Pattern Day on Inishturk Island
It must have been +20ºC, a clear blue sky, the sun was shining and a gentle, coo,l breeze coming off the Atlantic Ocean kept our body heat at a safe level. We were on the hillside below the Community Center on the beautiful island of Inishturk ten miles off the coast of Co Mayo in the wild Atlantic.
Gazing east across the deep blue Atlantic water towards the mainland and Co Mayo the scenery was stunning. The Mweelrea Mountains, slightly shrouded in a soft heat mist creating different intensities of grey blue between each mountain, with the scene being broken by Caher Island, located between us and the mainland shore, a flat island of sharp rocks and fresh green grassland bright against the still blue Atlantic waters.
It’s “Pattern Day” on Inishturk Island. A yearly event at the end of June, a social day when many families return to the island and bring with them visitors and friends to enjoy and to experience this great community event. The word was out that there were some 150 people on the O’Malley Ferry heading for the island. That’s a lot of people to add to the local population of just 54 inhabitants.
Sheep farming is a major source of income for these islanders. The big event on Pattern Day is the “sheep sheering competition” and the “sheep show”. The sheering is carried out using the traditional hand shears. A sheep coral has been erected on the sloping field in front of the Community Center for the occasion and participating sheep are herded in from the mountains pastures around 10.00am for the start of the contest around 2.00pm
Great rivalry exists and the youngsters, the young farmers and the “old” hands compete for the delight of winning. The standards are high and judged by expert judges specially brought in from the mainland. This year, Peter Herity from Westport, the Irish Sheep Sharing Champion 2014 awarded to him at the World sheep shearing championships in Gorey, Co Wexford earlier this year, was there to compete with the “locals” for the converted prize of a pint of Guinness and a good time.
The youngest competitors were 10 year old local, Ryan Heanue and his counterpart, James Hopkins from the mainland. To see these kids handle the “beast” was truly wonderful to watch; great determination and skill.
To keep the crowd from getting overexcited and perhaps to keep the participating sheep steady, the Dublin based Trad Group, “Room for One More” pumped out foot tapping traditional music from the constructed stage in the field while people sat on the grass, relaxed, listen to the music and enjoy the occasion .
Home made buns and cakes spread on tables on the grass, a bouncy castle for the children, face painting and the Crew from TV3 shooting a documentary on the occasion added a variety of interests for all ages.
Sheep all relieved of their wool, the cooler evening breeze set in, it was time to move into the community center for some refreshments. Hot food was laid on and a pint from the bar was welcomed. The food, prepared by Chef Michelle and Brid Heanue in the center’s kitchens and served by Lisa and Leane O’Toole, flowed for several hours,. This is a community enterprise operation and all hands are called upon to assist and make the day a resounding success.
The Trad group set up around 9.00pm in the center and, as the saying goes, “let the music begin”. In no time at all, there were dancers of all ages out on the floor, swirling and swinging and step dancing, to the lively traditional music that was now filling the room.
The banjo, accordion, flute, guitar and bodhran supplying rhythm and song for all to enjoy and build up the spirit of the night that was in it.
9 years old Laura O’Toole joined the Trad Group with a compoedent display of her musical skills on the squeeze box, and could she play. Then, to the delight of the crowd, she did some Sean-nós dancing, free lively movements as if on air, feet tapping: a pure pleasure to watch. This kid was a flow with confidence and talent.
My stay on this island was once again filled with friendship and the endless enjoyment of a selfless people. Space to walk, climb the hills, sit and dream and share your thoughts with the sounds of the ocean, the birds and the wind.
Island Community Development Office: 098 45529 / 087 1317426
Mary Helena O’Toole (Administrator)
Ferry run by O’Malley’s Ferries, €20 return. Contact for group / family rates
Enquiries: 098 25045
Roonah Pier near Louisberg, Co Mayo
Clegan Pier, Clegan, Connemara, Co Galway
Travel time +/- an hour
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