Trish Bennett recounts our trip to Devenish Island aboard a curragh:
A few weeks ago one of our members, Ken Ramsey, passed around a picture to the group of a beautiful Irish Curragh in full sail filled with people sunning themselves on a postcard lake steered by a bronzed God. He asked did any of us want to go for a run in this 40’ canvas covered recreation of the boat used by Colmcille for his trip to Iona. The idyllic scene was passed around and many fertile imaginations filled with thoughts of a nice evening out, perhaps a glass or two of vino, the sails up and legs stretched. It looked fabulous. If this was what spiritual journeys were like, we were in, we signed up on the spot.
In the days that followed, the chinese whispers started and doubts set in with the distance from Enniskillen to Devenish Island changing from a twenty minute run on the ferry to a sea voyage comparable to the one taken by the first irish immigrants from Cobh to Ellis Island. Questions were emerging regarding back up engines and life jackets.
August the 20th, expedition day arrived and the motley crew assembled at the Round-O. Our Chairman, Tony, in homage to Colmcille set the penitent tone by appearing as Brother Brady of the Drapes, an order devoted to big hair and colourful habits.
We were introduced to Olivia Cosgrove from the Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group who was running the expedition. She calmed our nerves by making sure we all filled out the necessary insurance documentation especially the section on who our next of kin were. We were then ferried in groups via car to Portora Jetty to begin our journey.
When we arrived at the jetty, trip wires from other moorings tried to take down some of our crew, team spirit kicked in and we negotiated the first hurdle with relative ease. As we approached the boat the clouds gathered in readiness. It was like a nymph wrapped in a large black coat with red ribs, and red and green legs coming to life with the addition of souls.
We took our places and Olivia introduced us to the crew. Michael, Skipper and Captain of the Black Cape. Helen and Olivia would set the pace on the oars. The idyllic image we signed up to was washed away when the clouds opened and with the wind whipping up in the opposite direction the sails were left lying like useless limbs. Nonetheless being a positive lot we got into the spirit of the mission pretty quickly. We followed Olivia, Helen and Michaels instructions to slowly transform from the clash of the wooden swords to a peaceful rhythm, albeit more akin to a “Carry On” film than a Colmcille pilgrimage. With firm grips on our wooden shafts we dipped “In” and “Out” on instruction, shipping oars and shouting innuendo in equal measure.
Despite our best efforts, Michael steered us safely to Devenish. We felt like pilgrims as we carried our rations noting the round towers locked gates as we rushed past to the shelter of the ruins behind. Warming provisions were distributed and Tony Viney began the meditation with the Lyrics from “What a wonderful world.” John James, Ken Ramsey and Brother Tony also contributed to the musings of the evening with extracts from their work.
Following refreshments and a period of religious deliberation of sorts the Colmcille’s crew were filled with renewed vigour. On the return route songs were attempted and abandoned, partly due to interfering with the rhythm of the stroke, and mostly due to fears of the destruction of local wildlife habitats (birds migrating to less tone deaf places.) The crew managed to return to shore with all lives and ear drums still intact. It was agreed by all that power and not prose was more effective on the Lough.
Our trip was a farcical reflection of Colmcilles travels. Despite this, we returned, not just as a writers group, and certainly not as saints, but as a crew bonded in camaraderie through a trip across the Erne on a wet and windy evening in a beautiful curragh.
Our Chair, Tony Brady, also has a few observations about the trip: