Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Island hopping in
summer sunshine
on the Aran Islands

Island hopping for two days in the Aran Islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I have been staying overnight at Tigh Fitz Bed and Breakfast in Killeany on Inishmore or Inis Mór, 1.6 km out from the island capital Kilronan, in a room looking out onto Galway Bay, across to the Connemara coast and Galway Bay, listening to the birds, watching the lights of Kilronan reflecting on the bay, and watching the flights landing and leaving the Aer Arann airstrip – known locally with a combination of humour and pride as the airport.

The Aran Islands form a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland, with a total area of about 46 sq km.

From east to west, the Aran islands are: Inisheer, (the ‘east island’), the smallest of the islands, Inishmaan, the second-largest; and Inishmore, the largest of the islands.

The 1,200 inhabitants of these islands speak Irish as their first language, the islands are part of the Gaeltacht, even though all islanders are fluent in English.

Ferries to the Aran Islands are available from Rossaveal near Galway all year round and from Doolin, Co Clare, from April to October. Catching a ferry with Doolin2Aran Ferries at Doolin Pier in mid-morning, we first stopped for about an hour or two on to Inisheer (Inis Oirr), the smallest and most easterly of the Aran Islands.

Inisheer extends to 1,400 acres and is an outcrop of the Burren landscape in Co Clare. During a walk on the beach beside the pier, we caught tantalising views of O’Brien’s Castle, a 15th century castle built within Dún Formna, a cashel that is thousands of years old.

Mediterranean colours on the sea and in the sky at Inisheer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In the early afternoon, after lunch, we caught a second ferry to Inishmore that brought us along the north coast of Inishmaan (Inis Meain), the middle island, with a land area of 2,252 acres.

In the warm summer sunshine and the clear blue waters, with white sandy beaches, it was like island hopping between Greek islands in the Aegean year after year, or catching ferries in Venice between Murano, Burano and Torcello last November.

Inishmore or Inis Mór, literally the ‘Big Island,’ is the largest of the three Aran Islands, with an area of 31 sq km (12 sq m) or 7,635 acres and a population of about 840. It is known for its strong Irish culture, Irish language as a Gaeltacht area, and a wealth of pre-Christian and Christian ancient sites including Dún Aengus, described as ‘the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe.’

In all, there are 38 national monuments on the Aran Islands. Since my arrival on Inishmore yesterday afternoon, I have been exploring the island’s prehistoric sites and ancient churches, as well as the piers, harbours, beaches and castles.

Saint Enda of Aran founded the first true Irish monastery near Killeany (Cill Éinne or Church of Enda). In time there a dozen more monasteries were founded on Inishmór alone. Many Irish saints are said to have some connection with the Aran Islands: Saint Brendan was blessed for his voyage there; Saint Jarlath of Tuam, Saint Finnian of Clonard and Saint Columba called it the ‘Sun of the West.’

Evening lights at the small pier bside Arkin’s Castle in in Killeany on Inishmore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

As afternoon turned to evening, two of us climbed the hill opposite Tigh Fitz to Teampall Bheanain, or the little church of Saint Benan, said to be Europe’s smallest church. From there, there were panoramic views across both sides of the island, with Inishmaan and Inisheer to the south east and the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare to the east.

But more about that church later, perhaps.

Later in the evening, we went in search of Arkin’s Castle and Saint Columcille’s Well, both close to Tigh Fitz, before walking back into Kilronan, the island capital, for dinner at ‘The Bar,’ looking out at the harbour.

After dinner at ‘The Bar’ in Kilronan, overlooking the harbour at Kilronan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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