Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 11, 2012

Turasóir arís, cuid a ceathair

Switching coasts, we headed to Galway.  Friday was a transition day and we took our time leaving Dublin, which only left only enough time in Galway to stretch our legs along the beach at South Park, make plans for our next day trip, and explore a few of the shops before attending one of my regular haunts, the Tunes in the Church concerts at St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church.

We were up and at it again on Saturday, hoping the nice weather would hold as we set off for the Aran Islands.  This excursion has been on my to-do list for quite some time, but often life gets in the way of best laid plans.

There are plenty of options for reaching the islands and you can navigate on your own, by bike, by horse drawn cart, or bus tour, all arranged either in advance or upon arrival.  Having never visited the Aran’s, we both thought it best to choose a guided tour that included transportation.  We chose Faherty Tours as it not only provided both but is run by Aran Islanders and booked a day trip to the largest Island, Inishmore (Inis Mór).

The bus ride from Galway to Ros a Mhíl (Rossaveal) to catch the ferry travels along Galway Bay with beautiful views all along the coast.  We boarded the Glór na Farraige (Voice of the Sea) ferry which would transport us to the island, and after only a few minutes in our seats, decided to stand outside where the view was better.

The bus tour around the island was amazing.  Not only the scenery and many worthwhile stops, but the love of the land infused into the commentary our driver provided made the journey come alive.  The best tour guides are the ones that love the places they are showing off.  Just over 800 people live on the island but the population swells during any given day during the summer to three times that amount.  Only people with island heritage are allowed to build on the islands.  Hard to believe in this day and age, but they did not get electricity until 1972.

Dún Aonghasa (sometimes referred to as Dun Angus) was the main attraction, but reaching the summit is not for the faint of heart or unsteady of foot.  Parts of the climb are quite rocky, so slow and steady progress is advised over speed.  I found it easier to go up than down, especially on the rocky parts.

Once you reach the top, your reward includes spectacular views of the coastline as well as an ancient fortress dating back to about 1000 BC.  Foundations were discovered for seven houses inside the inner enclosure, though little is visible today.  You can walk right to the cliff edge if you’re brave enough, and/or lie down to get a breathtaking view of the cliff face.  Amazingly, with no protective barrier, it is rare for someone to fall over.

The island landscape is full of limestone rock, dug up, used for buildings and walls.  Farming is one of the primary industries, though the soil is shallow and is continually fortified with seaweed to allow the growth of vegetation as well as grass for the cows, goats, and handful of sheep.  Oddly enough, there are few sheep on Inishmore, at least at this time.  The wool to make the famous Aran sweaters is brought in from Kerry and Connemara.

Tiny leprechaun cottages are scattered around the island, whether tributes to ancient deities or merely snapshot fodder for tourists, it’s hard to tell.

At one stop with a boat loading, the surrounding landscape was lunar in nature, with plenty of rock, some pocketed with holes where tiny crabs, barnacles, and other sea creatures make their homes.  Another was a beautiful white sandy blue flag beach called Kilmurvey. We also visited the site of the ruins of the seven churches, burned out by Cromwell.   (Technically there aren’t seven churches, more likely one or two with the rest monastic dwellings.)

Appropriately, we were transported back on the Draíocht na Farraige, Magic of the Sea.  Clearly it was the highlight of our excursions to date and a must see if you’re in the area.  I’m just sorry it took me so long to make it out there to see that beauty.

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