Monday 17th September
We had a short while to take a breather before getting our luggage together for the ferry trip and our visit the Aran islands. We would be staying for two nights on the island of Inis Mór. There are three Aran islands, Inis Oírr, the smallest island and closest to the mainland, Inis Meain the middle island and the largest Inis Mór. We had to take everything with us as we wouldn’t be returning to the hotel. It was then I wished I’d travelled a bit lighter!
By the time we got to the ‘large!’ ferry terminal at Doolin it was raining hard and the wind was blowing. The ferry was late on the return journey and we had to wait quite some time before it appeared. I should have realised then it wasn’t going to be easy, it was late because of high seas! I tried to ignore the painted sign on the jetty.
Doolin was experiencing very low tides when we were there so they had to use Currachs (an Irish boat made of timber covered in canvas) to transport passengers to the ferry. We had to get in one of these by climbing down from the jetty and drop into the boat. As we would be staying on the island, get our cases and photographic equipment on board plus put on a life jacket, with the sea quite choppy it wasn’t easy! But it got worse, after a short journey to the boat we had to remove the life jackets and then get on board the ferry and they were not moving in unison, a bit scary to a land lover like me! It took some skill for the crew to get us and our cases on board.
The ferry turned out to be a small fishing boat called a Hooker and it’s name was the “Happy Hooker” a name I won’t forget in a while. All the gear had to be stowed in the small cabin because of the rough seas and it all would be tossed from side to side on our journey, amazingly my camera , lenses and laptop were still working at the end of the trip!
While we were waiting for another Currach we watched a small school of Dolphins in the bay.
We eventually got going and I decided to stay outside as it was smelly with diesel fumes in the cabin, as we got out to sea it got rougher and rougher, there is a point on the journey when you have the full force of the Atlantic before getting into the lee of the islands . I was clinging on to the seat for dear life as the boat rocked and rolled. Brian our leader thought I was very brave until he realised if I had let go I would have disappeared over the side; it might have just as well been a mile rather than 4ft to the relative safety of the cabin. Eventually, either from being terrified or the rolling boat I was seasick and couldn’t wait to get to land. The journey took around 2 hours, normally much shorter in better weather. It took my stomach a little while to get over it but it wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the islands.
As soon as we reached Kilronan, the small harbour town on Inis Mór the weather changed and it was blue skies if a little blustery. We soon found out we would have to walk to our Bed & Breakfast, luckily our cases were picked up but we had to carry our camera equipment. Brian said it was no problem as it was only a 20 minute walk. This is when I realised that Irish minutes are double English ones! There are very few cars on the island and these belong to islanders, visitors can’t take cars across, which is good and bicycles or pony and trap ‘taxis’ are the transport for tourists. The walk was at least 40 minutes and not at a slow pace, we had to skirt right round the harbour climb a small hill and then we were there! We soon came familiar with the route and at least it was an interesting walk and we could even do it in the dark as we had to walk to the town for our evening meal.
Brian said it was good for us as we could get used to the pace of the islands. It was nice that there was hardly any traffic and we came to realise how reliant the islanders are on the ferries and small plane flights that came across from the mainland for there existence. They had only had secondary schools built on the islands a few years ago and before then children had to go across to the mainland for their education, which meant that many of them stayed on the mainland and left their home.
On our walk to the B&B I noticed the memorials below and I of course had to find out what they were, and what they are roadside memorial stones or Leachtai, some as early as the 18th century which dot the coast built in memory to islanders who died abroad and to fishermen drowned at sea.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Aran islands but the rugged landscape and the friendly people have made a lasting impression on me. Before tourism it must have been a hard existence of being self sufficient on the barren limestone. At times they must have been cut off from the mainland. More on farming on the islands in my next blog when I visited Inis Inis Oírr.
Here is a link to the history of the Aran islands
By the time we had got to the B&B and sorted ourselves out it was early evening we were taken by mini bus to Dún Aonghasa on the opposite side of the island overlooking the Atlantic. Most of the habitation on the island is on the north side looking over Galway bay and are of course more sheltered than the exposed Atlantic coast.
Dún Aonghasa is an Iron Age fort possibly built around the 2nd century BC situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 100 metres (330 ft). We had to climb up through limestone-walled paths to the top where the fort was situated. The views from the top were again amazing you could see along the islands and the mainland beyond. The sun was just setting and it was nice and peaceful, most of the tourists visit the islands on a day trip so they had returned to the mainland on the late afternoon ferry.
What I most enjoyed was the view of the coastline, as we were climbing up I could hear this booming noise and it wasn’t until we reached the top that I could see it was the waves battering the coastline, so big they reached the top of the cliffs and spilled over onto the limestone pavements, where just beyond I noticed a little farmhouse and buildings, what a place to live!
After some time taking photos we made our way down the hill in the dark and the mini bus took us back to the B&B where we quickly dropped our gear and walked back to the town to one of the pubs where I had a light meal (my stomach was still a little delicate) and listened to a local singer in the bar and then Penny and myself walked back to the B&B leaving the guys to visit another bar, we were too shattered. It was a glorious night and the stars were very visible in the darkness of the islands, we even had an islander stop on the road in their car and offer us a lift, but we declined as we were enjoying the walk so much!