireland

Stone arch at the end of Gola

Getting Closer to God

The harbour
We woke to a beautiful crisp morning with sunshine and puffy white clouds. We decided to go ashore for a morning exploratory visit. We stopped at the café/tourist information hut on the far side of town and saw photos of inhabitants from around the 1930s before the island was deserted in the 1960s.  This was a special exhibit for the weekend festival.  Decendants are now coming back and restoring the old homesteads.  Very interesting. Marie, the proprietor of the café, told us all about the people, the history and the current happenings.  They’ve laid on water and electricity and built two new piers. Yet, they are having difficulty with conservationists who want everything preserved to protect sensitive species.  The islanders are being forced into making all kinds of concessions to be permitted to restore their ancestral homes.

The Blessed Virgin
We stopped at the Asgard memorial, then walked out to the end of the road where cliffs meet the sea and form a splendid natural sea arch.  What a spot!  Brightly coloured kayaks paddled beneath the arch as we watched.  Alex walked down to get a better vantage point for photographing the arch.  I was content with watching from above.  What a magnificent spot. And the signpost identifying this as the end of Gola was precious.

We sought out the memorial for two Gola Island descendants who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.  As there were no remains, the only way to memorialize them was by a marker.  So the islanders erected a memorial on the spot one of the two men had loved more than any other and had brought his children to visit.  It was an amazingly emotional experience for us.  Having lived nearby in New Jersey and having lived through the disaster, to realize how far reaching its effects were, that such a remote event could affect such a distant community, was a new revelation.  We walked back to town in silent respect. 

A traditional currach
We downloaded email as we waited for the festivities to begin on the pier.  Boat loads of people started arriving from the mainland around 2:30 pm. We went ashore at 3 pm to take part in the Mass.  It was lovely, the way it should always be, under the sky that is God’s home. The priest wore sandals, people sat on rocks and fish boxes, children frolicked on the rocks above and the beach below – it was beautiful.  It was all in Irish and yet, though we did not understand a word (except Hallelujah and Amen), the cadence was entirely familiar.

The entire congregation took Communion, the offerings were a boat (a ketch with jib and jigger to be exact) and a lobster pot, and four young people sang and played string and wind instruments in a very innocent manner. It was powerfully moving in its simplicity. 

The priest then sprinkled Ballygowan on the boats tied up at the pier including our dinghy and sent a blessing Aleria’s way.  So we had finally made it to a blessing of the fleet.  People lingered ashore and chatted amiably with us. It was a magical day to remember for a very long time.

The next day I wrote to a friend, “The difference outdoors is that we are closer to god there than we are to man. Church is a man-made structure to remind us that we serve the men of the church, who created God in man’s image.  Nature reminds us that we serve god, who has much more imagination.” That pretty much sums it up in my mind.
Gathering for mass on the pier

Afterwards, there was a currach rowing demonstration.  They brought out a couple of very narrow and fast racing currachs.  They roped Alex into joining one for a spin.  They thought, “ha, we’ll show the yachtie,” but they didn’t know Alex.  He was a natural oarsman, despite having never before sat in one.  He matched strokes with the other two perfectly as they rowed clear across the Bay in lightning speed.  One turned around to Alex and said, “Sure you’ve done this before.” Alex told him never. “Well then ye are very good at it, a natural like I’d say.” Alex grinned the whole way, then winced the whole night from the strain in his muscles. Worth every second.

Communion for the masses
On our way back to Aleria we stopped a fisherman checking his holding pot near the shore. He sold us two lobsters for €10 each with the proviso not to tell his father.  Mums the word.  We had a feast of lobster, the best we’ve ever had – very meaty with very hard full shells – and salad as the last of the islanders departed and the sun set.

All in all, our day on Gola was the highlight of the trip.  People were so friendly. They all expressed their condolences about Donegal beating Mayo last year, and said, "If we have to be beat by someone, it may as well be Mayo." A kayaker stopped by to talk and videotape our boat with his helmet cam, boaters stopped by just to chat, boaters’ waved enthusiastically and took lots of pictures. The ferry was considerate and slowed down as he passed us, while the people aboard cheered and waved.  We had dressed ship for the occasion and Aleria did look splendid in the harbour.

A thought came to me that day. This was humanity on the brink of distinction.  So glad to be back home.
Abandoned homes being restored

The tourist office and cafe

Asgard Memorial

Lake at the top of the hill

End of Gola

The arch
View from the top

Memorial to two island descendants lost in 9/11

Kayakers transiting under the arch

The road on Gola

The main pier

The anchorage

Alex in his Sunday best

Um, Monk of Iona 

Mass on the pier

Coast Guard in attendance at Mass

Boat and lobster pot offerings  for the blessing

The pier

The choir

Donegal colours...Jimmy is a hero. 

Racing currachs ready for the demonstration

Alex being taken for a ride

Pulling with the best of them

In perfect unison, a natural

Aleria dressed for the blessing

Lobsters fresh from the sea

Daria's happy

Alex is happy

Onyx is happy
The mainland lit up in sunshine

Bye bye sun. What a special day!

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