Sunday 17 December 2017

Heaven? An hour reading on a Connemara beach . . .

I've written before about the most suitable place to read a book that you just need some 'alone time' with. It was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, a book I loved so much I happily waited in the queue for a car wash so I could be stuck, immobile and alone, with my book. It was a measure of how busy I was at the time but also of my desire to read more of the book in question.

Normally, trying to read a book involves stealing time. Much like trying to write a book, time-theft is almost an art in itself. Like a literary Fagin, I find myself picking pockets of solitude to find half an hour here or 15 minutes there to allow for some reading time.

It's a meagre existence, really, but it's all I can afford! Bedtime should be a good moment to get a few chapters in but, after a long day, it's hard to keep the eyes open after a few pages. Collecting the girls from school or a play date can be handy, too, especially if you get there early. That can give you 20 minutes if timed correctly.

Recently, that all changed when I disappeared to a small island off the coast of Clifden. A cousin of mine kindly offered me the use of his house on this uninhabited but beautiful place. The house is basic but perfect.

The only neighbours are bovine or avian and the views explain why Paul Henry picked up a paintbrush in the first place.

It was the end of a particularly hectic 18 months of non-stop activity with every weekend packed, every working day jammed and every minute accounted for. It wasn't (for the most part) difficult or bad but it was exceptionally busy and I needed to disappear to a place that calms my head and eases my mind.

Thankfully, I found that place a few years ago. My cousin Brian and his friend Gerry McCloskey came up with the brilliantly off-beat idea to take the example of touring the Greek islands and transferring the same idea, albeit with an Irish twist, to the stunning islands off the coast of Clifden and Cleggan.

The Connemara Safari takes you on a four-day hop over the islands -- Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare Island. Along the way, you get to see seals, sharks and dolphins while Gerry conducts an archaeological tour of the fascinating ruins that still stand there.

Trips in authentic currachs, sing-songs and the odd pint of Guinness are also a feature, and then for the book-lover there is that much sought-after commodity -- space.

Taking an hour or two beneath the lip of a dune with your holiday read, a flask of coffee and a Club Milk is why holidays were invented and, for me, that slice of heaven is served up in this part of the world.

It's even better if you listen to the music of Clifden artist Joe Bosch or Oughterard's finest, Frankie Gavin, and De Dannan. While I'm at it, I should probably complete the love-in with a point in the direction for those interested, which is I won't profit from it, but you just might.

When possible, it's also a bonus if you can read a book that has some sort of relevance to where you are.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to read Joseph O'Connor's masterpiece (I have to call it that because I believe it's true) Star of the Sea in the part of Connemara in which the book is set. I would read for an hour or two and then drive through the barren bogs and daunting mountains, all peppered with Famine ruins, and it was hard not to be totally immersed in the story as it was brilliantly told during the time of my holiday.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was there, armed with two books.

One was Chris Evans's autobiography, which I was reading out of curiosity, given he was one of my favourite guests on The Late Late Show, but also because I am due to start a job in a few weeks that has some relevance to where he is at the moment.

The second book was Joseph O'Connor's latest gem, Ghost Light, a book that imagines how life might have worked out for Molly Allgood, the actress girlfriend of John Millington Synge. She was the wrong age, the wrong class and way ahead of her time, it seems.

I knew very little about Synge before the book and found myself casting Daniel Day-Lewis as the Anglicised playwright up against someone from Fair City as the girl to whom he finds himself drawn, much to the chagrin of his mother.

It's a short but brilliant book that has occasional mentions of the mild West that seem to feature in O'Connor's writing quite a lot.

Perhaps he's a fan of holidaying in that part of Ireland as much as I am, but it certainly lent to the enjoyment of the story.

It also helped that for some of the book, I had the fire lighting at eight o'clock in the morning with a cup of coffee, lots of turf to burn and nowhere to go.

The fact that there was little or no phone signal helped matters, too, as did having to wait for a boat to come and collect me to bring me back to the mainland.

There was no panic, no pressure and no problem; this was pleasure at its most welcome -- and it supplanted the car wash as the perfect venue to take a book.

Irish Independent

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