If you hold a mirror up to a mirror, you see a tunnel of mirrors, theoretically going on into infinity, to the extent that you are seeing images from the past. It has to do with the time it takes the light from the furthest mirror image to reach your eye. (They’re all the same distance away, in the plane of the mirror you’re holding.) Light, as you know, is pretty fast. The light you see from a star fifty million light years away started out fifty million years ago and has just reached your eyes. This should be big news. That particular star may no longer exist but we will have to wait another fifty million years to see the light going out. That will be big news. While you are waiting, enjoy the show. Wander around by Red Island. Watch the Mirror dinghies dancing and vying for position in a stiff breeze. Watch the wind and kite surfers levitating on the waves. Dive in and enjoy the waves yourself. You have time to kill.
On the north east side of Red Island you are shielded from the lights of the town. On a clear, moonless night the stars lean closer, like diamonds on a black cloth. You can find true north and for a few minutes get your bearings in the immensity of the Universe. We took the children there one night, to see Kohoutek’s comet. It was predicted to be as bright as the full moon. It was, as the fella says, a bit of a damp squid. Comets are a bit squid shaped when you think about it. “What will you do if it hits the earth?” I asked. They knew a fair bit about rockets and aliens. “I’ll kill myself just before it hits,” said one little fellow. “That way I won’t get hurt.” “I’m freezin’ ” chorused the others. “Can we go home now?” That was in 1973. So far so good, although experts tell us that they have discovered a whole new category of asteroids whizzing around in space, each one with our number on it. Kohoutek was C/1973 EI, a Cork or Aer Lingus registration, easy for the Guards to track down. after the impact. Kohoutek will be back again to a sky near you in 75,000 years time. You have been warned.
My mother remembered seeing Halley’s comet in 1910. It made a big impression on her. It was caught in the branches of their pear tree. She said that Halley was at Bethlehem, two millennia ago and managed to get into the Bayeux Tapestry in 1066. Definitely worth a look. So we went back to Red Island in 1986, this time to impress the younger children. Halley put on a better show than Kohoutek but the wind was bitterly cold. “Lemme back in the car. I’m freezin’. ” They were not impressed. Halley will be back again in 2061. I will be 118 years old by then, too old to be coping with recalcitrant children. They can do what they like about Halley. Hale-Bopp, arriving in 1997, was the ultimate squib. It blazed in the night sky. It was visible for 19 months, brighter than most stars. It will be back in 3,397A.D. I will probably wander around to Red Island to have a gander at it.
It’s not red at all. The name came from the practice of drying newly dyed sails on the grass. It came to mean a holiday camp, popular with visitors from England after the war. They were good-natured people who enjoyed a drink and a sing-song in the Gladstone Inn. I meant to write about the McManus sail-making family of Skerries and Boston, but more of them anon. The Mirrors drew me in a different direction. Contemplating infinity is daunting. Astrologers tell you that the Cosmos is centred on you. You are important. Astronomers tell us that we are insignificant in the great scheme of things. Astrology has a greater following. The mirrors that take us into the past are old photographs, memories and stories of those who are precious to us. One image can prompt a train of thought, as can a word, a scent or a fleeting sound. I heard an old ‘Red Islander’ in The Gladstone, reciting a poem about the Battle of ‘Astings: There was ‘Arold on ‘is ‘orse, wiv ‘is ‘awk on ‘is ‘and…
(Click on the image to enlarge)
There indeed he is on this wonderful record of the past. Poor old ‘Arold, wiv an arrer in ‘is eye.. Isti mirant stella The lads right of centre in the lower panel, are ostensibly gazing at Halley’s Comet. One of them is shrugging: ‘Don’t ask me.’ Is it a good or bad omen? Depends on which side you’re on. They are, of course, mistaken. It’s a wocket ship with alien invaders on board, as any child could tell you. Keep an eye out for them in 2061.