No Man Is An Island

May 3, 2012

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.


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Great Man !!! Probably the only real human being on this planet.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive

Marvelous! I wish it were me living in such peace and contentment.

Posted by quixxote | Report as abusive

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

“Lucky Man”

Posted by Harry079 | Report as abusive

The Native American, African Bushmen and Australian aboriginal tried the same thing before. Very green, very nice, very environmentalistic, very happy.

Well, it lasted until the more advanced people come ‘visit’ them.

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

Yeah OK, sounds kind of cool for awhile but won’t it be better to have a lady friend or two with you ?

20 years hes lived there–I would hope not all alone

Posted by Skylor | Report as abusive

Yeah OK, sounds kind of cool for awhile but won’t it be better to have a lady friend or two with you ?

20 years hes lived there–I would hope not all alone

Posted by Skylor | Report as abusive


Would you seriously trade in the ability to 1) visit a doctor 2) go ‘hunting’ for food at your local supermarket 3) make use of the internet 4) enjoy equality between the sexes 5) to know that when a natural disaster hits, its not gods wrath etc etc… etc.

And your proposition that the life style these people lived was “very environmentalistic” flies in the face of the available evidence. People have been bending nature to suit them since time immemorial. Neo-lithic farmers over worked areas of land turning them into peat bogs. The Australian Aboriginal wiped out all the mega flora in Australia within a few hundred years of their arrival. They burned massive areas of land to flush animal out of the bush to kill… the fact that fire is a part of the bush cycle is not a natural development, its the result of 1000s of years of aboriginal people repeatedly burning the land.

The reality of tribal societies is that it was a harsh, violent, and short existence. Now if you really do look back at that time with a heavy heart then you should move to the centre of Australia. Not many folks out there, you’ll be find to de-clothe, put on your finest Kangaroo skin undies (yes these people did kill animal to wear as clothes…SHOCK HORROR!) and proceed to dig you dinner out from the dirt (yum yum!), rub 2 sticks together for fire and sleep under the branch of a tree. Going tribal has never sounded so fund…

Posted by onlyif | Report as abusive


I think you misunderstand my real point.
My real point is that living like this guy and what the far left hippies proposed is not the solution at all!
My response was to the 2 posters before me.

Perhaps the sarcasm was not clear?

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

The main point is that Barry Edgar Pilcher is a poet and musician. He is not advocating his lifestyle – he is simply living in a pace where he is free to write and compose. I would tend to agree with the first post vis-à-vis ‘Barry Edgar Pilcher as ‘probably the only real human being on this planet’, not because of where and how he lives – but because of who he is. I have not seen him for almost 30 years – but I knew him when he lived in Cardiff. He was a poet and musician then – and his creative life has never ebbed.

Posted by DocTogden | Report as abusive

This article seems to have aroused some contention,i guess it is a paradigm shift too far.In truth the story of Barry is not quite as he portrayed it.The move to Inishfree was a family affair was plus me[his wife] and our daughter then age 10.Our motives for doing so were mixed,at the time there was a growing community including a family that home schooled,Euro money available for developement of the islands and promoting meaningful tourism and Inishfree is amazing.However…. it was,as they say ‘the best of times and the worst of times’.to cut a long story short NONE of it worked out,including our marriage.I moved back to uk with my daughter.Eventualy every one else moved away,Barry did try to move but the inertia of island life got the better of him.As it happens he is uniquely equipped to make the best of it,and has triumphed in many ways as evidenced by this article.Ime proud of him. Barry is a wonderfully benevolent person but does not ‘do’ normal life, he is probably right brain dominent,and has a shamanic type charisma often misunderstood.I am deeply grateful to the Irish people who do sometimes recognise him.What i am trying to say is that Barry is the real deal,and can be nothing other than what he is.Yes he did come into bloom in the 60s and had been stuck there for decades,ironicaly he worked at the I.C.A.for a while and helped to paint the hippies tomb.I can only celebrate his survival and evolution and let the rest go by.As Barry once wrote: ‘its the saxophones that keep up the sky’.

Posted by EvePilcher | Report as abusive

its not what you guys think matters, its if barry is happy to be alone or not.

Posted by cesill_y | Report as abusive

TO EVE PILCHER: Glad to read what you wrote about Barry. I’ve been in touch with Barry on and off over the years and exchanged poetry. You may not remember me – but I used to visit with you and Barry in Roath / Cardiff in . . . 1976 I think. We used to have musical evenings and I enjoyed your ’cello playing. I was sorry to lose touch with you. I visited you once in Devises of all places . . . You may be interested to know that you are mentioned in Volume I of ‘an odd boy’ my memoirs of the Arts in the 1960s and 1970s. You probably remember me as Chögyam Togden. As an author of books on Vajrayana I use them name Ngakpa Chögyam and in the Arts field I’m know as Doc Togden.

Posted by DocTogden | Report as abusive