Journey to Abbey Island

What started out as a favour for a close family friend turned into a treasure
hunt, then a healing place, a history lesson, an eye-opener.
Enough of the riddle. Let’s begin.
Onnolee’s son, Fintan told me at her memorial service in Pasadena that when
she died she wanted to leave a little herself in this place she had not been able
to get to. Would I help? Of course. I was on my way back there.
“My cousin suggested they be scattered at a family island graveyard in County
Cork. He doesn’t remember the name, but it is accessible only at low tide.
Everyone knows where it is.”
So I left Los Angeles, grief lightened by a mission. The tiny gold ring box with
its delicate pink chiffon ribbon was tucked into my carry-on.
As it turned out, when I got here, everybody did not know. I asked several
people — a tour guide from Dublin, a handsome young man from Failte Ireland
descended from Brendan Boru, your man on the street. Nope, nope, and nope.
“Don’t worry, if you just toss them into the ocean, that will be great,” he wrote
when I broke the news to him.
Driving from Dublin to Kenmare not long after, I stopped at an Internet café for
a coffee and a quick e-mail check. There was another missive from Los Angeles.
“Hey, it’s not Cork, it’s Kerry,” it read.
Aha. Even café clerk knew. “Oh, that’s Abbey Island on the Ring,” he said.
And where was I headed that very day? To Kenmare. Perfect. Even the tide was
on my side. The following day, a drizzly one. I with a companion west out of
town on the N70, turned left at the Blind Piper, then right at Derrynane House,
the ancestral home of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. Finding Abbey Island
was easy.
It was cold, gloomy and windy that day in mid-May, but the harbour was
nonetheless strikingly gorgeous, a perfect cove surrounded by green hills, a few
houses and no people at all. To my right, across the packed sand, I could see
the high crosses and the island namesake, the incredible, centuries-old and
roofless Derrynane Abbey.
Walking across, manoeuvring around boulders, a couple of huge granite steps
and I was in the graveyard surrounded by markers and crosses: Grady,
O’Connell, Sullivan, O’Sullivan.
I walked through the Abbey and out to the water, opening the gold box. The
strong wind took some of the contents, but most fell into clusters of sea pinks
growing between the wet rocks just below and into the ocean by way of
Derrynane Harbour.
It was wild, windy, and harsh, that mid-May day. My companion and I warmed
up with an Irish coffee at Bridie’s pub up the hill. I have since been there in
every kind of weather, discreetly carrying film canisters and jars used for
blowing bubbles. I went to do a favour and go back because I fell in love.
Derrynane is one of a few Blue Flag beaches that has earned the title for its
stellar water quality and a long list of other attributes including educational
Last summer at Derrynane I met up The Seaweed Guy, who introduced me to
this strange foodstuff and insist I taste an incredibly salty but diverse variety,
from stringy to chewy to flat to bulbous.
Would I take some seaweed back to Kenmare with me? Of course. That night I
surprised the staff of a bustling Saturday night restaurant kitchen with basket
overflowing with still-wet treasures from the sea.