It was a nice enough forecast, weather wise, the day we set out to find a great hulking shipwreck off the coast of County Clare. Sunny spells that suggested a bright light to make the rust pop on its oxidised ironmongery, and fluffy white clouds floating in deep blue skies beyond. It was just unfortunate that we neglected to factor the showers in to our plans. Or the wind speed…
I’m in Ireland for a week’s fresh air, relaxation, a few beers and the usual exploring of the abandoned world with my old school friend, co-explorer and photographer Dave – Instagram’s own davidk_urbex – and today was the day we confirmed that we don’t really do boats as a method of travel.
Doolin was beautiful this morning, sunglasses weather in fact if a little on the cold side in the breeze. Are you off to the island? asked a ferryman down by the harbour, a simple question which in my mind had no simple answer. Which island was he talking about? There’s three of them out there with different tours going on different routes. ‘Yes’ I replied after a second’s pause, feeling in a very English way that it would be far better to get on the wrong boat and end up stranded somewhere than to look like I didn’t know what I was doing…
Our destination was in fact Inis Oir, the nearest of the three, and as luck would have it this was the island to which he referred, a place that we were assured was as close to traditional Ireland as one can find. The diminutive Queen of Aran was late in to port, the reasons for which would become painfully clear as she turned around and quickly head off with more crew than passengers on board. The waters were choppy, and some of them were running across the floor around our feet in the stark saloon below the bridge. The ferry could have equalled a log flume for comfort and beaten it in nasty surprises: it wasn’t somewhere I’d have ideally placed myself with waves crashing over the sides under darkening skies, the Atlantic morphing into a swirling tempest around us. We may have been searching for a shipwreck to photograph but there were times I thought the Queen of Aran would be joining it.
The half hour crossing took almost double that, the final 20 minutes being some of the worst as the young crew struggled to dock on the island, the undulating sea repeatedly threatening to throw the vessel against the harbour walls. I seriously expected it to be turned back but finally we were moored, the only casualty being the deck hand’s shoe as the heavy ropes pulled it off his foot and cast it in to the angry ocean. Gingerly, we disembarked the still gyrating boat in front of an increasingly nervous looking queue of return passengers and headed to the nearest pub for a much needed drink, and with appetite regained, a bite to eat.
The MV Plassy was a mile and a half’s walk away on rocks to the east of the island, twisted and broken where the volatile waters left it in 1960. Initially stranded on Finnis Rock on the 8th of March that year a second storm lifted it to shore a few weeks later, helping the locals to strip it of its cargo of whisky, stained glass and yarn, and save for a bit of shifting now and again it’s been there ever since.
Scouring the route you can find such landmarks as ‘Airport/Graveyard’ listed on the map, a pairing as ominous as it was unlikely and fitting of the island’s alter ego: Inis Oir doubles as Craggy Island from TV’s Father Ted, and the wreck features in the show’s opening titles. After navigating an apparent maze of dry stone walled lanes we crested a hill and the Plassy’s rusting masts came in to view, the rest revealing itself as we drew nearer.
The sheer scale of it was incredible as we walked the rocks beneath towards the bow, snapping away in the sunshine and recomposing when the clouds passed over. In the sun it glows a warm orange, at once inviting and peaceful. Out of the sun its imposing bulk takes on a black hue and suddenly it exudes a distinctly menacing air. It was like the thing had a split personality. Behind us, a huge mass of dark cloud was approaching fast and quickly unleashed a powerful hail storm. There was nothing for it – we ran towards the nearest hole in the ironwork and climbed in to the wreckage to take shelter for ten minutes, retreating only when the blue skies returned.
Conscious of the time – and definitely not wanting to be stranded here overnight – we hurriedly made our way back to the harbour, not quite managing to escape the next shower but ducking under the Man of Aran’s awning at the tail-end of it and buying a selection of his hand made fudge. The Man assured us that the sea had calmed down greatly since the morning and that the return trip ought to be much easier – though the subsequent arrival of a boat named Tranquility was an optimism taken too far, unintentionally tongue-in-cheek but bordering on sticking two fingers up at the cold and damp passengers.
It was a slightly better return, but nevertheless we resolved never to travel by boat again and base the next adventure firmly on dry land in one of the region’s fine abandoned lunatic asylums instead.
Inis Oir was alright. At least we got some nice pictures and a good story out of it…