Life on Inishmurray

By Florrie Brady
I was born on Inishmurray Island in 1912, and there were six in our family. We all loved going to school; it was a small school with only fifteen or sixteen pupils. We spoke only Irish – my father was teaching Irish. He was a great man. 

There was a small chapel, Saint Molaise’s, and every Sunday we’d go up with the teacher and say the Rosary. The Rosary would be said there of a Sunday and afterwards we’d go ’round the fourteen Stations of the Cross. Then we would go home to dinner. After that we might go over the road to a neighbour’s house to listen to music or play cards. That was all the pastime we had and you’d never hear anybody cursing. 

There’s great land on the island and we used to keep cattle. I often helped to feed them in the shed during winter and when the calves got big we would put them in a boat and bring them out to Streedagh; from there we would drive them to the Fair in Grange. Ah now, ’twas hard work, no plough, no tractor, you had to cut the turf on the bog with a spade; cut the meadow with a scythe. The meadow then had to be shook out and built into hand-shakins or maybe tramped cocks. Later on it would be brought down to the garden, where it would be made into a reek. 

The islanders were good people; they always helped each other and they were honest people. If there was rain coming when hay was on the ground they would come and help to get it up. The same with the spuds; they all helped. That’s the kind of people they were. 

When we had a Station in the house a priest would come in a boat from the mainland. There wasn’t much carpets on the floors that time, but the concrete floor would be shining. 

I left school at fourteen and stayed at home doin’ work in the house and on the land. My aunt took one of my sisters to America, but I never went. 

I was married at seventeen-and-a-half to Paddy Brady. He lived on the island too. He was six-and-a-half years in the Irish Army. He was a great fisherman too. We had a very happy life. He died eight years ago, God be good to him. 

The sea around the island gets very rough in winter and there are often very bad storms. I remember one time there came a storm when I was there and we were marooned for six weeks. We had three bags of flour in the house and the sea came up on the land. Before that there was a storm that lasted eight weeks, and one morn some of the men went to the Holy Well fasting and brought back bottles of Holy Water and went down to the shores where they said: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. As soon as they said that the sea got calm. That’s the truth. 

If you are in the Chapel of Saint Molaise you are supposed to back out so that you are facing his statue till you are outside. The statue is carved of timber and the Saint himself is buried near the chapel. It is a well kept secret where exactly he is buried, in case someone might dig him up and find the valuables buried with him. 

I remember one Christmas Eve there was a dance over at a neighbour’s house. I was the youngest and I asked my mother to let me go, and she did. There was no one in the house then, only my father and mother and two neighbours – two men. 

My father went out to a keg of poitin he had in a small house over the field. When he was in the wee house he looked out the window and saw a light in the chapel, and nobody there. When he got a better view he could see a priest in his robes with a crowd of people around him in the chapel. The priest had the chalice raised and didn’t my father run down to the house and told my mother. My mother and the two men went back with him and all they could see was The Glory of Heaven. When they got back they came over for us and we all went up to the chapel. Well the heat that came out, and no cookers or heaters of any kind inside. We all knelt down and prayed. 

There are two graveyards on the island, one above where the monks lived – that’s where the men of the island are buried, and the other down at the Nunnery – that’s where the women are buried. No man could be buried with a woman. Daddy used to tell it, his father was telling him, God be good to them all, that a man died on the island and as was the rule his neighbours brought the remains up and buried it with the men. Well, his wife was at the funeral and said when she died she must be buried with her husband. The old people couldn’t understand it and didn’t know what they would do when the time came, but when she died they did as she asked and buried her beside her husband. The next morning our cow was waitin’ to get in the gate because the grass was that good, and my mother, God be good to her, went up to bring the cow down, and didn’t she see the woman’s coffin lyin’ on the grass beside the grave. The neighbours had to bring the coffin down and bury it with all the other women in the Nunnery graveyard. 

There was no priest on the island and yet nobody died without one. 

When I was on the island there was this old man, he was the name of Michael Boyd and he was very ill. He was a very holy man and you’d never hear anything out of his mouth only prayers. The poor fella got so bad that he sent to the mainland for the priest, but the priest wouldn’t come back in the boat because the sea was rough. One of the boatmen said to him: But you’ll have to come in and see Michael Boyd. He told them to wait till mornin’. Anyway, the boatman was staying with a man in Streedagh that owned a shop, and at four o’clock in the mornin’ there was someone knockin’ on the window, and the shopkeeper looked out to see who was there. Who was it but the priest, a Father Crean, and he said: Will you bring me to the Island? One of the boatmen got out of bed and said to Father Crean: Why didn’t you come in before when we asked you, you have to come in now? 

I’m wanted now, said the priest, An angel came to my house and told me to go back, go back and anoint Michael Boyd. 

The boatmen went and tackled the boat and headed for the island, and the priest with them. When they reached the island the priest went over to Michael Boyd’s house. Michael had been unconscious for three days then. The priest said How are ya, Michael? He opened his eyes and said: Ya had to come, ya had to come, did that angel call ya? 

I’m sorry, Father Crean said, and anointed him just before he died. 

The poitin was made for Christmas and stored in kegs, and police used to come at night and search for it. They always had to leave again without finding any. 

They came in one night and one of the islands had a barrel of wash in a room. There was a baby in a cradle in the same room, and weren’t they the bad things – two of them took the barrel of wash and emptied it out on the floor; they nearly drowned the baby in the cradle, the poor little things was chokin’. They got no poitin that time either only the barrel of wash. 

Above in the men’s graveyard in the middle of one of the Stations there’s a cross cut with stones, all roundy stones. If you count the stones three times you’ll get a different number each time. 

There’s a story told from my grandfather’s time about a crowd of people that came to the island from Rosses Point, and the old people told them about the countin’ of the stones. They all started countin’ them and never got the same number. One man said: I wouldn’t pay any heed of that; I’m bringing one of them home with me. And he brought one of them with him in the boat. 

However, comin’ near Rosses Point he went to the side of the boat and fell out and was drowned. They pulled in his body, turned the boat and brought the stone back to the island where they placed it on the Station. 

When the Nuns were on the island they used to go to the bog and cut their turf, and they’d bring back with them some of the flagstones to place on the hearthstone in the Nunnery. They would put some turf on them; they had no matches, so they would pray over them and the fire would light up and boil the porringer of water for their tea. Well one day didn’t this buck go into the Nunnery and said to the Nuns: I’ll soon know if that hearth flag is holy or not, lettin’ down his trousers and sittin’ on it. Well didn’t a big fire blaze up, he couldn’t move and was burned alive. There was nothing left but his bones, so the Nuns put them into the big hob hole that was in the wall and packed it up with stones. 

The nuns and monks composed a song about the flagstones later. It was fourteen verses long: 

The misty flag that lights the sod, 

Exposed for ages past; 

Where he expiated for his crime, 

And there met with his last. 

I wasn’t in on the island for forty years, since I left I was only in once. When I came to the shore I could see our house; the roof was off it, but the kettle was still hangin’ from the crook in the fireplace. 

I often went to Glasgow to visit my daughter and stay a month or so. She lived in the country, and I used to have a great time there, but the island was the happiest place. I’d go back tomorrow if it was still inhabited 

Story told to Tom Davey for the Journal  ‘Life in the North West of Ireland’