What is it about an island? ―and Reflections on Clare Cooper Marcus’ Iona Dreaming

Aran na Naomh




The first contact I had with the wild islands off the coast of the British Isles was the Blasket Islands, and that was from a mile away. Although we attempted several crossings to the Great Blasket, rough seas always prevented the passage, a condition that often isolated the islanders, sometimes dangerously so.

These islands, inhabited until November 1953, were crucial in preserving the Irish language. Several Irish authors spent months here in the early 20th century, learning Irish, as that was the only language the islanders spoke. They also encouraged these wonderful island storytellers to write in Irish. Tomas O’Crohan’s The Islander (1926) is one of the more famous, his account recording a island life he knew would not last. From 1926 through 1933, seven books were published in Irish by native authors, the harsh, windswept landscape, their muse.

On another trip, my husband and I took a boat off Ireland’s coast to Aran na Naomh, the larger of the Aran islands. This island had been swept over by a wave some 500 years ago, leaving it treeless. Grids of ancient rock walls created micro climates in which farmers enriched soils with kelp and manure to grow crops. Again, the austere landscape resonated with the soil of soul.

Ancient stone fences create micro climates on Aran na Naomh
So when I came upon your book, Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place: A Memoir, Clare Cooper Marcus, I was ready for the calmness I felt in each written page. Your attunement to place, in this case, your beloved island Iona off the coast of Scotland, opens the heart path, sending a root into core of being. I marveled at your attention to the guidance of synchronicity and in the council you took from the night, dreams honored like important diplomats. I studied your example of an examined life, turning toward what many turn away from: war, cancer, hurt, loneliness, death. Time cocooned itself as I read, the shapeshifting work of eternity. Your poetry of place sensitized me to the poetics of mine.

I liked how the butterfly of your vulnerability visited the feminine ground of feeling into yourself and into the earth, at once, how it fertilized, transformed you, this crucible of island that has pulled you like a powerful magnet. For as you say,

… if a place, a culture, an island keeps recurring in your dreams, appears unbidden in pensive moments, you can be sure it has something to tell you that you need to hear. Heeding the call, your life is changed. (p. 368)

Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place: A Memoir, by Clare Cooper Marcus. Nicolas-Hayes, Inc., 2010.