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The Island – January 2024

Usually, the first visit of the year to the island is in February or March, however, the storms in December hadn’t been kind to the tarp that was covering the middle section of the roof and the roof needed attention. The fear was that, with a large portion of the south side of the roof exposed, a very strong wind could get under the roof and cause serious damage.

Trips need to be planned a few weeks out, certainly before a reliable forecast is available, so people’s timetables and tide are the main factors in choosing a date, once settled it’s just a matter of hoping that the weather cooperates.  In mid-winter there is only one high tide during daylight hours each day, so options are quite limited. Ideally, we plan to arrive on a rising tide, that way if there are any delays we won’t miss our window.

Heading in fully loaded
A nice fossil find on the beach

With a date chosen, we were lucky enough to catch this settled spell of cold, calm weather, prefect for the island. Last week, with limited options, we left Dublin very early, before 5, and landed on the island at 9.30. At mid-tide the water drops very quickly out of the bay. We arrived at the fence just in time. The plan b would have been to land at the northeastern point, but this isn’t ideal.  With four of us, a large dog and two bulky rolls of sheep wool insulation we were well-loaded.

The primary goal was to cover the exposed section of the roof, but that only really needs two people so the plan was to add a hanging ceiling to the parlour. This would have been, and will be again in the future, the good room. Currently, it’s the everything room – kitchen, sitting room, bedroom – as the main room is more like a building site. With cold weather forecast it made sense to add the ceiling and insulate it, giving the stove a chance to warm the place up.

I had agonised over whether to splash out on sheep wool insulation rather than opt for glasswool. The price difference is huge (3x) but as the wool was going to require a lot of handling to get into place I went with the eco option. And I’m very happy that I did the right thing.

The idea was to create a very lightweight system of timbers that would hang from the rafters, attaching recycled tongue and groove to the underside and rolling out the insulation on top as we went along. By the end of Friday we had made good progress, more than halfway across the ceiling, and by the end of Saturday we had got nearly all the way across, but run out of t+g, so covered the gap with some Tyvek.

The difference between the first and second night in terms of warmth was vast. It was really cosy on Saturday night and I was very relieved as I had been a little worried that the stove I had bought was too small (it’s 4.5kw).

Good beer
Good food

I always say to prospective visitors (workers!) that “the island is all-inclusive”, meaning I will look after the food. This makes sense on a practical level but the ritual of the evening meal is also a central part of every visit. Often cooked outside on the fire during the warmer months, ribeye is always on the menu, chicken stew also features heavily.

It’s all a little experimental, but the south-facing side of the roof in the main room is going to be covered in clear plastic. The idea being to ensure the room is bright and also to allow the walls and concrete slab to absorb the heat of the sun throughout the year. We got four clear sheets up and covered the north side with four more metal sheets. With time in hand we moved the scaffold to below the next section of roof to be done and tided up the main room, organising all the timber.

The rafters on the next section look good enough to keep which is a major plus and, all going well, we could get the roof finished in the next two visits.

We left around 10 on Sunday morning, in lovely still, sunny conditions. It was a great trip, very satisfying to have made good progress and also to have had a bit of craic.