John Lennon's Island
(An Extract from Chapter 1)
There were about twenty of us standing around by a fisherman's hut, attracting curious glances from the local community. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we looked out across the bay towards what was to be our future home.
There are 165 islands in that bay except on leap year when one disappears. The other side of the bay stood the noble Croft Patrick mountain, shaped like a pudding basin, towering up with a church on top. It is said that if you climb that mountain three times in your life you will never go to hell, whatever else you do. It's one of the holy places of Ireland.
There was a shout from the waterside. Our boats were waiting for us. We piled into the boats and the boatmen taking us out weaved their way across the bay and soon we were among all sorts of islands, gently sloping islands, steep islands, through calm waters and through turbulent waters where the sea goes through narrow gaps.
This important project had begun a few months before when I'd visited the offices of John & Yoko Lennon and been lent their island. I'd had printed a few thousand leaflets advertising the colonisation.
So it was that, on that afternoon in September 1970, our little group had arrived on the quai of West Port on the West coast of Ireland and made our way to the hut that I had announced was to be our rendezvous. I had already arranged for our tents and camping equipment to be taken out by lorry and boat and dumped on the island ahead of us.
Slowly we approached Dorenish, the island that was to be our home. It is shaped like two wedges of cheese, their low ends at the middle. There are sharp cliffs at the further ends, with gentle slopes down to where they are joined in the middle by a barrier of pebbles and stones that provide a causeway. We disembarked on the pebble beach.
There was one very important thing to be done at once. Tommy Cribbons, the boatman, showed us where the old water place had been, and with a spade we'd brought we dug and sure enough there were the stone lips of a well. We tried the water. It was fresh. Because, Tommy explained, it doesn't come from the sea but comes from underground, from a vast underground network, which is connected to the shore. Now we had water.
At low tide Dorenish has more beaches than it has land, and there was a lot of driftwood around. We gathered driftwood along the beaches and built our fire, in a little nook in the bank of the cliff, above high water mark. Next we struggled to put up a couple of the tents. Then at last it was time to relax and get our evening meal going.
We were sitting there about the fire and dusk was falling when a woman came walking along the beach with a baby and a man. We hadn't seen the boat that brought them. This woman was Marion, someone who was to be a very big part of my life. The baby, Benedict, was especially welcome because he was the first child on the island. The man was called Bernie.
As the night wore on so people drifted off to sleep. Bernie and Benedict went to their tent and left Marion and I sitting across the embers of the fire. I felt wonderful. It was a dream fulfilled and, what is more, a beautiful night. I was really full of myself.
She said, 'I know all about you, Sid Rawle.'
'Oh, do you?'
'Yes, and I've come here to fall in love with you.'
I was puzzled because she appeared to be with Bernie. I said, 'That's fine by me, but how's that supposed to work out?'
She said, 'I'm not going to sleep with you, because I already have a boyfriend, but you're my love.'
And that was as far as our relationship went for many months. I already had my own girlfriend, my bed, my sheets, my pillows, my carpets. Marion would come and sit on the edge of my bed and hold my hands for hours every night. She would sweep the carpets and help me run the island. But she wouldn't get into bed.
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