The 'Beautiful Melancholy' of the Emerald Isle. Pensive exploration for cold, uncrowded waves as told by surfer/writer, Dan Crockett.
Some of the best journeys out there yielded little but midges and cowshit. Before google earth and star ratings you went on whispers and rumours, drove down every track and hoped. There is a length and breadth to the coastline of the island, a lifetime to discover. Nooks and crannies and with them ideal exposure to the swell train that kicks in every autumn and keeps spinning until spring starts to unravel it. It is a place of huge seas that dwarf the land, ragged energy and short winter days. Just when it saps you fully, the sky breaks and everything burns golden and green. Change is the only constant.
The first time ever, a man playing a flute in front of the castle. A haunting tune full of melancholy but beautiful in the still evening air. Lefts and rights dancing for an audience of one. We didn’t know what perfection was, still don’t, but it was clear from the abundance and emptiness this wasn’t far off. It started an annual journey for a decade or so, before crowds choked the window. All that is left from those trips are a few 35mm photos and memories thrown by Guiness and Bushmills, both of which acquire a new potency in their homeland.
At the spot in front of the white statue, a young sea otter pup, perhaps too junior to be shy. Playing in the pool inside the reef while long green lefts loop in the background. A mirror for the pure delight of the moving ocean. Clare on a slate grey day of incessant rain, my old friend Jono (who never grew old) in his wetsuit knocking rocks together like a madman and the dolphin appearing, curious and magic. Dreaming of a slab covered in spongy moss and actually finding it, green glass in a westerly gale. Driving four hours away from waves for a rivermouth right and the tide just killing it.
In hushed tones we were told about a point in the north that broke for a mile. An old Australian living there in a caravan. From Bundoran up we drove down every single track for what seemed like weeks. Ticking places off on the map, surfing foggy beachbreaks under ruined houses, thick clouds of midges around the tent. We never found the point, stopped a few miles short as it turned out, but it was a good lesson in potential and disappointment. If you want a guarantee of anything, go somewhere else.
I remember watching Easkey at her namesake, racing little walls on my Lis fish, generations of heritage in the lines. She stayed out past the dusk, grin lit on the reef. It brought to mind her uncle, one of the first guys I’d seen who seemed to fit the wave exactly, never racing, extending long turns below the lip before sweeping up into the pocket. It was the closest real-life thing to Derek Hynd. It remains my benchmark for how I want to surf up to this day. Kidman’s film alerted a generation of northern European grommets to two clear potentials – you could surf differently and there was a world of potential on our doorstep. Some of the waves didn’t even look that scary.
It’s changing, as all things do. There is a smaller window now, when travelling surfers are lured south, for emptiness. The locals know every inch of the coast and will be where it is best, but that leaves plenty of imperfection for wanderers. It’s fickle of course, I remember a week in Belmullet, a week in Dingle, a week in far north Donegal getting skunked entirely and having the best of times. It is the people that make a place.
A tourist like me, particularly like me, has no real perspective. I can see possibility in the emptiness and imagine perfection at every twist and bend, wave at the farmers and feel nourished by the light. But I cannot know what it is to be of there, to appreciate its fabric. All I know is the feelings of joy and sadness that flow through the land and water. It is in these currents we get lost and found.
Words and Photography by Dan Crockett.