Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Islay to Cork - Day 13 Part 2 - Inishbofin

After our early morning visit to Inishkea North we motored south for three hours, passing along the way the pointy tip of Achill Head. After rounding the east headland of Inishbofin Island, a turn to starboard lead us to Bofin Harbour, one of the best natural harbours in the west of Ireland. With the aid of several white daymark towers we found a safe passage to the inner harbour.

We dropped anchor off the ruin of a large castle. Known as Cromwell's Barracks, it dates to the 1650s, and was built on the site of an earlier stronghold of Spanish pirates: pirates who were in the habit of stringing a chain barrier across the harbor to trap unwary visitors.

The Cromwell Barracks have a sinister history. Catholic priests, rounded up and accused of treason to the crown were imprisoned here until deportation to the West Indies. At first glance I thought I would make an overland walk to see the castle. But a look at the map showed it was on a tidal island. Besides requiring a hard three miles round trip walk, I was not sure if the tide would be a problem, so I decided not to make the walk. Instead - I do have my priorities - I noticed a sign for the Doonmore Hotel and pub that pointed west. So I made a leisurely walk of 15 minutes in that direction, where I found Susan, one of my fellow passengers, about to order a Guinness. I joined her for a pint.

I have to confess I did not make the walk just to imbibe, but to get a photo of Hjalmar Bjorge anchored in front of the castle.

It was then time to do some seriously fast walking. The old monastic settlement (7th century) founded by St Colman of Lindesfarne, and the 12th century abbey dedicated to him, lay two miles to the east. I only had an hour of shore leave left, and it was a hilly two miles, so when I saw a sign advertising bicycles for rent, I thought that that would be just the ticket. The bicycle hire shop was in the direction I needed to go, but by the time I reached it I was almost at the abbey, so I gave it a pass. A little further on, as I crested a rise in the road, I came upon this beautiful scene.

It was not an easy walk down to the ruin of the church; the rough ground covered with old tombstones lying in grass, rocks, brambles, thistles, and spiky gorse.

Lying below the altar was a balluan stone. I am not sure what these stones were used for, but it looked like a font for holy water - you can see the stone in the next photo. Also seen in the photo is a niche at the base of the gable (right side). This niche was full of skulls well into the late 19th century. A dozen of the skulls were stolen by scientific 'headhunters' in 1890 for use in early anthropological studies (see this page).

There is a holy well here dedicated to St Flannan (as in the Flannan Isles). The map showed it feeding a stream that drains into nearby Church Lough, but I was unable to find it in the rampant vegetation.

I did not have much time left on Inishbofin (which means the island of the white cow), and as I hurried back to the pier I came across a handsome white calf. (See this page for one version of how the island got its name.) It is said an old woman and her white cow appear whenever there is an impending disaster - the last time they were seen was November 8, 2016.

As I neared the harbour I passed this pub at the east end of the harbour. With the brilliant sunshine and blue sea it looked like a Caribbean resort. Unfortunately I did not have time to indulge in another pint.

Tied up at the pier were the two Inishbofin ferries. The regular boat Island Explorer, and if you are in a hurry the Inishbofin fast ferry Island Express.

Before we boarded the inflatable I had a chance to talk to a local about day-trips available for people staying on the island. I asked because one of my desired 'asterisked' isles lay only five miles from Inishbofin: an island known as Ardoilean (High Island). Lying atop this island is an intact 7th century monastery that would be fascinating to see. But, sadly, we would not have time to land there. We had five hours of sailing to find an anchorage for the night, and it was already 4 pm. So I was thinking that in the future I'd stay on Inishbofin for a week or two and possibly charter a boat to High Island.

High Island
What I was told about visiting the island made me appreciate Scotland and its right to roam. I was told the owner of High Island did not want people landing there. But (nod nod, wink wink) he inferred it could be done. I was also told the island is for sale for $1.4 million. It had an appeal: retiring to an isolated island; sleeping in a beehive cell; living off seabirds and fishing from cliffs. But I don't think my wife would go for it. You can see a sales pitch for the island here that has some photos of the monastery.

We had a long voyage ahead of us before calling it a day; all the way to the Aran Isles, a steam of 50 miles. And on the following day we needed to cover another 100 miles to Dingle town. The forecast was bleak, and at Dingle we could wait for a weather window that would allow us to transit the extreme southwest corner of Ireland.

For more on beautiful Inishbofin see this Irish Islands page.

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