10. Black’s Bay

BLACKS BAY
On the west side of the island was a pretty little bay. It had fine soft sand, almost white and made a whistling sound when you walked on it. When the Atlantic behaved itself, it was as picturesque as any in the world. Palm trees grew in the dunes due to the island being in mid flow of the Gulf Stream, wild flowers were in abundance and there were thirty eight species of bird in the area. Because there were no predators on the island apart from other birds and from Wingnut the dog, many of the birds laid their eggs and raised their chicks on the ground.

Nobody knew why it was called Blacks Bay. There had never been anyone on the island called Black as far as any of the islanders could recall. It was a strand and a beach and it was a bay but it wasn’t black. It was about half a mile longs with jagged rocks at one end and sheer cliffs at the other where the dunes slowly gave way to black rock. Cows and sheep would often be seen walking along the beach.

The next landfall due west of Inishbog was a tiny village called Blackhead near St Johns on Newfoundland. It was 1,878 and half miles away. Inishbog was approximately 3 miles across and 7 miles long. There were a few roads, if you could call them roads. There were two tarmac roads, from the harbour to the pub and then an off shoot towards the old church which petered out after a mile and changed into a rough track. Both roads had grass growing in the middle but apart from that they were perfect, no potholes at all, in stark contrast to the mainland. In Cavan at one council election, the Anti Pothole Party gained two seats at the expense of Sinn Fein!

Geologically the island was pretty uniform with grassy fields interspersed with rocky outcrops from one end to the other. It ran from north to south parallel with the mainland. There were some pretty little bays on the Atlantic side but the east side were shingle and pebble beaches. The harbour was at the top end. Apart from the concrete quay, everything else was how the good Lord intended, it was a natural harbour, a sheltered rocky cove.

There was one stream which provided all the drinking water for the island. It ran into a small lough enclosed by reeds. Many years ago, someone far more resourceful than the current residents, had built a stone sluice which fed the water into an overflow, below which was a big green metal water tank. It was hidden by reeds but the flow of water was uninterrupted. Water pressure was negligible and occasionally taps would get blocked by leaves. There’d be a spluttering noise, a few drops would come out then a black leaf would burst into the sink followed by brief explosion of water which invariably soaked whoever was using the sink.

Today was a particularly calm day after the previous night’s storm. There were cotton wool clouds floating in cobalt blue skies. As usual, after a storm like that the beach was covered in kelp. The gentle breaking waves subdued by the weight of the kelp, arctic terns dived into the few inches of water behind each one, emerging with tiny fish in their beaks.

It wasn’t just kelp that came ashore after a storm. All the flotsam and jetsam washed overboard or dumped overboard from ocean going vessels eventually made landfall. Some arrived in Blacks Bay. One morning after a storm, along with the 35 tonnes of baked beans, thousands of planks of wood were washed onto the shore. There was hardly a patch of sand visible that day. Most of the island’s houses or barns were either made from or reinforced with this wood. Gimpy built a small pier and platform out into the middle of the lough through the reeds so he could fish. He sometimes took a chair out onto the platform and just sat there looking at clouds.

He had come down to the bay early that morning, an hour before high tide, to do a spot of fishing. He’d often catch his breakfast, a plaice or if the sea was a bit on the rough side, a bass. He was no chef but he cooked a mean bass fillet.

As he was standing there, just staring at nothing in particular whilst twitching the hand line, he noticed some strange tracks running from the beach up into the dunes. It could be a seal but there looked like some very feint footprints alongside the seal tracks. Maybe someone found a dead seal and dragged it up the beach. He followed the tracks up to the dunes but it disappeared so he guessed the wind had blown the soft sand over whatever it was. He had a look around in the dunes but couldn’t see anything. It was strange but then Gimpy was uncomplicated by nature so as far as he was concerned it might have been a seal, then again, it might not and that was the end of it.

He began climbing up the dunes towards the bog on the top but all of a sudden his line started uncoiling towards the sea. He leaped over a dune, landing on his backside in the soft sand and grabbed the wooden frame, yanked it backwards and leaned into a gradually tightening line. A bass! It had to be, although the bites from a bass felt gentle, once they were hooked they fought like mad to get away. This one was a good fish, it was putting up a strong fight, Gimpy knew he just had to keep a tight line but the kelp was nuisance and the bass would dive into it where it would feel safe. Gimpy tried to steer the bass away from a large raft of kelp but in it went, he felt the line go slack and that was that. As he pulled the line in he hooked a big kelp root which he proceeded to haul up the beach.

There was to be no fish breakfast today, burnt or otherwise. Instead he’d take the kelp home, it was good source of iron, he was told and would also do his bowel movements the world of good. That much, he knew. The north Atlantic fish stocks along Black’s Bay were safe for another day.