An Isle Beside an Isle She Lay

There was more than a little of the fairy-tale to it, and why not? After all, we had come willingly to the land of changelings and banshees and the aos sí.

We weren’t half an hour out of Dublin when all around became emerald. Dressed for November rain in thick coats and umbrellas, we were surprised by the kind golden light that lifted the clouds from below and glistened on the wetness of the road.

The little town of Rush didn’t look like much from dry land – a supermarket, a modern-looking chapel and a library housed in what once was the church. Once we met our vociferous landlady outside the community theatre, however, we began to see the charms of this market garden suburban town.

She drove us home the long way, and she warned us about the tides. She stopped the car by the sailing club, and we clambered out against a battering breeze that sucked the car door from my grasp. It was then that I first saw it – the Avalon that would remain on the horizon and in our hearts for the rest of our stay.

Lambay Island, she called it. Privately owned. Covered in wallabies, escaped from a private collection. There were boats in the harbour that would take you out in the summer – for a price – but for now it was destined to be ever unattainable, tricks of the light bringing it nearer and sending it far away, luring us siren-like into the freezing waters.

We knew then, standing in the sailing club car park at high tide, what we had come here to write about.

And write we did, in the little wood-clad cabin at the end of the landlady’s garden. Little more than a summer house, but more than enough for us, the cozy shed had once been a stable, and a horse still lived on the opposite side.

Bedecked in bunting and bright-painted wood, and warmed by a mock wood-burner, the snug den-like living space was closed in like a blanket fort by the double loft bed, accessible by a wooden ladder.

An enormous pane of glass graced the floor-to-ceiling door, making the cabin feel like a dollhouse – you could open an entire wall and see every corner inside. Outside, a pair of bedraggled barn cats chased fat speckled thrushes across the lawn.

Over the next days, this unlikely space became our studio – we lit black tea lights, set up a keyboard on the trestle table, and tucked a guitar amidst the throws and pillows of the couch. I opened my notebook to a brand new page and wrote, purposively in mechanical pencil, “The Island”.

When we were not writing, we were letting ourselves be written. Down the garden path and across the single track road, through the shrubs and bushes and out onto the waxen-grassed dunes that tumbled downward to white sand or dark sea, depending on the time of day.

If the tide was low, we’d walk out with it hand-in-hand, admiring the whorls carved into the sand like canyons in miniature. I imagined myself a titan, towering above ancient landscapes, unable to comprehend the tiny lives that dwelled between the cracks. We’d set our eyes on the island in the distance, green against golden sand, and we’d imagine that we were walking to it, before giving up and curling round to meet the old town harbour wall.

If the tide was high, we’d scramble across the black rocks, disturbing flocks of ground-nesting geese who trumpeted their disapproval. We’d note the changing light from every secluded cove, martello towers beaming bright against purpling seastorm skies. We’d delight at the suddenly solid rainbow hanging over wind-worn cliffs, the sight in itself worth more than any pot of gold.

We’d slip into the harbour inn, where the barman knew our order by heart and brought iron-black beer to the dark-stained table where we wrote poetry and played cards by the fire.

We’d wonder how the island stayed bright despite the setting sun beyond it, its greenness undimmed by dusky Autumn skies. We said that one year we’d come back in the summer and take out a little ferry, but we knew in our hearts that doing so would only serve to break the spell that bound us.

And every night we’d return to the little wooden shed, where the door stuck shut as we breathed on frozen hands and tried to rattle the key in the lock without waking the horse behind.

We’d tumble in at last and kick off muddy boots, flick on the heater, and draw the thick curtain across. Then we’d bravely shed layers onto the hardwood floor and clamber up the white-painted ladder, minding our heads on the beam before disappearing beneath the covers.

We left the blind on the skylight undone, knowing how we’d awake with a start in the night as the supermoon, bringer of changing tides, traced its way across the dark square of sky.

 

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