On Celtic Seas


Sun setting over Inishbofin as we were towed into the harbour

Late afternoon, September 14th, and twelve pilgrims are on board the old mail boat noisily pushing its way through a breezy sea toward St. Colman’s island home, Inishbofin, a few miles off the coast of County Galway… Midway through the voyage a sudden judder from the engines broke the friendly banter of the travellers and we stood in unexpected silence, save for the wash of the sea against the hull and the cry of gulls over head. We were adrift! The boat swayed, gently rising and falling on the rolling green of the sea. “Its run out of Guinness”, a voice called from somewhere near the stern…

Time passed and then on the horizon a boat coming toward us! “We’re just going to get a tow off our neighbour there,” a young crew member called from his vantage point on top the roof of the steering cabin, waving his two-way radio in the direction of the closing vessel. As the boat neared, ropes were flung in our direction. “Mind the wood” an anxious Captain roared as we danced perilously close to our neighbour. A pair of hands reached far over the side and grasped the end of a sea soaked rope… At length we were strung out at a safe distance behind the slightly larger, slightly newer vessel and with a roar of our rescuer’s engine we once more headed for the island.

It had been a day of incidents… During the morning with time on our hands, we crossed the half-mile stretch of sand to the tidal island of Omey by mini-bus, with hopes of finding a buried church. We enquired of a passer by at what time the tide might turn. Assured that there was plenty of time we parked the bus on the edge of the sands and set off on foot across the island. As we walked the tide rose and when we returned to the bus, “Water, almost to the wheels!”

Richard, with shepherds crook in hand and trousers rolled high, walked out into the sea, checking the depth as he went. Gently and in first gear we followed in the minibus. Half way out and with the water well above his knees, Richard confidently confirmed, “It’s okay, I’m getting in the bus, it won’t get any deeper”. The door opened and Richard followed by a swirl of water, climbed in. I didn’t stop: we couldn’t risk the engine stalling. Driving at only a few miles an hour and with eyes fixed on the far bank, we crossed the half mile to the mainland. The relief on reaching the other side…! But there was no time to rest: we had a mail boat to catch!

David Gleed