Sunday, 18 November 2018

With John and Yoko in Mayo

We were booked to escape to our favourite West-coast haunt, but I had been in bed for three days with a bad cold. After some debate we decided to go. T did the long drive, whilst I consumed throat lozenges and Lemsips. After a fine evening meal in the Nephin restaurant and a good sleep, I felt I was starting to improve. We spent much of the first day in the leisure centre using the sauna and steam room and relaxing in the heated pool; we pretty much had the facilities to ourselves, it was a stormy November and there were few guests.

The Mulranny Park Hotel was opened in 1897 as a railway hotel on the Westport to Achill line. Unfortunately, the railway line was not a success and was closed in 1937. The building then went through various incarnations, being completely refurbished and reopened as a four star hotel eight years ago. The hotel’s most famous guests were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who spent a weekend there in June 1968 (fans need to ask for room 238).

In 1967 John had bought an island in Clew Bay for £1700 at an auction. He wanted it as a retreat from the pressures of being a Beatle. After this success he came to Mayo with his then wife Cynthia and their son Julian. He bought a Romany caravan, painted it psychedelic colours and got a local man to take it to the island for him. John, Cynthia and Julian went to the island by boat; it is not known how long they stayed in the caravan, or indeed if that was John’s first visit to Mayo. This little bit of local history was the inspiration for a fine recent novel by Kevin Barry called ‘Beatlebone’.

John then left Cynthia for Yoko and after working on what would become the White Album, they flew to Mulranny and then on to the island by helicopter. It seems that John and Yoko didn’t have a good experience there, it was nesting time and the sea-birds that had inhabited the island undisturbed for ages, dive-bombed the new arrivals. Yoko, in particular, took against the place. They returned to Mulranny by helicopter and left for London the next day.

John kept the island for some years, but he never returned. Instead he offered it to a hippy friend, Sid Rawle, who set up a commune there. The Romany caravan was joined by a collection of tepees as around twenty hippies came to live there. But de Valera’s repressive theocratic Ireland was not a hospitable place for them, even in a remote part of Mayo. The commune did not thrive and eventually the island was sold.

For the remainder of our stay at the hotel we split our days between the leisure centre and short walks along the greenway. I think it was the combination of the sauna and the steam room that helped me the most. The fine meals and good sleeps were very important too. By the second day, my sinuses were clearing and my aches began to leave me. On the final day I ventured into the hot-tub. It was great to lie back in the fresh air, watching the clouds scudding in from John Lennon’s erstwhile island and to have warm water bubbling all around me. By the time our wee break was finished, I was fully recovered. Although it didn’t prove to be a sanctuary for John and Yoko, it certainly worked for me.