You remember in the film Where Eagles Dare where Clint Eastwood had a doosey of a fight with a Nazi on the roof of the cable car as it wound down from a castle high up on a snow covered mountain? Well, I was reminded of that at a place at the bottom of Ireland on one of those fingers of land that points into the Atlantic and where the next stop is America, or if you took the wrong ship in 1912, an effing great iceberg. The place is called Dursey Island. The area looks nothing like the Clint Eastwood movie but it does have a cable car of similar vintage. Dursey Island is across a wild, churning channel a few hundred metres from the mainland and it is a windswept, treeless, barren place famous only for the remains of a few Celtic houses.
Somewhere, 50 or so years ago, it looks like someone pinched two high tension power pylons from Irish Power and rebuilt them both; one on the mainland and the other on the island, though how they got it across is a mystery. A thin cable is strung between them and it supports a very small but equally rusty old cable car that looks like Ma and Pa Kettles’ shack hanging in the air and nothing like you would expect a cable car to be like.
The lady in the B&B where we were staying wondered why we were planning to visit such an unlikely and inhospitable place but warned us to be aware that the cable car ferry operator operated in his own particular, unique fashion. If he has enough customers he will run the car across to the island, however, he has been known to forget them, especially after lunch, and it is not uncommon for people to be left stranded there. As I said there is absolutely nothing on this island except green grass and the granite outlines of a few ancient houses. There are few less likely places in the world you would want to be stranded. The main street in Baghdad perhaps or maybe Northbridge on a Saturday night, but that is all I can think of.
Being the usual cowardly lion that I am I took a very careful look at the rickety towers, the thin rusting cable, the even rustier cable car and, as if to confirm my suspicions, lying on the ground were the remains of a still even rustier than that cable that had obviously snapped sometime in the past and been left where it fell, almost as a solemn reminder to those foolish enough to attempt the crossing. Oh, and I forgot, all the while you are poking about and considering your potentially imminent mortality, the wind howls off the Atlantic and swings the cable car back and forward at alarming angles. The wind is also bad enough strip several layers of paint off the hire car, let alone pin back your ears and make you wish were still back at the B&B knocking off one of their healthy breakfasts instead. It is the sort of breakfast that is sure to kill you but not as quickly as plunging a hundred feet or so into an Atlantic’s swell.
To my surprise, when I looked through the binoculars there were actually a row of cars on the island. Now, for the life of me, I can think of absolutely no reason why you would want a car on the island. There is nowhere to go other than from where you have just come from and that is only a few hundred yards round trip. There’s nothing to look at except the grass and the stone ruins and once you have seen them, visiting again would hold little appeal as they don’t change that much.
Back before he was in Midsomer Murders, John Nettles was in a detective show set on Jersey called Bergerac. Every episode ended with a car chase in John’s flash burgundy open top sports car. Nothing unusual in this I thought until I visited Jersey some years later. The roads there are so narrow and windy that there is no where they could have filmed a single car chase let alone one every week, however, without a car chase there would be no way of showing off Bergerac’s flash car. Is this what the cars on Dursey Island were for? Purely for show? Car chases, maybe? Surely not. But what? Perhaps they were taken over to add colour to the green countryside as it is far too bleak to grow flowers – I can think of no other reason. And there is no one to ask. The operator of the rusty cable car was at lunch or had died months before and no one realised, the other tourists were from Scandinavia and busy enjoying the weather, and the only sign is a memorial to the crew of a Heinkel Bomber that crashed into this spot in 1940 on its way back from a raid in London. Perhaps, I just thought as I wrote this, perhaps the bomber hit the cable and that is why it is now down on the ground. Wouldn’t that just give you the shits if you were that bomber crew, having survived flying from Germany, the Spitfires and Hurricanes shooting at you and Ack Ack guns blasting up from London docks, you head for home thinking you were finally safe and as you fly over the end of Ireland the pilot ploughs right into a steel cable stretched over to a second hand car yard at the end of the earth.