The expectation was there. I had planned this trip as far as I could aiming to explore this picturesque part of Ireland and get off the beaten track. I knew there was the potential for some truly dramatic photography if the elements were to play ball in providing me with some interesting light to pick out details and invoke moodiness. I expected some rain - Ireland is famous for and owns the moniker the Emerald Isle for very good reason - but what I did not expect was a relentless rain presence and overcastness that clung to the landscape with an unshakeable grasp for all but one day of my entire 13 day trip.
Some would argue that there are only bad clothes, not bad weather, but when one is suitably equipped AND trying to perform an added meaningful creative endeavour in those conditions, then I would disagree, especially when the gaps in the rain total no more than a few minutes a day. Of course, in the pursuit of taking landscape photographs, unless one is out in such weather, one cannot take advantage of any positively changing conditions - a moment of sun breaking through the cloud or a rainbow for instance, but it’s tiring, remaining constantly vigilant in the face of such adversity in the hope that a reward is on offer...if only one waits long enough. And, if this is the only opportunity to visit, then what other option is there other than going all out?
Many saner people would perhaps retreat to a log fire, a pint of Guinness and consider cutting their losses and moving on but I guess I’m just an optimist in remaining and renewing my efforts.
Nowhere was this sentiment felt so strongly than when I was on the Aran islands, a archipelagic trio in Galway Bay, long associated with seafaring and intricate cable knitwear. The Easterly storms that run straight off the Atlantic bring turbulent conditions to these wee low lying islands and in the absence of mountains, the weather pattern contrasts strongly to that of Connemara to the North.
I was trying to take pictures on the western side of Inis Meain and revisited over 4 days with the aim of trying to capture something spectacular of the precipitous coastal scenery. Each day, the weather was largely the same regardless of how long I could endure it - horizontal driving rain and spray with squalls rolling in sequentially from the South-West.
Thank goodness for Synge’s seat, a C shaped stone wall enclosure large enough to accommodate an Irish playwright or a woman with all her photo gear. This refuge high on the cliff edge faced outwards to the North-East and Inis Mor. The waves cracked like a ballistic team below me whilst I could make out the changing frothy turquoise sea patterns at lower levels. I could feel the wind and occasional rain droplets penetrate the occasional wall gap, but it was largely dry, the squall driving so fast that the rain passed directly overhead - or into my face if I stuck my head over this rocky parapet to survey the situation.
I struggle to sit down usually, but here I was positively forced to plant myself for some time and reflect, just as Synge* would have done. No tourists came my way despite this being a popular spot, the vile weather having deterred them. My internal silence was given an opportunity to be heard. It is usually drowned out by the conscious dialogue of life. I thought about this place, the island life and the tenacity of the people here to hold onto their cultural heritage through Gaelic speaking and continuation of some of the old ways in farming practice and fishing. Subsistence. Simplicity. Living with what is available. A fine restaurant there has a similar ethos - making beautiful food from what is freely at hand foraging, rather than sourcing that that is not.
I did not think for one moment about taking pictures but took time to listen to my surroundings and experience a certain spiritual awe.
It felt a long way off from the strife of the world and recent BREXIT mayhem that I’d left behind in the UK.
My concentration was ultimately broken by the distant voices of some approaching American tourists. When I stood up, this bedraggled bunch clad in leather biker jackets, chains and blankets could be seen making their way across the rocks in the rain - some of the most inappropriately attired people I’d ever seen. Then reality hit home - I was suddenly aware of my own dampness and with no change in sight in the weather, I knew I needed to retreat to dry out and take aboard some physical nourishment. I was profoundly tired and despite the calmness of the location on one level, needed to attune both body and mind.
I thought about what pictures I’d taken that day, and in the preceding days on the island. Without reviewing them, I knew I had enough. I would make do... the search did not need to continue.
*John Millington Synge 1871-1909 was an Irish author and playwright (’The Playboy of the Western World’ among others) who used to spend summers on the Aran islands before his premature death from Hodgkin’s disease at 37.