At the northern extreme of the Playa As Dornas there stands a lone bagpiper. He looks out to the sea and plays a lively tune, his fingers creeping over the pipe and his arms pressing on the bladder. The wind occasionally carries his notes out of earshot, and the sound of the waves constantly crashes over his melody. He is one of the few inhabitants of this Atlantic island, the Illa de Ons.
The Illa de Ons is a strange place to settle down. Against all odds – against isolation and privation, against invasion and exodus – life here continues as it always has: off the land and off the sea. Its people are fishermen-cum-farmers, whose contact with the mainland is minimal, and zero during winter months. When the isleños are not pulling in their catch they are pulling out potatoes.
The island’s non-human inhabitants are protected by the highest possible status awarded in Spain. They are terrestrial, airborne, and marine, including a small community of Ocellated Lizards – the largest lizard in Europe – and the world’s largest colony and nesting ground of seagulls. Fertilised by the cool oceanic currents that clash with the islands as they approach the European continent, the waters surrounding Ons host a rich submarine ecosystem of octopi and squid, together with monstrous crustaceans like the Spider Crab crawling under clouds of sardines fleeing the pursuit of Bottlenose Dolphins who dive past the occasional travelling whale. This storm of life is the islanders’ means of subsistence, providing generations of families the fruits of the sea.
Lives and Times, Writing on the World Around Us…
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Though the island enjoys such wealth under the surface, its location has historically put it at peril from invaders and marauders of the far north and south. Pillaging Vikings , pirating Moors, and privateering English; these islands have seen them all come and conquer, hence the population never boomed until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when a fish salting factory was built, pushing the human population to its high-mark of some five hundred inhabitants. For a century the island bustled.
With the collapse of the salting industry, however, came the decline of the island economy. Today, the state owns all land here, granting the islanders limited concessions to the use of the land, but not allowing them free title. This means that unimpeded exploitation of the land is now impossible, thus protecting the island from what would otherwise be the inevitable property speculation and construction that comes to a place of such natural beauty. Here, the only summer houses that exist are the same ones that have existed for a century, and these continue in the same family as always, as buying and selling of property is impossible.
The Illa de Ons is an outpost of humanity where life has been assured only by the abundance of the sea. Her biological wealth allows the islanders to live on this island palisade against the Atlantic as a community where isolation and exposure would ordinarily spell their disappearance. It is an Atlantic oasis, a palisade against the winds and waves of the seas.
Lives and Times…
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See the previous instalment, The Cíes Sublime, on the Island of the Gods.
Writing on the World Around Us…