Not only are we an island nation, but we are also surrounded by islands. I thought I knew many of our islands until I read David Walsh’s book, ‘Oilein’. In it, he describes over 570 islands around Ireland, many of which are only accessible by kayak or small boat.

Going through the index, I counted 38 that I have visited. In fairness, my count was greatly added to once I moved to Connemara, where I frequently spend time on Ceantar na nOileán - a group of islands linked by bridges. My aim is to visit 100 in my lifetime, so I have a ways to go, but I’m up for the adventure.

Why do I love our islands? I used to think it was because my grandmother, Johanna, came from Cape Clear Island and my first childhood memory of going on holidays was to Cape. Da used to go down every couple of years to visit relations, and I fell in love with the windy, very steep roads edged with fuchsia, the clear waters for swimming and the people. It was also the place where I went on my first holiday without my parents. I spent a few weeks there when I was 10, in the bird observatory. I was mad into bird watching and had such a great time going out every day trying to identify the many migrant birds that stop over on Cape en route to somewhere else.

On reflection I think it’s the fact that you have to leave the mainland to go to an island that appeals to me. Once you step on the boat, you feel you’re leaving your normal life - with its work and worries - and I can feel the shoulders relax. I’m lucky I don’t get sea sick, as some of the crossings can be a bit rough, but if you don’t have sea legs there’s always Achill Island with its bridge to the mainland. There’s also Omey island near Clifden, which you drive across the beach at low tide to access. When our children were young they loved the added drama of ensuring we went back before high tide. On one or two occasions, it was a little closer than I’d like as we drove through the rising water.

A few summers ago, I spent two nights on the Great Blaskets. No one lives there year-round anymore, but there are cottages you can rent during the summer. There is no electricity on the island and you have to bring your own food, which makes for interesting shopping when there is no fridge. Going to sleep to the sounds of the seals, waves and sea birds is quite the experience. I loved it as unlike Peig, who lived her life in what must have been difficult conditions, I was only passing through.

Visiting the Saltees last year, I nearly tripped on the puffins - there are so many. They are such a comical bird and they waddle around often seeming to pose for the many camera phones aimed at them. The island is also full of rabbits, and you need to watch out for rabbit holes as you walk around.

Definitely the highlight of last year’s island visits was a trip to the Skellig Michael with my son, Ian. The boat trip out is in itself a wonderful experience, with fantastic views of seabirds; particularly the thousands of gannets on Little Skellig. Like the Saltees, the island is home to thousands of puffins each summer and they are great company as you climb all 618 steps to the beehive huts. You’d have to admire the monks that made their homes there. I presume the force was with them!

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