Farewell to my is­land home

This week­end, Amer­i­can au­thor Chuck Kruger will en­joy one last in­stal­ment of the sto­ry­telling fes­ti­val he founded on Cape Clear, writes Ais­ling Meath

Irish Examiner - - Arts -

THE Cape Clear ferry the Cailín Óir is busy trans­port­ing ex­tra pro­vi­sions in preper­a­tion for the West Cork is­land’s in­ter­na­tional sto­ry­telling fes­ti­val this week­end.

Vis­i­tors to the fes­ti­val will travel over the 12km stretch of wa­ter, a 45minute jour­ney to Ire­land’s most southerly in­hab­ited re­gion.

Cape Clear is where Amer­i­can­born fes­ti­val founder, writer Chuck Kruger and his wife Nell have cho­sen to live for the past 25 years. Or, as Chuck says, “Cape choose us”.

Un­for­tu­nately, this year is likely to be their last in at­ten­dance as the cou­ple are pack­ing their bags in readi­ness to leave for good.

“This is home, we are leav­ing home,” says Chuck about the rocky is­land which both he and Nell felt a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion with at first sight. It was 1986 when they first saw Cape Clear and both fell in­stan­ta­neously in love with the place.

“Cape’s a poem I read ev­ery day, ev­ery night. It’s a point of ref­er­ence, a metaphor by which I con­firm my very be­ing,” he wrote, and since then the is­land has con­tin­u­ously fed his cre­ative imag­i­na­tion.

“I have two loves in my life, one is my wife Nell who I have been mar­ried to for over 50 years, the other one is Cape Clear,” he says.

The cou­ple left Amer­ica in 1966, partly in protest against the Viet­nam War and also be­cause they wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence life in Europe.

They moved to Switzer­land where Chuck taught English lit­er­a­ture, raised three chil­dren and ended up stay­ing there for 26 years. They moved per­ma­nently to Cape Clear in 1992 where they pur­chased 60 acres of land.

Now pre­par­ing their re­turn to the USA in 2017, although Chuck ad­mits to dis­agree­ing with the cur­rents in the mael­strom of present day Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, his fam­ily are his top pri­or­ity.

“I’ll miss the ocean for sure,” he says, “but I will have a for­est to look out onto from the win­dow of my re­tire­ment apart­ment in Penn­syl­va­nia. I’ll be near a hos­pi­tal if any­thing were ever to hap­pen to ei­ther my­self or Nell, we have adult chil­dren and their fam­i­lies liv­ing close by. We’re both in our 70s now. Some­times fam­ily is more im­por­tant than land.”

The le­gacy he leaves of his time on the is­land is not just the es­tab­lish­ment of the sto­ry­telling fes­ti­val, started in 1994, but he has also elo­quently doc­u­mented a time in a place through his co­pi­ous writ­ings about is­land life.

They de­pict the re­source­ful­ness of its peo­ple and the glo­ri­ous nat­u­ral world that sur­rounds them.

“I’ve writ­ten over ten books about the is­land. I feel re­ally hon­oured to have shared my work,” he says.

Kruger has won many awards for his sto­ries in­clud­ing the Bryan Mc Ma­hon Short story com­pe­ti­tion in 2003 and the Dubliner Short story lit­er­ary con­test in 2002. He is also a poet and has taken over 22,000 pho­to­graphs of Cape.

Kruger’s sto­ries pro­vide snap­shots into life as lived on Cape Clear and are a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the so­cial his­tory of the el­e­men­tal lit­tle is­land cut off from the Ir­ish main­land by se­vere storms five to eight days a year.

The is­land cot­tage where he later lived was hit by light­ning in 1957, and as a child grow­ing up in New York State his grand­mother told him sto­ries of a great grand­fa­ther John Perry who was killed by light­ning in 1772. None of this de­terred him from liv­ing in a place where the storms can be fe­ro­cious.

“I’ll never for­get a sum­mer storm one year, around ’96 if I re­call,” says Chuck. “We were in the field and the wind was so pow­er­ful that it knocked my­self and Nell flat to the ground and we couldn’t move to do any­thing for over 20 min­utes.

“That was a par­tic­u­larly bad one, huge waves were crash­ing way over the roof of the youth hos­tel. They say around here that ‘The windy day’s not for fas­ten­ing the thatch’.”

He de­scribes the crash­ing waves as “syn­chro­nised mul­ti­tudi­nous gey­sers” which can get so high that even the 180 foot tip of the Fast­net light­house, four miles west of Cape, can be ob­scured.

“The ferry crews are our vi­tal life­line here, we de­pend on them for every­thing, they re­ally un­der­stand the sea and I am so grate­ful to them,” he says.

The is­lan­ders taught Chuck many por­tents of ap­proach­ing weather. A par­tial rain­bow for ex­am­ple, is known as a ‘wind dog’ a sure sign that the wind’s ve­loc­ity is go­ing to pick up later.

He got his first cam­era when he was 10 years old and has al­ways car­ried one ever since, cap­tur­ing the flights of seabirds such as the kit­ti­wakes and ful­mers, the oc­ca­sional storm kestrel, the dol­phins frol­ick­ing near the Fast­net light­house.

A re­mark made by the late Paddy Burke, pro­pri­etor of ‘ Ire­land’s most Southerly pub’ and his love of sto­ry­telling from all over the world in­spired him to start the fes­ti­val.

“When the one -eyed man came and sat in the cor­ner the peo­ple on the is­land stopped telling sto­ries to one an­other,” mused Paddy.

The fes­ti­val was born to de­fend this tra­di­tional art against the ad­ver­sity of the ‘one –eyed man’.

And so the part­ing glass will be lifted by the is­lan­ders for Chuck and Nell Kruger, who for a time were one of their own and who loved the is­land with all their hearts.

“I have loved the free­dom, peace, pace of life, the won­der of the nat­u­ral world. I have never re­gret­ted a sin­gle mo­ment of our de­ci­sion to move to Cape, life has been won­der­ful here. I will cer­tainly miss it,’ con­cludes Chuck.

I have two loves in my life, one is my wife Nell who I have been mar­ried to for over 50 years; the other one is Cape Clear

Pic­ture: Richard Mills

Chuck Kruger on Cape Clear in 2010.

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