Valentia Island, under the spotlight of the setting sun, is slowly coming into focus as the ancient ferry ambles towards it. The colourful shapes are starting to become clear, brightly painted houses and the giant red clock tower are now visible. Standing on the boat deck, with my brother and sister on either side of me, I am staring across at the island that took my Dad’s heart. The fresh sea breeze is whirling around us, unnoticed. We are all lost in our own thoughts, the first moment of silence to strike on the journey. This is one of those once in lifetime moments.
Soon, we bundled into the car and prepared to disembark off the ferry. This would be my first time on the Island; however, I had heard so much about it, that it didn’t feel like it was the first time. As we wound our way towards the house, the snippets of stories and tales were slowly coming alive whilst the locations were being pointed out – the village pub, the beach, the peer, the rock pools, the hills, the lighthouse… My mind was whirling with everything that I had heard about this place, trying to make sense of it all. We all knew that this trip was going to be different to any that we had taken in the past; but it was an important one to take.
The next morning, with the sun bathing the Island in warm summer weather, we walked to the most westerly point of the Island – Brays Head. The climb to the top gave way to spectacular views of the island behind, the Atlantic Ocean ahead whereby thousands of miles across the ocean lay New York – one of my dad’s favourite places. There I was standing on a cliff’s edge, with the spray of the ocean on my face, struck by the paradox that I had two feet on the country of my dad’s birth staring out to the ocean to where one of my dad’s favourite places laid, a place that held so many wonderful childhood memories with him for me. Even though I couldn’t see America, I knew that it was out there in the ocean, just like it was natural to know that even though Dad wasn’t there in person his spirit was.The Island may have been small (a mere 11km by 3km); but there were ample things to do to fill our time there. One day, we walked down the winding path to the old lighthouse, on the east of the Island. Another day, we hiked up to the highest point on the Island, called Geokaun and stood exactly where there was a photo taken of my Dad and brother a year previously. In traditional Irish style we went to the pub some evenings and met so many people who had known him. Although, I had never visited Valentia before, it didn’t feel like a new place or a new travel adventure. It felt familiar. Perhaps this was because of my dad’s love for the place which brought it close to my heart too?
The pictures of Valentia Island that were scattered around my dad’s house were brought to life, animated with characters and memories created during our time there. And just like Dad I could see part of my heart being taken by Valentia. Like father, like daughter I suppose. It was no New York; but there was something about it.
As our time on the Island was nearing an end, there was still one thing left to do – to visit Dad. It’s easy and only natural to not want to do things that we know will upset us; but it is something that I knew we had to do. Dad’s spot was perfect, complete with views across the whole Island. A beautiful place to spend eternity.
In a sense, from his spot high on the hill side, he was watching our adventures across the Island. He could see us grow to love the Island, just as he had once upon a time.
Image Credit – Nuala McBride