Research: Trip to Inishbofin

As I named the parts of my novel after the four seasons, and most of the action in the novel takes place in the course of a year on the fictional island in my book,  I wanted to spend some time on an Irish island in the winter to get a sense of island life when the weather is at its worst. I’ve only ever visited islands in the spring/ summer months so I had no memories to draw upon. I’d never been to Inishbofin before and I’d heard lots of good things. This was an opportunity to visit the place and get a sense of island life in the cold, dark winter months.

When I went looking for accommodation, it turned out that most of the hotels/B&Bs were preparing to close down for the winter. In fact, it was the closing weekend so the accommodation available was very limited. I managed to get a room in the Inishbofin Hotel.

We drove through Connemara to get to Cleggan Pier. As we journeyed along the stunning Connemara roads the rain was pelting down. For the first time in my life, I was happy to see rain. It was exactly how I wanted the weather. Moody, stormy, grey and wet. I’d driven through Connemara in good weather before, but incredibly, it is even more stunning under a dark sky.  We boarded the ferry, and realised that unlike other island ferries I had been on, it was packed with islanders on their way back from the mainland, and not tourists.

When the ferry moored up, we made our way along a badly lit and deserted road towards an area that seemed to have a bit life to it. We went for something quick to eat and coincidentally our hotel was right beside the pub we had our dinner in so went straight to bed.

I woke up the next day to a perfectly blue sky. I couldn’t believe it! The weather was absolutely beautiful and very mild all day, unheard of for October in Ireland! That’s typical Irish weather for ya! Whatever weather you’re hoping for, you’ll probably get the opposite. It’s a sick joke.

But we got over it quickly enough. We hired bikes and cycled most of the island. We hardly encountered another person, that day. That evening, we managed to bump into Alan’s cousin and his fiancée (given that there was barely a tourist on the island the odds of meeting anyone we knew were tiny). We spent the evening with them, attempting to party like the locals. The end of season festivities are something else, and Alan and I weren’t able to keep up with the islanders at all.

I did take a few things from my short trip. I learned that Inishbofin isn’t a Gaeltacht island, which most islands off the West of the Irish coast are, and in that sense it is similar to the fictional island in my novel. It also felt authentic, and is still very much an island that belongs to the islanders, again like my own fictional island. If you want a buzzy place, with plenty of choice in terms of where to eat and drink, and lots of shops selling knit-wear  and sheep fridge magnets and leprechaun hats, this ain’t your place. If you want to escape from the madness of daily life, take in some gorgeous views and see some beautiful and rare flora and fauna, come here, and maybe visit Connemara en route.

It was worth the trip in any case, I definitely came home with clearer picture of the kind of island that my characters live on.