Visit Ireland’s Gaelic Past Today

| February 18, 2013
aran island cliffs

The rugged and tranquil beauty of the Aran Islands

Take a Ferry to the Aran Islands

While on our two-week Ireland adventure we visited two sets of islands off of the west coast of the Emerald Isle. The Great Blasket Islands, which I covered in an earlier post, are no longer inhabited but offer visitors a rich opportunity to imagine what life would have been like on a remote island. The Aran Islands, in stark contrast, are still inhabited by 1,200 people that have managed to Shepard their Gaelic traditions into the present day. While the Blasket Islands, with their idyllic beaches and lush green hillsides, eventually fell prey to modem day pressures, the chipped limestone cliffs of the Aran Islands stand defiant against the trashing sea just like their islanders have stood firm in their Gaelic traditions.

aran island carriage

You may like a carriage ride around the Aran Islands

Getting to the Aran Islands

To get to the Aran Islands, we visited the Galway tourist information office and bought a combination ticket that provided for a 23-mile bus ride to the ferry port and the ferry ride to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. Our plan was to catch the first bus and ferry of the day so we could explore the islands and be back in Galway by 7:00pm for a traditional Irish music and dancing show that evening. I am happy to report that the plan worked perfectly thanks to the timely arrivals and departures by the ferry and bus operators.

inishmore cemetary aran islands

A cemetery on Inishmore

The ferry ride can be fun

Overall, we had been blessed with good weather during our trip but it was pretty overcast and windy the day we visited the Aran Islands. The wind made for choppy water and, let’s say, a fun ferry ride to the islands. The ocean swells were pretty impressive, which was confirmed by a few collective gasps amongst the ferry occupants during our ride to the islands. The ferry boats are big and quite seaworthy but, if you are predisposed to sea sickness, the rough water may be rough on your stomach. Sitting toward the back of the ferry on the lower deck seemed to provide for a smoother ride on the way home. I am not trying to discourage you from riding the ferry. I just want you to be prepared if the sea is particularly rough on the day you visit.

inishmore cafe aran islands

A quaint cafe on Inishmore

Deciding how to explore the Aran Islands

Once you arrive at the Island, you will be confronted with a decision about how to explore the Island. My preference would have been to rent a bike and see the island at my own pace. With the weather being somewhat unpredictable, we decided to seek the safe haven of a mini tour bus. Lots of venders will approach you to use their service. Tourism is a significant part of the economy on these remote islands and try to remember that vendors are tying to make a living. The gentleman we selected for our tour was a longtime local and was very pleasant with a great sense of humor. He shared stories about the island and took us to all of the island’s primary attractions. I should also mention that you can hire a horse-drawn carriage to take you around. In nice weather, I think that would fun.

Dun Aenghus, a 2,000 year old Celtic fort

The largest attraction on Inishmore is Dun Aenghus, a stone fortress perched at the edge of a 300 foot cliff above the Atlantic Ocean. The photographs at the top of this post and directly below were taken while we visited the 2,000 year old Celtic fort. It was a little unnerving to sit on a limestone ledge at the fort overlooking the sea knowing that the continuous hammering of the waves causes parts of the fort to fall into the ocean from time to time. The winds did not add to my comfort level so I took my photo and went on my merry way to explore the rest of the fort. Oh, and Donna would not go anywhere near the edge. I have learned that about her!

aran islands cliffs

The cliffs of the Aran Islands

Irish is spoken here

The islands are a Gaeltacht area, meaning it is an Irish-speaking region. According to Wikipedia, the Gaeltacht, refers to the districts where the government recognizes that the Irish language is the predominant language or the vernacular spoken at home. These regions were first officially recognized during the early years of the Irish Free State, after the Gaelic Revival, as part of government policy to restore the Irish language. Schools in Ireland have a mandatory component of Irish-language classes aimed at preserving the original Irish Gaelic dialect. Loss of native languages plagues many regions in the world and I think it is great that Ireland is working to educate its youth in its native language. Trust me, I feel spoiled by benefit from people speaking English, but the pervasive loss of native languages seems akin to McDonald’s and Starbucks popping up in Europe’s old city centers. I don’t really like that.

aran island ferry map

Our travel route to the Aran Islands

Making soil from scratch

The Aran islanders managed to eke out six inches of top soil  from seaweed, sand, animal dung and time to make the limestone crusted land productive. Thousands of miles of drystone walls line the narrow roads and fields, built in a dry stack fashion without mortar and sometimes with large gaps to provide a path for fierce winds to pass through.

inishmore aran islands

Inishmore, Aran Islands

It isn’t everyday that you see cows walking down the street. Well at least not in Colorado Springs. Farm animals are a part of life in Ireland and you need to keep your eye open for them while driving. As for the donkey below, he seemed to be looking for a friend or perhaps a snack from a willing tourist.

cows aran islands

Wandering cows on the Aran Islands

aran islands donkey

Looking for a friend on the Aran Islands

The last photo shows the resourcefulness of the islanders. Consider that the soil was “made” and all of the rocks cleared and stacked to create fences and make way for grazing. The limestone even serves as a surface to collect and direct water to a stone basin for the cows to drink.

aran islands rock fence

Being resourceful on the Aran Islands

I honestly believe that our time on the Aran islands was part of Ireland’s complete experience. As was true with many parts of our trip, Ireland provides an extremely rewarding way to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Aran islands takes that feeling a step further.

Other posts related to this trip to Ireland

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Category: Ireland, Photography, Travel

Comments (2)

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  1. ABarlow says:

    Man, what an awesome scene. Really hope one day I’ll get to go to that place. It’s tops on my list!

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Aaron. It is an awesome place with 360 degrees of beauty!