Cape Clear Island is a place apart. A 45 minute sea crossing from Baltimore in west Cork, it is a place reached only with effort. Occasionally, a small roll-on, roll-off ferry carries vehicles across to the island, otherwise it is foot passengers only on a boat that crosses three to four times each day. The sense of isolation is reinforced by the cars on the island, many are battered, some are without lights, some barely hold together; there are no regulations enforced. The population of 140 people is served by one shop, two bars, a primary school and a health centre. A priest from a religious order travels down to Baltimore and crosses to the island each weekend in order to celebrate Mass in the island’s single church.
If one wants a place of quietness, if one wants a place where the noise of the modern world is absent, if one wants a place where the pace of life allows space to breathe, Cape Clear is the place to be. Twenty-four hours seems far too short a time to spend on the island, it is the sort of place to take a boxful of books and to pass the days reading and walking.
Contemplating the landscape on a perfect summer’s day, with brilliant sunshine and a soft breeze, there was, however, a sense not of contentment, but of isolation. A feeling from childhood years surfaced, a feeling of being cut off from the world.
Our village was three miles from the nearest bus stop, we had a small shop, a post office, a small pub, but drive through on a dark night and the entire place seemed asleep. We had no street lights, and nothing that would really have qualified for the description “street”. Standing staring from the window at the front of our house, out into the black of a winter’s evening, it was easy to follow the progress of the headlights of cars heading toward the village as they wound their way between the hedgerows, on their way from our local town. Watching the headlights was an activity intended to dissipate the irrational fears that seemed to arise when I felt isolated.
Perhaps a fear of isolation was part of an atavistic fear of vulnerability, probably it was something altogether more personal, but standing on a small Irish island on a very fine day, there was a desire to be in the midst of a big city. Rural emptinesses are good places, but I wanted to be in a place where the shops never closed, where the traffic rolled all through the night, and where there were always people awake. Such a desire probably testifies to a deep personal insecurity, but perhaps also speaks of possible futures.