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A Day in the Life: Rhoda Twombly


HOME SWEET HOMERhoda Twombly pictured outside her home on Inishlyre Island, with the waters of Clew Bay as a backdrop.

Name: Rhoda Twombly
Age: 63
From: New Jersey, lives on Inishlyre
Occupation: Secretary of Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann and the European Small Islands Federation

GREETING a new day doesn’t vary all that much for me as I’ve always been an early riser – some time between 6 and 6.30am – but it is easier to get moving in the brightness of summer, especially out here on Inishlyre, my island home in beautiful Clew Bay.
Morning is my quiet time of the day. There is no TV, no radio turned on. Although I do confess to reading the news on my iPad since most of the time we don’t get a daily newspaper as we aren’t in town. We religiously read The Mayo News and I do try to get The Sunday Times, if possible, and it usually lasts me the whole week.
Breakfast is usually porridge and fruit after the fires have been cleaned and the blasted litter tray. I’ve lived on Inishlyre for about 25 years. I met my partner Joachim Gibbons, who was born and reared on the island, when I had a pub on the biggest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, and Joe worked as a ferry skipper. We moved here to be close to family and build a home – it was the first house built on the island in about 100 years.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, my sister-in-law and I would travel into Westport once a week for our shopping –  sometimes, for extra excitement, we would go into Castlebar. We are pretty close to the mainland – the boat journey is about 1.5 miles and our mainland pier is Rosmoney. Then is is 5.5 mile trip to Westport. Generally the trip is calm, sometimes a bit wet and sometimes stormy.  As Joe says, there aren’t many days you couldn’t go out, but plenty when you wouldn’t want to!
With my work, which is voluntary, with Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann (Federation of Irish Islands) and the European Small Islands Federation (ESIN) I would normally have had monthly meetings in Galway or Castlebar and sometimes further afield. All that is stopped for now and it’s all Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. Not having to travel has its plusses and minuses – you save time and petrol but lose out on the personal, face-to-face side of discussing island issues. We do quite well with our virtual meetings, though, and manage to keep on track with our goals.
I’ve been involved with Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann for probably 15 years or so and with ESIN for seven or eight years. I am also  a representative on Comhar na nOileán, the Local Development Company for the inhabited offshore islands.
Our meetings are often with government bodies, keeping them aware of what is happening on our islands. Then with ESIN it is all about comparing notes with our European members, making connections with the relevant groups within the EC and making Brussels aware of the small Islands – which for ESIN means populations of less than 5,000. With these groups we try to spotlight areas that need research, investment, regulation or improvement and, where we can, join projects that work towards greater sustainability, habitability, and contribute to the island views on green energy, circular economy and blue economy, for example.
We didn’t have electricity here until 2000 so obviously there was no broadband. I have had fairly good internet – slow but usable – for about nine nine years.
If our communications are by traditional snail mail then it happens that my partner Joe is the postman for the small islands in the bay and  he delivers three times a week.
Lunch can be anytime from 1.30 to 2.30pm depending on what’s going on. During ‘normal times’ there are many visitors to Inishlyre during the summer. We aren’t a tourist destination but would have regular ‘boaties’ stopping by –  sometimes for water or a picnic, old friends up to my sister-in-law’s for tea and toasties. We also have our family Mass the first weekend in July for all the Gibbons and Jeffers that have passed on. This has become quite the social event with up to 100 people coming to it. It is quite wonderful as it gathers folks from the inner islands and mainland who may not meet up for long periods.
Living on an island during a pandemic means no more weekly trips into Westport for our shopping and therefore no bit of socialising with old friends as we shop. While SuperValu has a good delivery system, there’s nowhere to leave groceries on Rosmoney Pier so we go out for a big shop once or twice a month and have freezers. Joe gets us needed items in between when he’s out for the post. But we’ve cut that to once a week, trying to avoid town for all of us. In the fine weather we would have yachts’ people visiting and friends in outboards dropping by but there is none of that now. As time has worn on this has become a bit harder, a bit more isolating.
We always have dinner at 7pm. This doesn’t vary that much with the seasons although If Joe is sea-angling during the summer months, it can be later. With the bright days there are times that outside jobs take precedence or we just forget if  we are really involved in a job.
I am usually in bed fairly early, by 10 or 10.30pm. I used to read a lot in bed but the phone has taken over. I am trying to reverse that now but I find I don’t get too many pages read before I fall asleep.

In conversation with Áine Ryan

Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do everyday?
This may sound trite but we love being on our island, surrounded by beauty, love our cows, feeding the billion birds and many foxes, baking a bit, gardening and just being with each other. Money can’t buy any of that.

Most unusual thing you have eaten?
I haven’t eaten anything spectacularly unusual unless you count haggis

Favourite place you have visited?
Edinburgh or pretty much anywhere in Scotland

What makes you nervous?

Name three celebrities you would invite to your Zoom party?
Sharon Shannon, Stephen Fry and John Creedon

Three things always in your fridge?
Milk, boiled chicken, scraps for foxes

Most prized possession?
Necklace my mother left me

First hero?
My Dad

Sum up coronavirus in three words?
Unforgiving, indiscriminate, pervasive

Last book you read?
‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan and now reading John Creedon’s book on placenames, ‘That Place We Call Home’

Describe island life in one sentence?
You learn to appreciate the little and large things in life, to take the happiness and sorrows you are given as part of what life is