No Man Is An Island
By Cathal McNaughton
For almost 20 years Barry Edgar Pilcher has lived alone on the island of Inishfree.
He is the sole permanent inhabitant of the tiny windswept island off the coast of Co Donegal in Ireland where he writes poetry and plays music. Once a week – weather permitting – Barry, 69, makes the 15 minute boat journey to Burtonport, where he does his weekly shopping in a petrol station. He posts letters and picks up the modest provisions he will need for the week and then it’s back to his ramshackle cottage where he lives and works in a single room.
Without basic sanitation, running water or a telephone and with a leaky roof and problems with dampness, Barry’s cottage is without any modern comforts. He has a peat-burning stove to provide warmth but he has to be frugal as any fuel has to be carried back from the mainland.
Barry spends his days corresponding by mail with other artists across the world – he is part of a mail art group whose members send each other drawings and pictures in the post. When the weather is warm he likes to ramble around the beautiful island playing his music – when I visit it’s a mild spring day and he takes me on a tour, stopping to play his saxophone on the beach. He tells me he takes inspiration from nature: “I’m playing a symphony to the shells today,” he says. His music is amazing and I am privileged to be at this exclusive concert for one.
Originally from south London, Barry moved to Inishfree in 1993 to ‘get away from the rat race.’ He bought this cottage from a member of a cult-like pagan group known locally as The Screamers, who had made Inishfree their base for several years. In his garden there is a stone circle left behind by the group who he tells me worshipped outdoors, screaming to release energy.
When he first arrived on the island there were a number of other people living there – one by one they have all left. “There is no school here for young people, no prospects, no future,” he explains. Later that day in his old fashioned kitchen Barry prepares a simple Vegan meal and surprises me by telling me he is thinking of moving back to the UK. “I miss going to gigs and visiting friends. I don’t think I’ll live here forever,” he says.