For Patrick O’Laoighre, writer and musician, a month on Inis Oirr has been a joyous re-awakening.
His month long residency at Áras Éanna has seen Patrick tune into the spectacular sounds all around the island, including the language of the people.
Stunned by the rocks, the fields, the waves crashing against the cliffs at Inis Meáin, he has also been blown away by how the sounds of local people speaking in their native language seem to be so much in tune with the landscape around them.
A month on Inis Oirr has allowed Patrick to reconnect with his love for the Irish language and, through that, to feel a closer affinity to the island and our past.
He has been writing beautiful, haunting songs in his studio overlooking the sea and Inis Meáin, inspired by the land and nature around him, and even conversations ‘as Gaeilge’ with islanders in the pub!
No wonder Liam O Maonlai says there is an “elemental and ancestral nature” to Patrick’s work. He has really tuned into the “feel” of the island during his month living and working in the studio at Áras Éanna.
Being alone most of the time has challenged, but inspired, him; it has also forced Patrick to get out and engage with the island community. He has found joy in practising his Irish and improving his command of our native language every day.
“I am just so taken by the sounds here on the island,” he says. “Sometimes, I was writing in Irish, but I wasn’t able to because I didn’t have the words. I am writing lots of letters ‘as Gaeilge’, to my girlfriend, my friends, and to my family, and sending them every day. I am describing the beauty of the place and my views out over Inis Meáin and the sea.
“I was a bit nervous at the start, but the islanders have encouraged me to use the words I have. I love listening to the sound of the people here on Inis Oirr. I love listening to their voices, how they speak Irish. There is joy in their voices and it’s like listening to music.”
He counts Liam O Maonlai and Iarla O Lionaird among his musical heroes, but did not think his Irish was strong enough for him to sing ‘as Gaeilge’ until he arrived on the island. Now he starts every day singing the same three songs in his native language. And he is delighting in the sounds of certain Irish words.
He loves listening to conversations, talking to the islanders, and writing down the beautiful sounds of Irish words. Like “macalla”, the Irish word for “echo”.
“I just don’t get the same feeling with English words,” he says. “There are things in my mind and I might not be able to say them ‘as Gaeilge’ because I might not have the words, but at the same time I can’t say them in English because they just don’t make sense!”
While he has revelled in the sights and sounds around him since the moment he arrived at Áras Éanna, it did not take Patrick long to immerse himself in the language of the island. He walked, alone, to Tigh Ned on a Saturday night, only to be invited by the islanders to take part in a baptism celebration.
“I went to Tigh Ned,” he says. “There was a big family there for a baptism. After two minutes, a man bought a pint for me. The pub was full. They asked me if I had a song. They were so kind. I offered them a song ‘as Gaeilge’.
“They were speaking so quickly, I wasn’t able to follow everything. I was so taken with the energy in the place and the way they encouraged each other whenever anyone offered a song. I came back to the studio after that night. I was writing and writing. Your energy is so light after a magical night like that.”
The voice of one islander in particular, a young man who has a great “grá” for poetry, has captivated Patrick.
“I love his voice,” he says. “It is like listening to the wind or the island talking. The first time I heard him speak I was so taken with the sound and I didn’t understand why. We had a few more conversations and then I understood it was like listening to the stone walls, but that it was more like listening to music than someone talking.
“His voice is part of the landscape of the island. The people here are maybe more in touch with the nature around them. I love listening to the people here on Inis Oirr. It’s like listening to beautiful, joyful music.”
- Words and photographs by Ciaran Tierney, Áras Éanna.