Inis Mór

Cuairt ar Inis Mór!

With the last days of an Indian summer approaching I decided on a flying visit to The Aran Islands, my interest piqued by the visit of my good friend Tommy Wogan who was there last week and was raving about the island.

I’ve been to many of the islands of our coast line but Aran eluded me until yesterday.

A late call secured a b&b for Friday night on the mainland. The poor woman, who hadn’t opened since Covid began, recently lost her husband to the virus and I was her first guest. She didn’t even want to take money from me for my stay and I was glad that my stay helped occupy her mind at this lonely time.

Inis Mór is the largest of the three Aran Islands that lie off the coast of Connemara and North Clare. Part of the Connemara Gaeltacht, it was great to hear so much usage of the language in everyday life.

The old Ros a’Mhíl harbour was built in 1877 and it’s principal operation was the transportation of turf to The Aran Islands on the famous Galway hooker sailing vessels. Modern ferries carry a very different cargo!

It’s a bit of shock to the system to arrive in Kilronan which is buzzing with visitors and hundreds of hired bikes! I was glad to get out of it and on to the bóithríns to begin exploring one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Ciúnas gan uaigneas! If you wanted a place to get away from it all, you couldn’t find a better pace to visit. Steeped in history and with a dead slow pace of life it is the ideal island retreat.

I was glad I brought my own bike – where the road ends, the rocky mountain trails begin and it meant I could visit parts of the island that couldn’t be visited on a hired bike.

I covered 45kms crisscrossing the island which is 28kms in length and, while there are no massive hills, I did just over 450 metres ascending, some of it on rocky paths.
Dún Aonghasa is surely a rival to the Skelligs for the next Star Wars block buster! This cliff top fort is perched on the edge of 300 foot high cliffs facing westward into the Atlantic Ocean. Entrance is free at the moment due to Covid! It consists of massive semi circular stone walls and it looks like half it may have disappeared into the ocean at some stage in its ancient past. It’s like a magnet for visitors and I found the crowds a little off putting.
Entrance to Dún Aonghasa
You can just see the walls of Dún Dúchatair in the foreground – my drone battery died on me just at the wrong time!

The island has many ancient sites and though difficult to access, I found Dún Duchatair to be even more wondrous – I loved the solitude. ‘The Black Fort’ is very similar to Dún Aonghasa, but to get there requires a difficult enough trek as the the Black Fort is surprisingly difficult to access, set as it is on the far side of long rows of limestone rock that have to be traversed with great attention – the rock is uneven, flat in places, pocked with holes and crevices – and you must focus on the ground despite the stunning surroundings. It’s dramatically perched on a clifftop promontory 2km southwest of Kilronan with terraced walls up to 6m high surrounding the remains of a clochán(early Christian beehive-shaped hut). They say the name comes from the dark limestone prevalent on this part of the island.

The Black Fort with its Clocháns. Note the long lines of limestone rock behind it that have to be traversed.

The Aran Islands are of course an extension of the Burren region of County Clare. Great expanses of limestone are interspersed with sparse greenery.

The islands supports alpine, Mediterranean and artic plants alongside each other due to topography and climate. The crevices in the rock, known as grikes, provide shelter and support some very rare plants such as orchids and gentians.

The Aran Islands and Connemara are famous for their stone walls – what artistry to create these boundary walls of the tiny patchwork of fields
The walls of Inis Mór
Sheer expanses of limestone and row upon row of stone walls
Bun Gabhla, on the western tip of the island.
Islands at the western tip.
Connemara pony

It would take much more than day to explore the island properly and a longer stay is definitely on the cards next time. Dún Eoghanachta is another Stone Age fort but this one is inland and well preserved. Access is easy enough on foot:

Dún Eoghanachta – the name is thought to refer to the Eoghanacht tribe of Munster who settled here in ancient times.
Dún Eoghanachta
Limestone and crevices – best keep your eyes on where you are walking!

I had some great conversations with some local people, a fisherman from Carraroe, who was out at the island with customers; we had a great chat about cycling – he’s a hard bucko and he has taken to the bike when he is not on the sea! Also met a marine biologist who was out investigating a dead whale which had washed up on the island. We had a great chat about basking sharks and other giants of the sea that populate the waters around Aran. It sue was a memorable day; granted it was a pet day but life on Aran seemed to be idyllic – it’s probably a different story in winter storms but wouldn’t it be nice to be there at some stage and experience it! I will have to get back and also visit the other islands next time

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