The Ambassador of Clare Island
It was one of my first bus trips out of Galway last autumn and I was headed to Tuam when he sat down next to me.
"Hi, I'm Jack Pinder and I'm headed to Westport," he said. "Where are you from and where are you headed?"
That opened the door for an hour's chat during which he learned I was going to meet a woman in Tuam to write a story about her family ties to Reno, Nevada. And I learned a lot about Clare Island. And once you hear who's there and why, you can hardly wait for a time to make the trip to see it all for yourself.
So a few weeks ago we made that trip, my co-adventurer, Jan Lyons and I. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was so accommodating they put an air mattress on the floor to make enough room for us. And the first stop we made was at the community center there where Jack was working for the summer as a bartender, and master of all trades. Not only did he remember me and the story I was after so many months ago, he introduced us to everyone and sent us to the best spots on the island for sightseeing.
Turns out he knows everyone there and everyone there knows him. With just 120 people there I guess that seems logical.
"I love this place," he told us. "You have so much freedom growing up here. There's so much to do and so many places to explore. It was tough to leave at 12. But there aren't any higher level schools on the island so we have to go across and stay the weekdays as boarders."
For his upper level years he's stayed a 25-minute ferry ride away from home. Every Friday the kids collect at the dock and come home for the weekend and every Monday morning they make the trip after family good-byes.
"It's weird, I guess," Jack says. "But it's life. It's just one of the things we have to do to live here."
He also said that it made him independent.
"Some of my classmates who don't live here didn't know how to make their own lunches or book bus tickets or things that you just have to learn about at such an early age," he said. "And the first sleepover I had off the island, I remember the other kids woke up and when I asked what we would do for the day, they said play video games and watch TV. And I remember saying, don't you want to go outside and explore?"
That's when; he said he first realized just how lucky he was to grow up where he did, with the freedoms he's had all along.
"It makes you grow up and be responsible pretty young, but I wouldn't trade it for anyplace else in the world."
Jack Pinder, at just 17 years is an unofficial ambassador of Clare Island and I'd say, better than any tourism advertisement they could ever invest in!