Aran Islands

 Inis Meáin / Inishmaan

Inis Meáin / Inis Meann / Inis Meáinin / Inis Meadhóin (”the middle island”) / Inishmaan (pop. 200), is the second largest of the Aran Islands.

Being the least visited by tourists, Inis Meáin is said to be the most unchanged,  “linguistically authentic” and “culturally pure” of the three islands. As recently as the 1990s, a linguistics researcher reported this island as one of the very few places in Ireland where he found people who could not speak English.

An Cora is the place where boats traditionally come in.   Within living memory visitors used to arrive from Galway on an unwieldy ship called the Naomh Éanna , which could only approach on calm days. It used to anchor offshore and wait for men to come out in currachs; each passenger had to be lowered from the large boat down into the small one, each piece of luggage too, just as they would have to be hauled back up on their departure. Animals, too, would have to be hauled up and down in slings.

Over the years access improved, the Naomh Éanna was taken out of use, faster boats from the harbour at Rosaveel began to service the islands and a plane service was added. A new jetty (“Caladh Mór“) was inaugurated in 2007.

Inis Meáin airport.

There is no more than an inch of topsoil before hitting bare rock. That soil was man-made by laying down layers of sand and seaweed year after year and letting it turn into compost to grow grass for cattle and cultivate a few very hardy vegetables, mainly potatoes. Apart from sustenance farming and fishing, the only industries are tourism and knitwear (using wool from neighbouring islands and the mainland).

There is a Post Office but no bank on the island. Neither is there any police presence, so the only pub, a traditional thatched establishment called Teach Osta, keeps irregular (and often raucous) hours.

The local Co-Operative provides information for visitors. It is a good idea for walkers to pick up British cartographer Tim Robinson’s meticulously drawn map of the island before setting out to explore – it names every cliff, inlet and headland cut from the coast of dark limestone.

Óstán Inis Meáin, a recently opened hotel, offers accommodation all year round. Reservation is recommended, especially for Bank Holiday Weekends.

Dún Chonchúir / Dún Chonchubhair / Dún Conor

 

Dún Chonchúir / Dún Chonchubhair / Dún Conor was supposedly built by Conchúir, brother of Aengus of the Fir Bolg, and is thought to be some 5,500 years old. (Photo by Eckhard Pecher)

 

It is an impressive large and well-preserved oval fort, with massive walls measuring 227ft by 115ft and up to 20ft in height and several terraces in it’s inner enclosure. It is surrounded by a further impressive outside rampart on it’s northern, eastern and southern sides.

 

Dún Conchuir is the biggest ‘intact’ Dún on the Aran Islands, with more features than any other.  Its walls have 4 terraces and in some cases the outer terrace or wall is smaller than the inner terraces due to wear and tear. When built the outside wall would probably have been the a few feet higher than it is today.

 

Dún Chonchubhair gives a good idea of what Dún Aengus and Dubh Cathair on Inis Mór would have looked like prior to their break up.  The west wall is built atop a natural internal cliff,  giving greater height to the fort when seen from that angle. The walls are slowly being enveloped with ivy which will eventually dislodge the rocks.

 

The fort is located on a high point of the island with magnificent views.

Dún Fearbhai / Fearbhaígh is another stone fort, built in the C4th AD. Overlooking the main pier, this fort is unusual for its time in being almost square. The terraces along the inside of the walls may have been for defenders to look over or for some ceremonial purpose. It is located on the top of a hill and has great views.

Leaba Dhiarmuid agus Gráinne / Dermot and Gráinne’s Bed is a collapsed Neolithic wedge tomb.

Clochán na Carraige is a beehive hut, the structure of which is unusual because the outside is circular but the inside is rectangular.

Teampall na Seacht Mac Rí (“the church of the king’s seven sons / offfspring”), aka Templeshaghtmacree, was an important site of pilgrimage in the past. The ancient site contains the grave and Holy Well of Saint Cinndearg, though very little remains of the church. Mass is still held here every 15th August.

Cill Cheannanach / Kilcanonagh church is a stunningly preserved C8th AD church with fabulous views over the Islands. The name may translate as ‘church of the cannons’ or may refer to Saint Gregory “Cheannfhionnadh”, the fair headed.

Templemurray church dates from the  C15th.

Seipéal Mhuire gan Smál agus Eoin Baiste / the church of Our Lady Mary Immaculate & St John (RC) is a relatively modern edifice (1938), built to replace a smaller structure. The altar, salvaged from the C19th church, was designed by James Pearse, the English father of the 1916 Easter Rising leader, Padraigh Pearse, and there are beautiful stained glass windows made by the Harry Clarke Studio.

JM Synge

 

This is the last outpost of ancient Europe; I am privileged to see it before it disappears forever.” – JM Synge.

 

John Millington Synge (1871-1909) was a regular visitor to the Aran Islands, and is believed to have based his plays The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea on his experiences and the stories he heard while sojourning on Inis Meáin.

 

Teach Synge is the charming thatched cottage where the playwright stayed five summers in a row from 1898 t0 1902. (Photo by Eckhard Pecher)

 

The cottage has recently been restored  by the island ‘s Co-Operative as a small museum, open to the public in summer.

 

Synge’s Chair is a (slightly) sheltered lookout on the edge of a cliff where the writer used to sit looking out over the gigantic waves and pounding surf of Gregory Sound, his notebook spattered with sea spray rising from 300ft below. Here you can engage in what Synge called “the wild pastimes of the cliff, and to become a companion of the cormorants and crows”.

A wide variety of nesting birds and seasonal migrants can be found on the island. Herring gulls patrol the cliffs, occasionally dropping half-eaten urchins, crab claws etc.

Inis Meáin is botanically intriguing, with over 300 flowering plants from places as far apart as the Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine regions.  Among the species to be found on the island are orchids, honeysuckle and Irish saxifrage.                                                         .

Inis Meáin cliffs (Photo – www.tripadvisor.com)

Rock climbers frequently visit Inis Meáin.

The island also has a Diving Centre, and many of the islanders are keen scuba divers.

Inis Meáin Knitwear, a factory producing Aran jumpers, scarves etc. for shipment all over the world,  provides an income for many people who would otherwise have to move away from the island to work on the mainland. The factory has a good value gimmick-free shop.

Inis Meáin has a wind farm which runs its desalination plant and fuels a few electric cars. The poet Dara Beag Ó Flatharta sees the wind turbines as enhancing the island’s beauty, like “‘feathers in the hats of ladies at the Galway races”.

In the words of Irish Times journalist Lenny Antonelli, “the allure of Inis Meáin can be difficult to grasp. It is, essentially, a flat grey rock. But when you leave you find yourself being drawn back to the place, almost subconsciously“.

Synge found a “tawdry medley of all that is crudest in modern life” back in urban Galway after he left the island. “I have come out . . . to stroll along the edge of Galway Bay and look out in the direction of the islands,” he wrote. “The sort of yearning I feel towards those lonely rocks is indescribably acute.”

 

Ireland and it's history, culture, travel, tourism and more!