North and South Inishkea islands, off the West Mayo coast were a noted nursery for a hardier than average type of west of Ireland manhood.
This hardihood sprang from a harsh and unrelenting struggle for survival with primitive boats and equipment in stormy seas. The rocky inhospitable soil of the islands and the long row to the mainland helped to add to the islanders' unceasing struggles and worries. The inhabitants of the two islands were taken to the mainland and allotted holdings of land by the Irish Land Commission about four decades ago.
Prior to their migration, the people on the neighbouring mainland liked to indulge in jokes reflecting the gullibility and innocence of the islanders.
One such story was told of a young lad from lnishkea who came to visit relatives in the mainland parish of Ballycroy. In those relatives' house, he saw a round earthenware jar minus the handle. On questioning his host about the jar, the lad from lnishkea was told that the jar was a mare's egg, and that if it were placed on a hob or some warm spot by the fire and turned regularly, a young horse foal would emerge after eleven months.
When leaving for home, the young lad was presented with the jar by his host as a memento of his visit.
The jar, bound around with a straw rope, was placed on his back as he left in high spirits for lnishkea. The day being warm and the journey to the ferry for Inishkea a lengthy one, the young visitor soon grew tired and sat down to rest on top of a steep hill. As he sat down, the jar slipped out of the straw rope and rolled rapidly down the hillside, crashed into a large rock and broke into fragments. Immediately, a hare resting on tile other side of the rock took flight at top speed, with the lad from lnishkea watching with admiration, as no hares exist on Inishkea.
Concluding that the hare was the horse foal released from the mare's egg by the crash, he exclaimed in Irish, 'M 'anam 'on diabhal, when he is a two year old, the devil out of Hell won't catch him!”
Another tall tale about a lad from lnishkea and also involving a hare, was one of my grandfather's special yarns. As I am not committing myself to say how much of the story is to be believed, I will tell it in his own words.
“In my young days,” said my grandfather, “I once hired a spailpin fanach who called on me in search of work. He was a native of lnishkea. He was a fine, supple, lively lad, every footstep about two yards long when walking. His name was Manus Lavelle.
One summer morning, we went out early to take some lambs to the fair of Claremorris. On the previous evening, l showed him a steep sandpit with a narrow sloping entrance.
l told him that l wanted the sheep and lambs flocked into the sandpit the next morning, in order to pick out the fattest lambs for the fair.
The lad was out in good time next morning and after a quick breakfast went off to round up the sheep, while l waited to milk the cows before going to his assistance.
When I got to the sandpit, I found he had the sheep already gathered and among them a large panting hare.
Oh Manus,'' I exclaimed, “you have a hare along with the sheep.''
“Arrah'' coolly replied Manus, “Is that what you call him? Well, believe me , that little devil gave me more trouble than all the rest!'
The yarn of the mare's egg, still popular in Ballycroy, must be a very old one as it was related by Maxwell in his ‘Wild Sports of the West,’ written nearly a hundred and eighty years ago.