An island by its nature is a finite feature of geography. The smaller the island, the more you can see its edges from standing in the highest point. From here you can look down and feel part of this wonder of nature. This piece of rock and soil, this large stepping stone in the pond of the ocean, upon which we feel privileged to trod, upon which we feel safe and liberated. You look down towards its edges and here you find the most comfort. Monarch of all you survey.
You walk along the sands and the rocks and become part of that space where the two meet the water. Here the tide ebbs and flows. It gives and it takes. It brings people in and it brings people away. It keeps you in and it keeps others out. Here, looking down at the edges, you get perspective and you can see the perimeters of the world. Your world. It acts as a microcosm around us. And it is joyful.
But for people who live on an island, that space where the water meets the land also represents something else. It is a symbol of limitations. A geographic border that says from beyond here you shall not pass easily. That this is something that will curtail your life. The roar of the ocean, the bashing of the rocks is something that acted as a soundtrack to the works of Synge.
And these limitations are what shape island life, what set it apart from the complacency of mainland life. These impact on every day, the food you eat, the furniture with which you stock your house, the service you expect. Our islands are wonderful, truly wonderful. The synergy of the limitations and the freedoms they afford have created a force that has contributed to the rich tapestry of Galway’s cultural being.
Yet, we often treat them with the grossest disdain.
It is time that we stopped putting terror into the hearts of people who live on the islands, by denying them the comfort that we on the mainland take for granted. Let them go to sleep at night with the knowledge that if emergency is to befall them, they can get care and help and solace on the mainland. Give them the comfort to know that if the mood takes them, they can travel to and from the mainland. Let’s not make island life so bloody difficult that it deters people from living there.
Over the past few years, there has been several instances where the travel freedoms of the islanders on Aran have been curtailed or threatened or made impractical. Now as I write this on Wednesday evening, the last ferry to service Inis Mor is due to set sail before the first drop of ink hits this paper in the presses. God knows when it will sail again.
Whatever resolution comes in the near future, at least for now, there is genuine fear in the hearts of those who live in the island that an affordable method of getting to and from the mainland is denied them. Morally, we all have a responsibility to ensure that this is not so. I have no doubt that some resolution will be found, but that is not the point.
While the details of the current impasse and all recent impasses are fodder for debate in a different forum, let us not forget that during these standoffs whether they be the air or sea service, that we are using the islanders as pawns, unwitting players in a game. That the most basic of rights, the right to movement, already limited by island life, is limited further by the lack of a coherent transport policy regarding the islands. Let us not kill the islands. Let them see that stretch of water as more opportunity than obstacle.