The boat swept across the short sound and we soon alighted on one of the two piers of Gola to admire the crystal clear water. Joe welcomed us to the oileán and briefed us on our short visit - an easy walk around in a circle taking in some of the sights
. I translated the small bit that Jen didn't catch - who's made fabulous progress as Gaeilge since we started coming to Dun na nGall together with the school just a few short years ago. We climbed the main road past old homes which now act as holiday homes.These belong to the decendents of the inhabitants - the last permanent inhabitant to leave being a man in the late 1970s - which are used at weekends and during the summer by families enjoying some serious amounts of rest, relaxation and the great outdoors. In the past, the island was fully self sufficient and considerably better off than the mainland. Fishing and crop growing were abundant and the turf bog provided cooking fuel. Seaweed provided fertiliser and expertise were shared with the two local islands, especially during emergencies, when a bright flag was placed at the highest point of each island in advance of a boat being launched for assistance. Each island community would congregate on their own pier and the required personnel - eg. a midwife or doctor - would be ferried back to the neccessary island to help out.
We viewed the old school house, where a prominent minister's father (I think!!!) used to be the school teacher, a mass rock (where Catholics forbidden to practise their faith met in secret), and the other pier. We passed the only worker on the island - the skipper's helper - building a wall and Joe told us of the grants available to build / repair / renovate houses from the government, who are keen to keep a population on the island, even if only temporarily during the better weather months
. We greeted the other family whom we'd travelled with who were picnicing for the day. Joe pointed out various landmarks on the mainland, including Errigal, Gaoth Dobhair and the beach we were due to visit in the afternoon with the children...
Having brought us back down to earth - or perhaps - back to the reality of the children on the mainland - we returned awe-struck to the boat and bobbed back to Gaoth Dobhair. I promised myself some day I would return to climb the cliffs on the other side of the island that he had talked about. Someday I would camp beside the lake there, I told myself, following in the footsteps of the 100+ climbers who brought their own food and tents the previous weekend. Pure magic.
And so I found myself in charge of another teacher's class in the middle of nowhere in sunny Donegal. While the children were ar scoil learning the local lingo in class from 10am, us staff found ourselves trundling down the road in the minivan towards Gaoth Dobhair on a morning trip out. Our driver abandoned the van on the pier and ushered us onto the boat for Gabhla. And Joe, Príomhoide an Choláiste and our guide for the walking tour of this uninhabited island trip, hopped on board at the last minute. Except we didn't leave, but waited for the baby and 5 others to come aboard several minutes later. It was just a 'wee' reminder for Joe that he's not totally the center of this wonderful little world.