Before I start the post, I just wanted to let you know that the photos always come out darker on my blog because they shrink them down to fit on the page. If you want to see a photo in a bigger size, just click on it!
Back in March, Ralf came to visit me one last time before he had to move back to Germany to finish his degree in translation. We had beautiful sunny weather for the duration of his stay so we decided we would head to the largest of the three Aran Islands: Inis Mór. The 14 X 3 km island has a population of about 800 people and it is one of the 15 Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region) islands. We took a lovely 45-minute bus ride out to the pier, passing through Gort and An Spidéal. The 45-minute sailing from Rossaveal was smooth and we had a good laugh when we saw this sign in front of us:
We were greeted with a really lovely view:
We could have hired bicycles to get around the island, but because of the rocky and hilly terrain, we opted for a minibus tour. There were about four minibuses in a row just waiting for passengers; the drivers all had maps with them and were shouting out what we would see if we chose to join their tour. We were approached by a very nice gentleman and decided to pick him instead of shopping around, as we figured the tours were probably all pretty much the same. It turns out we made a really good choice; the gentleman in question was named Noel (yes, he was born on Christmas day) and not only did he have the cutest accent and personality ever, he was really funny too! I asked him if I could take a picture of him and he said: “of course luv”!
Noel told us that there were 14 villages on the island and there was three of everything: three schools, three churches, three graveyards and six pubs. Haha! Ralf and I liked that one! We started our tour of the island along the only road. The first thing that struck me was how many rocks (limestone) there were everywhere! I mean, you see stone walls all over the place in Ireland, but this was amazing! There are no trees and it is not possible to grow crops. Noel was telling us that it was only recently that they had access to electricity; before that, they used generators. Internet access only started last November! There is one wee post office on the island and a Bank of Ireland, which is open once a week for four hours. They have had an ATM (yes, just one) since 2003, but the other two islands don’t have one! There is one doctor and one nurse who serve all three islands. If there is an emergency, the patients are flown by helicopter to a hospital. There is just one grocery store, which is actually not a real grocery store, it’s a Spar (a German chain found all over Ireland, which resembles a 7/11). Everyone living on the island speaks Irish; the kids are taught all subjects in Irish (apart from English classes, of course)! As a linguist, it was a treat for me to finally listen to some native speakers! They have very strict rules about building houses on the island. You cannot move there and build a house; only people already living there can have permission to do so. You can only move to Inis Mór if someone is selling a house.
Our first stop was at Teampall Chiarain (dedicated to St. Ciaran), which was built in the 6th century on the site of an earlier church.
The surrounding area was so very beautiful:
After that, we stopped to see a seal colony. Again, lovely views…
I was so sad I had not thought to bring my zoom with me; I didn’t know there were seals! Well, you’ll have to take my word for it, they are in this photo, in the middle, on the rocks:
They had some really lovely beaches; the water was the same colour as the water in Nice:
We also visited the Na Seacht dTeampaill (The Seven Churches)–a monastic settlement built between the 8th and 15th centuries. There are only in fact two churches despite the name, the rest are ruins of domestic buildings. Ralf and I both wished we had more time to explore this fascinating place:
Ralf did a little climbing:
We carried on our way after that. I found the island so enchanting that I’m having trouble deciding what photos to post:
Notice the walls–no mortar is used at all…takes a lot of skill:
We then went to visit Dún Aonghasa, which is an Iron Age fort that stands on a cliff top, about 300 feet above sea level. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%BAn_Aonghasa.
You cannot get there by bus, you must trek up, so off we went! On our way there, we got a good look at one of the lace stone walls:
Some of you may remember my post about The Burren, well, parts of the landscape on our way up to the fort made me think of the Burren’s landscape:
And yet, it was different from what I’d seen before elsewhere in Ireland:
The fort is much more impressive when viewed from above, but it was still really special to see it from the ground level.
There was a breathtaking view of the cliffs:
Here you can see the famous defensive feature known as “chevaux de frise” (prehistoric “barbed wired”):
Now, is it just me, or was this rock happy to see me?
After visiting the fort, Ralf and I had an interesting conversation about whether or not we would live on the island. At first, recalling all the beautiful sites, smelling the fresh air and noticing how calm and simple things were there, I said yes, in a heartbeat. But then I also remembered that life is not easy for the islanders; the land doesn’t produce, there is limestone everywhere, it’s often cold and windy and of course, there are hardly any services available. Ralf also asked me whether I thought they were happier than we are and we both agreed that they probably are. There is always a strong sense of community in small places like this–people help one another out and life is slower, less complicated…you are always close to nature too, which I think is a very good thing. I was wondering if I could handle living on an island with no clothing stores, no cinemas and no theatres. Living abroad for a year has taught me so many valuable lessons, one of which is that I need very few material things in order to be happy. I have lived for almost a year now with no television, no radio–in fact, pretty much nothing but my clothing, my camera, some jewellery, cosmetics, yarn and art supplies–and I have been so very happy here in Galway. However, there is one thing that would be impossible for me to give up for any length of time and that is art in all its forms. I could not give up going to see movies, plays, dance performances, the orchestra perform, etc. It’s part of what makes me feel alive. Of course, they can take the ferry, but only if the weather permits and it’s far enough to Galway (it also involves planning in advance, which I’m not too keen on)! So I think that spending a week there would be grand, but no longer!!
Spring was already making an appearance on Inis Mór:
We had some time left before we had to head back to the ferry so we walked around for a bit, then Ralf decided he was hungry, so we went to an adorable little café that had a thatched roof. We were going to eat inside by the fireplace, but there was a Celtic song looping over and over again, and it was driving us mad! Ahhh, the things they do to “please” tourists. Luckily it was a lovely sunny day, so we had a seat outside. Of course, Ralf decided to have a pint of Guinness!
We then walked around a little more and found this lovely cross:
And a random couch (love this photo):
And some other lovely sites:
And well, as true adoptive Irish, we ended up…going to a pub. Ralf had another Guinness, what a surprise.
When we were in the ferry on the way back to Rossaveal, a group of students were very agitaded as they saw some of their friends coming down a hill on the bicycles they had hired. It turns out that they missed the only ferry back! Hope they found a nice b&b to sleep in!! When we arrived, the sun was starting to set, it was beautiful.
And as you already know, I love sneaking pictures of elderly people. They have such character and they warm my heart. So I did!
When we arrived in Salthill there was the most stunning sunset.
What a perfect way to end our day. I’ll never forget my trip to Inis Mór. It was very special to me for so many reasons.