Lough Corrib: Walking on Water

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With a major gathering of the clan family event successfully prepared for and executed on the homestead and a month of busy gardening i have an opportunity to finally report on a couple of micro-adventures that we engaged in last month, the first being a mostly nautical one, but one that involved a lovely walk and so is allowed inclusion on the RamblingMan blog.

We have a minuscule “cabin cruiser” that us and the two dogs can just squeeze into and have had trips on the Shannon,the Suck, the Barrow, the Grand Canal and around Lough Derg, and although we’ve been very attracted to the wild mountainous landscape surrounding the northern half of Lough Corrib we’ve never ventured out on it, primarily because of its reputation for being littered with countless sharp and shallow rocks.

Until this year when my boys gave me a copy of the new chart book of the entire lake recently sounded by Trevor Northage and we planned a cruise to Maam, picturing the “Jack Daniells” gliding over the mirror like waters glinting in the sunshine of the heatwave we were experiencing while i landed a plump trout for dinner and Sally lounged on the poop deck cocktail in hand. It didn’t quite work out like that.

By the time we had revived the boat, engine and trailer after a year and a half of idleness and headed off to our launching site at Knockferry, halfway up the 45km length of the lough and at it’s thinnest point, the weather had reverted to a normal Irish summer of leaden skies and drizzle. The middle lake is a long and irregular channel full of islands (there are over 100 large ones in the whole lake and Northage estimates a total of 1332- not the  convenient 365 that the lake lore would have you believe) and numerous hull splitting limestone reefs. Irish Waterways have quite recently upgraded the system of marker buoys and we gingerly followed these northwards towards more open waters.IMG_0391

The lake covers 44,ooo acres, the largest in Ireland and second to Lough Neagh in the entire British Isles and the wind funnelling through the mountains can quickly whip it up into a treacherous maelstrom so we were relieved to be motoring over pretty placid waters.

Passing Cairgin and Annaghkeen castles on the starboard, eastern shore, we rounded Rabbit Island and were soon beyond the dozen or so mounds of wild and wooded and sometimes tamed and farmed islands to port, off the shore from Oughterard. Our target was now in sight, Inchagoill, the largest true island in the lake, bigger ones nearer the shore having causeway road access to them. Keeping a wary eye on the markers of Bilberry Shallows we negotiated the narrow channel between Inchagoill and Inishannagh and swung a left,running along beside Burr Island and coming into the sheltered bay and moored on the deserted pier.IMG_0393

With the noisy engine quieted a peaceful calm descended. We were a long way from any road or habitation here and the only sound was birdsong and the gentle slap of water. It had been well over 15 years since we were here last and the overgrown and neglected place we had discovered then had changed a lot. Still beautiful, it had been tidied and managed. A lot of effort had been put into clearing trees and clearing vegetation to expose more of the ruins both ancient and relatively recent. including the islands last inhabited house, deserted since 1948,near the quay.IMG_0398

This was the home of Thomas Nevin who lived alone on the island with his dog from 1935. The Guiness family, who owned the island until it was taken over by the Forestry Commission, had him as a caretaker and gave him a rare dry battery radio to keep him company which, when Co Galway played Co Kerry in the All Ireland football final in 1938, drew over 100 people to the island to gather around it to listen to the match.IMG_0399

We set off to explore the island and were soon walking on the ancient flagstone path that links the 6th century Teampall Phadraig (St Patrick’s Church) to the 11th century Teampall Na Naomh. The story goes that Inchagoill, Island of the Stranger, was named after St Patrick and his nephew, a navigator, who were banished here by the powerful Pagan Druids of Cong when they came spreading the good word and set about building the tiny church.IMG_0400

Lugnaedon, the son of Patrick’s sister Limenueh, died in the process and there is a 2ft gritstone pillar memorial to him, in the shape of a boats rudder befitting a navigator, with what is thought to be the oldest Christian inscription in Europe.IMG_0405

There is a still timelessness to the place, although the passage of centuries can be seen easily enough on the eroded faces of the 10 saints of Lough Corrib which decorate the arched doorway of Teampall Na Naomh.IMG_0402

Mass is held here one sunday in June each year with a blessing to keep all who set out onto the lake from harm, which would come in handy the following day.

There is a path that winds around the western half of the island which led us along the shoreline and through the dense woodland that now flourishes on the 80 acres of land once farmed by the 5 or 6 families that lived here.IMG_0414

On the southwestern end, on a spot that obviously had a fine view when built, was a ruin described as the Coffee House Folly but you’d be disappointed if you hoped for tea and scones nowadays.
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Further on along the southern side the track opened up into mature woodland of oak and scots pine with sheltered shallow inlets used by fishermen and a group of buildings known as Kinneavey’s Boatyard with a picnic area overlooking the bay.

Returning to the pier our isolation was interrupted by the arrival of the cruise boat from Cong whose passengers were led off through the woods by the captain after they had captured us and the dogs on their cameras to show the folks back home.IMG_0409Tranquility returned once they had departed and we settled down for the evening around the campfire with another boating couple from Galway who told us that the summer weekends were often pretty busy even out there.IMG_0417

A calm clear night was followed by a drizzly morning, though thankfully still with very little wind. We needed to refill our tanks with fuel for the trip across to Maam and after advice from our neighbours to head to Lisloughrey harbour rather than the privately owned and unwelcoming quay at Ashford Castle we motored off into the murky mist where all was grey and it was hard to see where the sky ended and the lake began. There was a big stretch of open water before getting to Coad island and the following passage into the narrow harbour entrance and we could see nothing of the grand landscape we knew to surround us. Landing there made for a much longer walk for fuel than if we had been able to dock at the castle quay but as luck, or maybe the protective Inchagoill mass, would have it, a kindly gentleman who arrived in his car as we tied up offered to take me and our many fuel tanks to the garage – and then insisted on bring me back. Thank you.

The weather wasn’t getting any better and so we decided to carry on towards our destination hoping to find a pleasant place to moor up on route.Heading out on a southwestern bearing we peered out into the monochrome waterworld for all the marker buoys as we passed Scallop, Ardillaun, Black, Cleenillaun, Illaunagowna and Cannavar Islands and rounding the tip of the long Inishdoorus peninsular. This was the splendidly scenic area  we had pictured basking in the sun that was now drenched in drizzle and virtually invisible.

A long clear stretch opened up before us as we motored towards the forested lump of the Hill of Doon where we were hoping to find a mooring and wait for the glorious surroundings to reveal themselves. After successfully passing the unmarked Charlie’s Shallows we thought we were home and dry or at least home and damp but it was not to be.

A loud and unnerving sudden bang from the engine followed but motionless high revving signalled something was amiss, something serious. A bewildered attempt to stop and restart the engine, in the tradition of ” Have you tried turning it off and on again?” only resulted in confirmation that we were fcuked. Gear box, propshaft, seized engine ? Definitely something that my limited tools and even more limited ability could cope with.

Drifting in the wind we now realised had picked up somewhat, we took stock. We were way to far out to paddle to shore but there was a fisherman in a lake boat within sight and we needed help. Only one thing for it.IMG_0423

The shrill blasts of the emergency whistle resulted only in the fisherman continuing his leisurely pursuit before moving slowly away to try his luck elsewhere.

Our saviour was marker buoy 310, which we managed to paddle to and get a rope around. Now that we were not being blown out to the middle of the lake or worse still onto the jagged rocks we had time to realise our only course of action was to do something we had thankfully never had cause to do. Ring 999.Thank God for a mobile phone with reception and a full battery.

Which service do i require? I don’t know, I’m broken down on Lough Corrib. “I’ll put you through to Valentia coastguard”. Wow, the coastguard at the other end of the country.

They were very efficient, and after making sure we were ok and had our lifejackets, told us they would alert the Cong and Mask rescue services and get back to us. Which they did within minutes to inform us that a rib was launching and on its way.IMG_0425

A phone call from the crew  to check our exact position was quickly followed by the reassuring sight of a distant spray ploughing through the water towards us enlarging to the vision of a professional looking bunch of heroes,(and a heroine), who adroitly came alongside, attached a tow rope and explained that they would tow us to Cornamona slipway where there was a jeep awaiting to take us back to our vehicle.

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Professional looking, but as they explained to me at the slipway when i enquired about the what i imagined was going to be a big bill, entirely voluntary.

They were brilliant, fair play, and you can be sure we made a donation, but it would hardly have covered the cost of the 4 person crew, boat and fuel, the two other members who drove out to Cornamona and then insisted on driving us and the dogs the 2 hour return trip to Knockferry to pick up the car. The weather cleared during the journey and arriving back at our broken boat for one more night aboard we were teased by the calm waters and still clear skies we had hoped to be boating on and under.IMG_0430The next morning we had to drive home,pick up van, drive back to Knockferry, pick up trailer, drive up to Cornamona, get boat up slipway onto trailer, and drive home to park up the Jack Daniells as if it had never left the safety of the homestead.

It had only lasted 24hrs on the water but it was eventful and we’d had a nice walk.IMG_0439

We’ll be back.

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