Ireland: Aran Islands, How Far Away Is Away?
On a clear day from the Cliffs of Moher it is possible to see the Aran Islands - Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore without binoculars. The distance makes them seem mystical and certainly an attractive outing from Galway City. Our day trip was crazy-fun, a little weird, inspiring, and exhausting.
My Aran daytrip and how it worked. We took the first ferry from Galway City to Inishmore (Inis Mór), the largest island. Schedules change by season but even in October it left several times during the day. The island can be enjoyed on foot, by bike, carriage or car. Our plan was to rent bikes and see the sights like almost everyone else we met once onboard. At the landing dock we found plenty of bike vendors willing to meet our needs. The rentals run about 10 euro each including a helmet. With maps in hand, parkas zipped up, and water bottles filled we set off intent on making our own discoveries.
The island is populated with one-lane roads punctuated by quaint Irish cottages, sheep grazing, assorted ruins, small pubs, and beautiful parish churches. While rock walls line many of the roadways there are no containment walls so livestock run free, meaning watch out for the sheep, goats, chickens, and an occasional guinea. Our progress was slow because among the five of us someone was always stopping for a photo op. Just for the record we never saw a slekie.
The island of Inishmore was not made by Disney – it is the real thing - similar to Prince Edward Island, truly family friendly and worth sharing with children. Like most of Ireland, it is ideal for active families who enjoy discovering natural beauty; hiking pathways; wading in tidal pools; wandering among ancient ruins; listening to island folklore; sampling fish n’ chips, brown bread and carrot cake, or just chilling out together. One stop tells the story.
Just outside of the village of Kilronan is The Aran Island Heritage Centre (Ionad Arainn). For first timers it the best place to get useful information relating to culture, customs, arts and crafts, history, and the language of the Aran Islands. The displays and exhibits depict the uniqueness of Aran Islands from currachs (a traditional rowing boat) and hookers (the traditional fishing crafts) to cloth making and woolen sweaters plus examples of heritage foods, plant varieties, and rock formations. This is definitely the place to get a useful mini guide book, map or secure practical information from a staff member. Discovery:
I have to include this for my mom who is a gardener. Nowhere else in the world do Mediterranean, Arctic, Alpine and Temperate plant varieties grow in the one habitat. Bonus points:
The classic film, 'The Man Of Aran' by Robert Faherty is shown daily and is included in the admission price.
About half away around the island we found the Dun Aengus Cultural Center Tea Room. Our stop before heading to the ruins included a cup of tea (of course), brown bread, and scrumptious carrot cake. Need to know: One important note - make sure to check the return schedule which also changes not just by season but based on weather. Overnight options while available are limited. Stop at the top.
The most famous on Inishmore is Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa) dating back more than 2000 years. Dun Aengus is perched a cliff towering more than 300 feet above the Atlantic. The complex of ruins spans 14 acres and comprises of three concentric walled enclosures ending at the sea. So like the rest of Ireland Dun Aengus is shrouded in legend and myth. It is often described by historians as the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe. The original builders may have been the legendary Fir Bolgs or wayward Danes. It is likely named after the mythical king - Aonghus mac Umhor. From the visitor center it took us about 20 minutes to reach the fortress. From the central part of the fort there is awesome view of the Atlantic and the coast. Need to know:
This is not the place to take toddlers, young children, or reckless teens because there are no guard rails along the edge and the wind it very powerful. There is a two euro entrance fee before 6 PM but after it is free. Near the Dun Aengus Visitor Centre there is a parking for bicycles but since many folks rent similar bikes it is essential to mark your own or an otherwise peaceful day can become stressful. Discovery:
There is public bus, departing from the ferry landing and the fee is about three € per person or take a jaunting car for five € a person. Even better, from March to November it is possible to hire a pony trap with driver for an island trip between the port of Kilronan and Dun Aengus. Round trip cost run between 60 and 100 euro for up to four people. Look for the Worm Hole.
Along the coast not far from Dunn Aonghasa and the village of Gort na gCapall is a natural pool dubbed the Worm Hole because of the way the sea ebbs and flows at the bottom of the cliffs. It is cool and sort of mysterious but selkies to be seen. Make your own pilgrimage.
The remains of early Christianity mark the islands and one of the best and most significant is a site called Seven Churches (Na Seacht dTempaill) – an ancient site of two churches and a graveyard near the village of Eoghanacht. I do not think there were ever seven but maybe the extra monastic buildings and pilgrim hostels add to the count. From what I learned at Clonmacnoise on the mainland, in about 800 A.D, the Irish church encouraged parishioners to make pilgrimages and the island of Inishmore was one of the places. Discovery:
There is a connection to the O’Brien family but I never got the whole story. Visit the Black Fort.
Dùn Dùbhchathair – a.k.a. the Black Fort is not as popular as Dun Aengus but it is very interesting in its own right. It is also located on the edge of a high cliff but on the southern side of the island and is said to have been built between 200 BC -500 AD and was occupied until the 10th century. The site like Dun Aengus also has defensive razor sharp stone walls known as “chevaux de fries” protecting the remains of interior stone houses. Film on the beach.
Anyone who has biked around the island will have one or more favorite beach spots - most of the year the water is too cold for anything but beach walking and wave watching but that is not all bad. My connection with theatre and film attracted me to one specific beach spot northeast of Dunn Aonghasa. The beach near the village of Kilmurvy was made famous by the Irish documentary film ‘Man of Aran’. The tide pools are filled with creatures and the rock formations made for Hollywood. Bonus points:
The thatched cottages built for the film are located near beach and have been reborn as a B&B with a restaurant. Go for a gansey.
It is worth making the trip to Inishmore just to get a one-of-a-kind Aran hand knit sweater or 'gansey', a wearable symbol of the islands. The beautiful sweaters with their intricate patterns each tell a story and symbolize phases of life, connections to the earth, and strength. Basically each sweater tells a story – how Irish. About the Aran Islands.
I can only speak specifically about one - Inishmore (Inis Mór). The island is small in square miles (about 7 miles long by nearly two miles wide) but saturated with Irish lore, history, traditions and language. Irish (Gaeilge) is still spoken so Cromwell and his henchmen did not win. The largest port is Kilronan (Cill Rónáin), the place where the ferry boats dock. The trip by boat from Galway City docks takes about 90 minutes, From Ros a Mhil (Rossaveal) in Connemara it takes between 35 / 40 minutes and from s), Doolin in Co. Clare only 20 minutes. Planning Details and Things to Do with Kids. Read the stories.
For anyone wishing to enhance their trip to the Aran Islands, I suggest reading a few of Liam ÓFlaherty’s classic short stories. He was born on in 1897 in gGort na gCapall on the South coast of Aran and as an adult crafted a series of short stories based on in the lives of the Aran people, the animals, and the sea. A film to share.
Our family has long had a tradition of sharing stories and reading books about destinations before and during our family vacations. Because of my love for theatre and film I also look for films. Before my junket to Inishmore (Inis Mór), I watched The Secret of Roan Inish, a remarkable film by director John Sayles. Based on the West Coast of Ireland and include mythical selkies, haunting Celtic music, beautiful scenery and family values. When we encounter seals sun bathing on the rocks along the coast, the film came to life for me. The Aran Island Heritage Centre (Ionad Arainn).
For more details on the centre and its exhibits follow the link below. Kilronan Inishmore Aran. County Galway. +353 099 61355 or www.visitaranislands.com
Two ferries run to the Aran Islands from the port of Rossaveal, about 20 miles west of Galway City. Round-trip tickets on both Island Ferries and InisMor Ferries cost 19 euros for adults and 10 euros for children, with special family rates available on request. Both companies also provide a shuttle from Galway for an additional cost.
Aran Island Ferries.
37-39 Forster St, Galway, County Galway. +353 91 568903 or www.aranislandferries.comMan of Aram Cottage B&B and Restaurant.
Built for the film by the same name today cozy cottages provide guests first class old world charm and island hospitality. Kilmurvey Inishmore Aran Islands Co Galway Eire+353 099 61301 or www.manofarancottage.com Aran Islands Tourism.
How far away is away? Go for a day or a week. Anytime at all spent on the islands will be rejuvenating. www.visitaranislands.com Ireland West Tourism Information Centre.
A reliable spot to arrange tours, book ferry crossings, and exchange money. On Foster Street. +353 91 537700 or www.irelandwest.ie
Ireland is not only known as the home of Darby O’ Gill in fact do not mention his name in Ireland. My advice if you are traveling with young children is to introduce short stories before leaving fo rIreland. I discovered an excellent place to find Celtic fairy tales and printable Irish stories for young children. www.apples4teacher.com
My second choice, if you need a book of short stories for all ages, is Celtic Myths And Legends
by Eoin Neeson. It covers Irish folklore around the time when the Tuatha De Danaan ruled the land. Who is Tuatha? The answer is in the book. Content and images provided by Jule Nelson-Duac, actor and teacher who recently returned from five months in Ireland. Copyright 2011.