One Man’s Journey Around Eire With A Sea Kayak
Chris Duff has always been a man more at house in the water than out of it. He was working with the US Navy in Holy Loch, Scotland in 1982 when his enlistment interval ended. Confronted with the tough decision of whether or to not re-enlist, he opted to return to civilian life. Soon the dream of an Irish journey could be born.
Chris tried several trades, at one level working in upstate New York as a butcher’s assistant to an previous couple from Eire. When he asked the place the old man was from he was told the Aran Islands. For those of us who love Ireland it brings delightful visions of stone cottages and late evening music classes into our heads. The couple pulled a espresso table book off a shelf and opened it to some striking images of the Aran Islands and its people – tough seas, steep rock cliffs, stone houses, pores and skin-lined boats known as currachs and rugged, wind-worn faces. Our man Chris was captivated by the wild sea surrounding that stunning island and a seed was sown in his brain that would develop and provides start to a life-altering Celtic adventure fourteen years later.
Chris’s decision to kayak round Ireland was not the first such journey for him. He embodies the spirit of adventure that many of us only dream about. He had kayaked around the US and Canada – twelve months and 8000 miles. He had also circumnavigated Nice Britain – five and a half months and 3000 miles. Ireland, however, with its wild seas and unprotected west coast, with powerful waves meeting the first landfall of Europe, would be a different story completely.
The starting point is Dublin’s famous River Liffey on June 1, 1996. The sacred vessel of the journey, an eighteen foot sea kayak loaded with one hundred pounds of meals, water and camping gear, a journal wrapped in plastic for safe preserving and a map of the Irish coast carefully splash-guarded on the helm. As Chris begins his travels he shares with us his blessings – ten years of carpentry work had allowed him to save lots of sufficient to take this treasured time off for this journey, to “take the time and just be quiet for a few months.” Few of us have ever know that luxury but he has worked hard for it and appreciates it; lucky for us he shares each moment so we can enjoy it vicariously by way of his words.
What struck me most about Chris’s writing is the mystery and wonder with which he regards the beauties of nature round him, particularly the west coast of Eire, where stark cliffs are pounded by strong seas and winds whip wildly. At occasions he kayaks into sea caves alongside the coast and paddles within the semi-darkness and one feels his reverence for what nature has wrought in our landscape.
Ireland’s coastline is just mad with chook life, specific the islands off the coast. At one level a big-winged fulmar watches him curiously, floating in the air and staring him within the eyes. Chris says to him “You are so lovely my pal. What have you ever seen and the place have you been immediately ” There is a timelessness in the eyes of such a bird, that can make us feel our insignificance in the face of Mom Nature. Chris visits islands wealthy with chicken colonies – cormorants, puffins, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, razorbills – by the 1000’s. They are all very tolerant of his presence and merely accept him relatively than flying into a frenzy at his strategy as one would expect. It is a fowl watcher’s paradise.
Along the journey, Chris visits quite a few islands – some with names that sound familiar like Skellig Michael and Clare Island, others which can be tiny dots on the ocean landscape. In foul weather he sits out the wind and waves, peering from his tent at the storm outside, waiting for a break within the weather. He takes us with him as he sleeps in a beehive hut or paddles below a waterfall near Dingle Bay to take a cold freshwater shower or even goes religiously pub hopping from session to session within the busy pub town of Dingle.
What’s exceptional is that unlike many with Irish ancestry, Chris Duff didn’t come to Eire to hunt his past. He wished to get pleasure from a difficult kayaking journey and be alone with the winds and the waves. The highly effective power of the Irish panorama and the Irish individuals, nonetheless, makes its mark upon him. He begins to feel not only a way of belonging however a way of marvel and of loss. As he walks by tangles of wildflowers on a deserted island, he comes across ruins of stone cottages and chapels and the historical past of the place pours forth to ensnare him as it has performed to so many others. He muses:
“Throughout the narrow waterway two stone home ruins stood bathed in the final rays of solar. The island, radiant in the night mild, regarded as if it was an enchanted fairy tale land. stone island 35th anniversary Shadows of stone walls divided green meadows, and the cap of rock that broke by way of at the highest of the island seemed like a spot the place fairies may dance…”
I found it a pleasure to travel the circumference of the Emerald Isle with a philosophizing “American canoeist.” His courage in the face of the wild waves of the west coast is thoughts-boggling to a land lubber like myself. At one point he lands safely on some distant shore solely to be greeted by an area emergency crew that was searching for him. Somebody had noticed him “struggling” in the waves and thought he was in distress. In the meantime he had been having the time of his life happily battling the waves!
The names of the landmarks of his journey ring like a forged of famous actors with cameos in a blockbuster movie – Mizen Head, Dursey Head, the Skelligs, Dingle Bay, the Blaskets, The River Shannon, Galway Bay, the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands, Clare Island – and extra! The listing goes on. It truly is a solid of exceptional characters and retains you guessing which one will stroll on stage subsequent.
When visiting the Blasket Islands, which have been abandoned reluctantly by the villagers within the 1950’s, Chris feedback that in a kayak the paddler all the time sits dealing with ahead. In the normal Irish currach, nonetheless, the oarsmen face the rear of the boat and watch their wake. This final view of their island should have been fairly painful for the villagers as they rowed additional and further away from the ancestral residence of their kin.
The people alongside the way in which are uniquely Irish. At any time when Chris emerges from the sea, seemingly out of nowhere, he is met with remarks of disbelief. “You have come from Dublin in that ! I feel y’er mad.” The kindness to strangers has all the time been the hallmark of Irish hospitality; hundreds of years ago it was actually mandated by the Brehon legal guidelines of the land. It merely seems second nature to a generous folks. The fishermen who casually hand him just a few lobster claws or some cleaned fish for his dinner, together with recommendation about his crossing. The housewife who makes him dinner and asks him to join the household by the hearth for a night of storytelling. The couple who rise at dawn to see him off on the following leg of his journey. The fellow kayaker in Galway who provides him a spot to stay and chill out after a spell of unhealthy weather and helps carry his heavy kayak by the crowded streets of town. It is just sadly in the north of Eire, the place the troubles had been nonetheless raging, where his knock at a door is met with suspicion and worry slightly than a smile and a heat welcome by the fireplace.
Eire is a revelation to our kayaker pal. He is awed by the pure magnificence of windswept islands and cliff-lined coasts, drawn to the pleasant individuals, bewildered by the sheer quantity of history bursting from the seams of the panorama and humbled by the mysterious sacredness he feels. He has a gift for storytelling, for describing a scene all the way down to the last rays of the solar, that will effectively be proof of his Irish ancestry.
To those who’re faint of heart, there are scenes on this guide that are actually harrowing. Chris paddles over waves that will frighten the be-jaysus out of you and me and navigates round submerged rocks that might puncture his wee kayak and drown him. But reality be informed, he does finish his journey safely. Because the previous saying goes, he “lives to tell the tale.” So get pleasure from every beautiful and hair elevating second of it!