Ireland’s Islands: Isolation is a good thing – for now

By Rhoda Twombly, Secretary of ESIN

Natural harbour at Inishlyre

Inishlyre, Co Mayo, Ireland is as perfect a place as you’d get for self-isolation. Small and perfectly formed, we’ve a natural harbour and stunning views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick. As we now have a population of only three, you could say we are isolated all the time and have nothing to get used to during these frightening days. Indeed, life on the island has changed little with the exception of the lack of occasional visitors. Visiting our nearest mainland town (or not) is a different matter.

On our last trip to Westport a fortnight ago, the changes were clear: most of the shops closed, few people on the streets, ample parking at the grocery and little of the usual bonhomie that we so look forward to. Yes, people smiled and called out hellos, but gone were the little bunches of old friends chatting amongst the fruit and veg. So while we went home with ample supplies (except for wholemeal flour which was wiped from the shelves) our final trip before our lock-down wasn’t as full of social rejuvenation as we would have liked. Still, a small price for coming home hopefully virus-free.

Friends from a neighboring island returning home

As we asked our friends not to visit, we have had no problem with visitors to our Island since the Covid-19 outbreak.  Until recently, most of our off shore Islands told a different story with tourists traveling to the Islands daily, many times just for the day. Visitors are not aware of the medical challenges faced by Islanders, especially in this time of pandemic.

They don’t know that even at the best of times Island medical professionals are in short supply and during the summer months it is a real challenge for medics to attend to those needing assistance. If one of these medical professionals is exposed to the virus and has to self-isolate, the Island will be left without medical care.

Only the larger Islands have a resident doctor, not all have a resident nurse and some only have a visiting nurse or doctor. For the most part, the demographic of the Islands is that of an aging population with many vulnerable residents who obviously must avoid exposure.  Additionally, the RNLI cannot transport patients as they cannot afford to lose crew to C-19.

It is easy to see why residents have asked tourists to stay away and have managed to decrease ferry runs to make day-tripping less attractive. This has become more stringent over the past week with some ferry operators carrying only residents. Island residents themselves have agreed to limit their trips to the mainland as they can easily become vectors themselves.

There is naturally huge anxiety surrounding the future of any of the hospitality businesses – or any of the range of Island businesses particularly the small fishers – but we are determined to protect our vulnerable residents as best as we can. Islanders look forward to brighter days ahead. But  life on the Islands will be different and there is a battle ahead. Islanders will have to depend on meitheal (community working together), determination and strong community leadership to come out the other side.

Some bits of brighter news: Oileáin Chléire has received 2 electric buses and two charging points as part of the Rural Transport Programme. These will serve as community buses and will fit in with Chleire’s participation in the EU Clean Energy on Islands programme. This improvement to public transport is a welcome addition to the Island.

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Co-Op Manager Mairtin O’Mealoid shows off the 2 electric buses for Oileain Chleire

Bere Island Community Radio is going from strength to strength, doing its part during the Covid crisis. Masses are broadcast as are school assemblies and student music. Local radio is vital not only for entertainment but for imparting information and the Bere station is performing mighty work.

Arranmore can be proud of its two newest authors, Eoghan Bonner (14) and his younger sister, Amélie who launched their book The Red Belt Files Collection on St Patrick’s Day. The Red Belt Files Collection is brilliantly illustrated by Eoghan and includes historical events, humorous situations and current affairs. The book is available on Apple books.

Additionally, Donegal County Council is seeking tenders for the supply of undersea fibre optic cable to Arranmore. While broadband company 3 has increased Arranmore’s connectivity by creating the first offshore broadband hub, fibre optic for the entire Island will be a huge boost to efforts to attract people back home to the Island and increase sustainability through remote working.

Ireland’s offshore Islands will be happy to welcome visitors once this crisis is over. Until then, residents will spend time with their families, grow vegetables and tend to their animals – and hopefully work together but apart on a development and rejuvenation plan for our special and beloved Island homes.

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Arranmore, Co. Donegal

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