I’m not on the island of Inishmore for five minutes before I’ve learned how to say goodbye in Irish. An airport shuttle bus picks us up from the landing strip and the driver asks us for our passports; Inishmore, he says, has just broken off from the Republic of Ireland. Everyone on the shuttle bus laughs. They know him. He’s been picking them up from the landing strip for years, taking them home when they pop over from the mainland. They call him by name. That’s why, when he lets off the first passenger, I think he’s calling her by name, too, when he says, “See ya, slán.” He calls three more people “slán” before I get it.
Inishmore is a gaeltacht – an area of Ireland where people still speak Irish as a native tongue. Gaeltachts are mostly found in the West of Ireland; places like Connemara, Donnegal, the Aran Islands. They say the Aran Islands are the last remaining vestige of the “real Ireland.” As if in testament to this, I hear Irish spoken all around me as the passengers chat with each other and the driver; dipping in and out, sandwiching Irish middles with English beginnings and ends, or vice versa.
I stare out the window. We’re lumbering up winding paved roads and there are walls all around us, made up of thick stone slabs. We pass a couple of restaurants, then a few cottages. I spy a rooster in front of a yellow and red pub. The blue bay seems to shrink as we progress into the island, but somehow, I can still smell the salty sea mingling with fresh island air.
And then I see them; my first nuns. It’s Ted Fest Weekend here on Inishmore, the “real craggy island,” and these gals are sashaying up the road, their costume wimples waving in the breeze.
After I settle in at my B&B, I head out for a walk to get my bearings and catch sight of three priests and a girl dressed up as a “hairy, Japanese bastard” – a.k.a, a rabbit. I casually follow them up the road to Ti Watty’s, known this weekend as “Watty’s Parochial House.” It is the base of Ted Fest 2010.
There are chalk drawings of the main characters in the windows, and, out front, a large black-and-white marquis of events:
Note: Saturday 27 FEB at 4:00 PM reads: “Ireland beating England at Rugby.”
I make a mental note to come by tonight for Ted’s Got Talent after I stroll along the sea. As I turn back towards my B&B, I see this: