HARDY voters braved wind, rain and choppy seas yesterday to cast the first ballots in the 2011 General Election.
By yesterday evening, it was estimated that just over half the electorate on islands off Donegal and Mayo had voted.
On a mist-shrouded Gola, one of the smallest Donegal islands, 14 of the 25 registered voters went to the polls.
They were taken by boat on the 15-minute journey to the island that was once their home.
The five kilometre-long island in Gweedore Bay, made famous in the song 'Baidin Fheilimi', has no full-time residents but there is a strong part-time community that spends much of the year there.
A roaring turf fire and hot tea and biscuits greeted the voters in the cosy home of Jimmy Sweeney, which had been transformed into a polling station.
Before a vote could be cast, Jimmy, who operates the half-decker ferry, had to transport presiding officer Neansai Ni Searcaigh, Garda Austin Marron and the ballot box from Kittie Archie's pier in Gweedore to his living room on Gola.
Among the first to arrive were cousins Mairead Sweeney and Marie Maloney.
Teacher Mairead, a daughter of Jimmy, had taken the morning off work in Loughanure on the mainland.
"I spend four to five months of the year on the island so I see this as my home. I think it is important to vote here, no matter what the weather," said mother-of-three Mairead.
Mother-of-one Marie was travelling to England later yesterday to visit her sister, but was determined to cast her vote on the island she, too, regards as home.
"I'm voting for Dinny McGinley (FG). It is time for change," she said.
Back on the mainland at noon, another small group of voters was ready to make the journey. Among them was retired teacher Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, who has never missed voting in an election.
"I will be voting for strong opposition. I can't see how a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour or Fine Gael and Independents will last," he said.
In all, 760 residents on five Donegal islands in the constituency of Donegal South West are registered to vote, with the largest numbers on Arranmore and Tory.
Also voting yesterday were some of the 194 islanders on the three Mayo islands of Clare, Inishbiggle and Inishturk.
Voters on the Galway islands will go to the polls today.