When Simon Cocking and his family opted to spend their first island Christmas on Cape, they didn’t know what to expect. But now they’re ready for a second
THIS year will be our second Christmas on Cape Clear. Many said they’d wait and see if we made it past autumn last year. We did, and we are now looking forward to our second winter and Christmas on the island.
To enjoy Christmas on an island, you have got to be prepared. No popping out to the shops to buy last minute things you’ve forgotten. That said, the one shop on the island, An Siopa Beag, has a surprisingly wide range of items stocked, considering its small size.
You will find golden syrup, dog food, meat, milk (at least until it runs out when the boat doesn’t come for a few days!) and, thankfully wine, and perhaps surprisingly, marmite.
Christmas over here does take a little more thought and planning than you might give it on the mainland. Then again, some people often have their Christmas shopping done by October on the mainland, too!
Next you find that everyone is talking about – even more than normal – the weather. For obvious reasons, when you live 13km away from the mainland, weather is very important.
What the sea is doing, and might be about to do, is much more significant, now that you might need to traverse it.
You need to think about this when planning any trips to other parts of Ireland, or further afield. What if a storm blows up, and you can’t get on – or off – the island?
Last year, in late November, the ferry didn’t sail for three days. This is not ideal if one of those days is your significant other’s birthday! For this reason everyone is an avid watcher of Windfinder and the weather patterns for Roaringwater Bay.
The weather website is surprisingly good at predicting how the sea will be, for the next 48 hours at least. Fortunately, too, the Cape Clear ferry also has a text alert to let you know if they are even thinking of not sailing.
So you might actually know in advance if you will be stranded on the wrong side, at the wrong time.
Last Christmas, after getting stuck on the wrong side of the water in late November, we became much more respectful of the implications of possible storms.
Trips were cautiously made to the mainland to gather food and supplies for the Christmas period. One visit was even risked to Dublin (shock!) to bring back a Christmas tree from a favoured outlet.
Then it was time to settle down for whatever the weather might throw at us. In a suburb of Dublin we once called home, we had spent eight years as ‘new arrivals’, and had never been invited to anything Christmas-related by our neighbours. Here on Cape Clear, however, from the school Christmas play onwards, there was something on every day for the following week, that brought an invitation with it.
Around half of the island’s population came down to watch the kids’ Christmas play. This was all delivered in Irish by the students, including – much to our amazement – our own three children, who had not previously been Irish speakers!
The Christmas play seemed to set the tone for the following few days as a series of activities took place. One day the shop ran a ‘hot whiskey and mince pies’ morning to thank the local population for their custom over the year.
On Christmas Eve, there was another event that we were invited to – nibbles, mulled wine – for a ‘welcome home’ for those teenagers and students back for Christmas. Similarly on Christmas Day, the club opened up in the early afternoon to allow all the children to come and show each other what Santa had brought them.
And there were more mince pies and warming drinks for the adults, to ensure everyone had a ‘warm glow’ inside!
When you tell people that you live on Cape, generally the response is, ‘What? All year round, even in winter?’
You can then see them mentally composing questions about loneliness and isolation, and being ‘remote’ from the rest.
But for us the first winter on the island was certainly not an isolating experience – or in the slightest bit lonely.
Despite the cold weather, we are looking forward to seeing what our second Christmas on the island will bring.
However, there might be a few conversations along the lines of ‘Are you really sure that’s what you want Santa to bring you? He does have a long way to go, and lots of other girls and boys to visit too!’
We wouldn’t want Santa to be worried about the weather too, you know!