I decided to go to Inis Mor when I listened to the BBC Radio programme ‘Songs for the dead’, a show exploring the tradition of keening in Ireland. In this programme the narrator travels to Inis Mor, believed to be the last location of professional keeners. Brigid Mullin of Inis Mor was the last keener recorded by the song collector and archivist Sidney Robertson Cowell in the 1950's.
I came across this programme when looking into the research project Keening Wake. Introducing people to Keening in Scotland and Ireland, through archive material, oral lore and informed opinion. This website has some really great sound clips of interviews with people describing what it was like to listen to a Caoineadh.
I stayed on Inis Mor for three nights and was treated to glorious weather. I hired a bicycle, visited the cliff edges and wound my way through the coast roads. There was an huge rusty fishing boat leaning in the harbour, orange speckled gravestones and grey veined beaches. I took pictures and made copious notes on the landscape, which was beautiful and barren and atmospherically inspirational.
On a rainy morning a coffee shop screened the 1934 film ‘Man of Aran’. A documentary and fictional narrative on the everyday trials of life on Ireland's unforgiving Aran Islands. Carrying seaweed, catching basking sharks, and making fields atop acres of stone. Watching this film was so informative and poetic, it filled me with new images from a time I could never have reached without this amazing cinema. For me, being on Inis Mor was completely essential to writing this short story. The trip taught me how visiting a place gives me the vision I need to write.
Extract from Aida:
The Island now slopes sandywards on the bay side. Grey scree and fragmented bogs harbour seals. Docked like metallic canoes, they flop steadily, in snotty rockpools. On the west side, the Island climbs to great heights that suddenly drop in knife edge cliffs, black, barnacled and fringed with forests of seaweed. The seaweed swims as tongues lolloping a wet talk underneath.
- Hannah Sullivan, 2019.