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Tales from the wild west

BB at Inishbofin

Cromwell's barracks, Inishbofin

Between Sligo and Galway, on Ireland's wild Atlantic coast, we found beautiful remote anchorages, inspiring windswept landscapes, but few opportunities to go ashore. If settlements are a rarity on the coasts of Co. Mayo and Co. Galway, accessible hostelry can be fairly likened to hens' teeth. So as we rounded the cliffs of Achill Head and headed offshore towards Inishbofin, it was not without a certain gleeful anticipation. For not only does the tiny island's main community possess a pub, it also enjoys a fine reputation for hospitality and live traditional music. 

As we dropped anchor in Inishbofin's lovely natural harbour at the end of a long day's sail, we looked forward to Guinness and hearty food, with the accompaniment of some lively tunes, the warmth of a peat fire and perhaps a rare malt whiskey. 

Alas! We had arrived a couple of days too early for the next live music session which was timed to coincide with a storytelling festival the following weekend. Nevertheless, the food, whiskey and hospitality lived up to expectations. It was interesting to find the pub staffed by a mix of locals and young people of the American Irish diaspora, on a working visit to experience their heritage.

One other facility of Inishbofin that was gratefully received by the kempt among the crew were hot showers, made available to passing yachtsmen and women by a local hotel. It was on a visit to these that I discovered the island's origin myth. Perhaps to enter into the spirit of the forthcoming storytelling jamboree, in its reception, the hotel had mounted a framed account of how the island came into being. The legend tells of how the island - whose Gaelic name Inis Bó Finne means "Island of the White Cow" - was under a spell and of how that spell was broken. 

One day a father and son were out fishing for mackerel and found themselves lost in the mist. In their boat, they had brought with them hot peat to cook some of the fish. While they were preparing their catch they heard birds singing and cattle and sheep as if nearby. They stood up to see where the sounds were coming from, but the boat toppled and the hot sods fell into the water. As the peat splashed into the waves, an island appeared before them. In the distance they could see a beautiful woman driving a white cow towards a lake. The son tried to catch the cow, grabbing hold of its tail – it fell away and turned into seaweed. The father pursued the woman, who threw herself into the lake and as she did so the spell on Inishbofin was broken.

About the author

Paul Taylor

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