The Wandelgek departed early from the port of Galway for a two-hour crossing by boat to Inishmore. The Aran Islands (Oileain Arann) are located in the Atlantic Ocean, between 25 and 30 km. southwest of Galway. There are three islands: 1 Inishmore (30.54 km²), 2 Inishmaan (9 km²) and 3 Inisheer (5.6 km²).
The Aran Islands (Irish: Oileáin Árann—pronunciation: [ˈɪlɑːn ˈɑːrənʲ]) or The Arans (na hÁrainneacha—[nə ˈhɑːrənʲəxə]) are a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland. They constitute the barony of Aran in County Galway, Ireland.
From west to east the islands are: Inishmore (Árainn Mhór/Inis Mór—[ˈɑːrənʲ woːr] or [ˈiniʃ moːr]), the largest; Inishmaan (Inis Meáin/Inis Meadhóin—[ˈɪnɪɕ mʲɑːn]), the second-largest; and Inisheer (Inis Thiar/Inis Oírr/Inis Oirthir—[ˈiniʃ hiər / iːrʲ / erʲhirʲ]), the smallest.
The 1,200 inhabitants primarily speak Gaelic, the language used in local placenames. Most islanders are also fluent in English.
The islands’ geology is mainly karst limestone, related to the Burren in Co. Clare (to the east), not the granites of Connemara to the north. This is most obvious in the construction of the walls around the fields.
The limestones date from the Visean period (Lower Carboniferous), formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago, and compressed into horizontal strata with fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins, and ammonites. Glaciation following the Namurian phase facilitated greater denudation. The result is that the Aran islands are one of the finest examples of a Glacio-Karst landscape in the world. The effects of the last glacial period (the Midlandian) are most in evidence, with the islands overrun by ice during this glaciation. The impact of earlier Karstification (solutional erosion) has been eliminated by the last glacial period. So any Karstification now seen dates from approximately 11,000 years ago and the island Karst is thus recent.
Solutional processes have widened and deepened the grykes of the limestone pavement. Pre-existing lines of weakness in the rock (vertical joints) contribute to the formation of extensive fissures separated by clints (flat pavement like slabs). The rock karstification facilitates the formation of sub-terrainean drainage.
Huge boulders up to 25 metres (80 ft) above the sea at parts of the west facing cliffs are in some cases an extreme form of storm beach, cast there by giant waves that occur on average once per century, though more are glacial erratics.
Climate and agriculture
The islands have an unusually temperate climate. Average air temperatures range from 15 °C in July to 6 °C in January. The soil temperature does not usually drop below 6 °C (the winter of 2010 recorded a prolonged period of snow, the first in living memory). Since grass will grow once the temperature rises above 6 °C, this means that the island (like the neighbouring Burren) has one of the longest growing seasons in Ireland or Britain, and supports diverse and rich plant growth. Late May is the sunniest time and also likely the best time to view flowers, with the gentians and avens peaking (but orchid species blooming later).
Flora and fauna
The islands supports arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. Like the Burren, the Aran islands are renowned for their remarkable assemblage of plants and animals.
The grikes (crevices) provide moist shelter, thus supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier Arctic or Alpine plants can be found. But when the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants like the gentian and orchids.
Notable insects present include the butterfly the Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne, Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae, Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia and Wood White Leptidea sinapis; the moths, the Burren Green Calamia tridens, Irish Annulet Odontognophos dumetata and Transparent Burnet Zygaena purpuralis; and the hoverfly Doros profuges.
Traditional life and Irish language
Due to their remoteness, the residents have many of the old Irish / Celtic culture can preserve lost elsewhere has gone. The islands fall within the Gaeltacht, the area where the colloquial Irish. The locals all speak also English.The traditional life of the Aran fisherfolk is described in the works of JM Synge and other writers and Robert Fisherty‘s film “Man of Aran“. The islands of karst limestone, rough and barren. At the cost of much sweat and tears of the many islanders packed stacked layers of sand mixed with seaweed and those deposited with low stone walls. These irregularly shaped walled plots they call themselves “Gardens”.
Aran Island Sweater
Until a few years ago, the Islanders wove their own clothes and wore handmade shoes from animal skin without heels, known as “pampooties”. Furthermore the “crios”, belts / bands of colored wool are a typical Aran product.
A famous product of the islands is the Aran Sweater, a type of knitted sweater that gained prominence in the 20th century. Outside Ireland The jersey is usually made of uncoloured wool, and vertical cables with four to six different patterns. Usually the pattern is symmetrical and the same on the front and back, and is sometimes also put on the sleeves. The same type of knitting is also applied to include socks and hats.
Part of the popularity of this jersey is the story that this is a fisherman’s sweater. It is said that every fisherman had his own sweater, with patterns that were specifically for him and his family. This was occasionally very useful, because one, if a body was washed up on the beach, only could see who it was. The sweater However, some experts say the sweater is probably never used by fishermen because he would be. Too bothersome because of its thickness and stiffness for fishermen
There is also disagreement about when the Islanders for the first time made the jerseys, and it is said that this is an age-old tradition. Proponents of this point at a picture in the Book of Kells which an Aran Sweater appears to be pictured. Other historians have a different idea, and indicate that the sweater is a very complex knitting is that was probably invented in the twenties of the 20th century to give the island. A new source of income
A curragh is a kind of light canoe, made of wood and stretched animal skins (now with canvas). The skins or canvas
were smeared with tar to make it waterproof. This boat is typical for the west of Ireland and is a symbol of the old way of life on the islands. Visitors and freight are transported using the currachs and theu are also used for deep-sea fishing and for catching lobster.
On the cliff tops, ancient forts such as Dún Aonghasa (Dún Aengus) on Inishmór and Dún Chonchúir (Fort of Conchobar) on Inishmaan are some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. A lacework of ancient stone walls (1,600 km or 1,000 mi in all) enfolds all three islands to contain local livestock. Also found are early clocháns (dry-stone beehive huts from the early-Christian period). Enda of Aran founded the first true Irish monastery near Killeany (Cill Éinne or Church of Enda). In time there were a dozen monasteries on Inishmór alone. Many Irish saints had some connection with Aran: St. Brendan was blessed for his voyage there; Jarlath of Tuam, Finnian of Clonard, and St. Columba called it the “Sun of the West”.
The islands were first populated in larger numbers probably at the time of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the mid-17th century, when the Catholic population of Ireland had the choice of going “to hell or to Connacht”. Many fled to the numerous islands off the west coast of Ireland where they adapted themselves to the raw climatic conditions, developing a survival system of total self-sufficiency. Their methods included mixing layers of sand and seaweed on top of rocks to create fertile soil, a technique used to grow potatoes and other vegetables.The same seaweed method also provided grazing grass within stone-wall enclosures for cattle and sheep, which in turn provided wool and yarn to make handwoven trousers, skirts and jackets, hand-knitted sweaters, shawls, caps, and hide shoes. The islanders also constructed unique boats for fishing, building their thatched cottages from the materials available or trading with the mainland.
The Aran Islands are an official Gaeltacht, which gives full official status to Irish as the medium of all official services including education. An unusually high rate of Irish-language monolingualism was found among senior natives until the end of the 20th century, in large part because of the isolating nature of the traditional trades practised and the natural isolation of the islands in general from mainland Ireland over the course of the Islands’ history. Young Islanders can take their leaving examination at 18 on the islands and then most leave for third level education. Many blame the decline of Irish-speaking among young members of the island community on English-language television, available since the 1960s; furthermore, many younger islanders leave for the mainland when they come of age.
Visitors come in large numbers, particularly in the summer time. There are several Bronze Age and Iron Age forts and attractions on the islands:
- Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa, Aran Islands Dialect: dūn aŋgəs) is a Bronze Age and Iron Age fort situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 100 metres (330 ft) overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Inishmore. It consists of a series of concentric circular walls, the innermost—the citadel—encloses an area approximately 50 meters in diameter with 4 m thick walls of stone.
- Black Fort (Dún Dúchathair)
- O’Brien’s Castle on Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands was built in the 14th century. The castle was taken from the O’Briens by the O’Flaherty clan of Connemara in 1582.
- Teampull Bheanáin is considered the smallest church in the world and is notable for its orientation: north–south instead of east–west.
- Teampall an Cheathrair Álainn has a holy well which inspired J. M. Synge’s play The Well of the Saints.
Inishmor (Irish: Árainn Mhór or Inis Mór) is the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay in Ireland and has an area of 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi). Inishmor has a population of about 840, making it the largest of the Aran Islands in terms of population. The island is famous for its strong Irish culture, loyalty to the Irish language, and a wealth of Pre-Christian and Christian ancient sites including Dún Aengus, described as “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe” by George Petrie.
Prior to the 20th century, the island was more commonly called Inis Bant or as Árainn na Naomh. The modern Irish name, Irish: Árainn Mhór, (which translates as “Great Aran” in English) leads to some confusion with Arranmore, County Donegal. The Irish word Árainn means “long ridge” which is an apt description for the island. The name lenited, so the expected name would be Inis Mhór. Árainn is still the official Irish name.
Geology and Geography
The island is an extension of The Burren. The terrain of the island is composed of limestone pavements with crisscrossing cracks known as “grikes”, leaving isolated rocks called “clints”. The limestones date from the Visean period (Lower Carboniferous), formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago, and compressed into horizontal strata with fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins and ammonites. Glaciation following the Namurian phase facilitated greater denudation. The result is that Inishmor and the other islands are among the finest examples of Glacio-Karst landscape in the world. The effects of the last glacial period (the Midlandian) are most in evidence, with the island overrun by ice during this glaciation. The impact of earlier Karstification (solutional erosion) has been eliminated by the last glacial period. So any Karstification now seen dates from approximately 10,000 years ago and the island Karst is thus recent.
Solutional processes have widened and deepened the grikes of the limestone pavement. Pre-existing lines of weakness in the rock (vertical joints) contribute to the formation of extensive fissures separated by clints (flat pavement like slabs). The rock karstification facilitates the formation of sub-terrainean drainage.
Climate and agriculture
The island has an unusually temperate climate. Average air temperatures range from 15 °C in July to 6 °C in January. The soil temperature does not usually drop below 6 °C, although the end of 2010 recorded a prolonged period of snow, the first in living memory. Since grass will grow once the temperature rises above 6 °C, this means that the island (like the neighbouring Burren) has one of the longest growing seasons in Ireland or Britain, and supports a diverse and rich plant life. Late May is the sunniest time, and also likely the best time to view flowers, with the gentians and avens peaking but orchid species blooming late.
Flora and fauna
The island supports arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side by side, due to the unusual environment. Like the Burren, the Aran islands are known for their unusual assemblage of plants and animals. The grikes (crevices) provide moist shelter, thus supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier Arctic or Alpine plants can be found. But when the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants like the gentian and orchids. Insects present include the butterfly the Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne, Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae, Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia and Wood White Leptidea sinapis; the moths, the Burren Green Calamia tridens, Irish Annulet Odontognophos dumetata and Transparent Burnet Zygaena purpuralis; and the hoverfly Doros profuges with sightings of the Bantasauras Rex on the island.
Inis Mór is a major tourist destination, with bed and breakfast accommodation scattered across the island. Private minibuses, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main methods of getting about for the numerous tourists who visit the island in the summer months. The majority of visitors are Irish themselves, but the island is also popular with British, French and German holiday-makers. There is a small museum illustrating the history of Dún Aenghusa and its possible functions, while the Aran Sweater Market is also a focal point for visitors who can trace the culture and history associated with the Aran sweater through the on-site museum. Nearby are a Neolithic tomb and a small heritage park at Dún Eochla, featuring examples of a traditional thatched cottage and poteen distillery.Arann Islands Website
The island is serviced by Aran Ferries ferry from Rossaveal and Doolin and by Aer Arann Islands from Inishmor Aerodrome to Connemara Airport.
After The Wandelgek arrived at the port of Kilronan on Inishmore he hired a mountain bike (ATB) and left immediately for a quick exploration of Inishmore. Going westward The Wandelgek stopped his bike somewhere near a stone wall near an old ruined church to have breakfast sitting on the wall (a packed lunch he had brought from Kilronan, where a small supermarket was).
The Wandelgek then cycled on to a point on the road that was near the highest point of the island. At the highest point of Inishmore is a lighthouse, but there is also the ruin of its predecessor, from the time of the French Revolution, which is an old signal tower. In the vicinity is a much older stone fort: Dun Eochla. A student from Galway was selling tickets and leaflets.
First The Wandelgek visited the old signal tower, which was in a completely ruined condition. On top of this tower signal flags were used to transmit messages to other signal towers in Galway Bay. The fact that these flags were invisible in bad weather conditions were probably the reason why three years after the signal tower was built, a new lighthouse was built. The Wandelgek climbed the lighthouse and the view on top was stunning. All over the island you can see the walled gardens of Aran where the earth is mixed with seaweed that is so fertile and suitable for grass and therefore sheep (and thus the Aran sweaters).
In the distance The Wandelgek saw the circular stone fort of Dun Eochla.
From the lighthouse The Wandelgek walked through several Aran Gardens to the ringfort. In doing so he passed a typical Aran dwelling, of which the interior was decorated as a museum house. Thatched roof and stone walls, like the walls to the gardens.
Very poor surroundings and a very small surface to live upon. Certainly when you consider that a maximum of 12 people lived in such a house.
Through different gardens and gates in the walls, The Wandelgek arrived at the ringfort. This was a completely circular fort. From the interior of the ring fort, it was possible to climb the walls using stone stairs. The view from the top of the fort is very beautiful. You are completely surrounded by the many stone walls of Inishmore.
Today was also the first really hot day of this stay in Ireland with a real burning sun.
The Wandelgek passed the simple animal enclosures which actually consist of stone walls with a small thatched roof and were built in the corner of a garden so that only two additional walls were needed to create such an animal cage. Inishmore island is home to chickens, pigs, donkeys and sheep.
Having been to the main road where the bike was left, The Wandelgek returned to cycling between the stone walls and continued his journey to another and much bigger and probably older fort, called a promontory fort.
The fort is located on the edge of the highest cliffs of the island. Unlike Dun Eochla, Dun Anghus is not circular, but a hemisphere fort. Whether this is because the cliff protects the open side of the fort so that no walls are needed on that side, or because the island was once larger and caused by coastal erosion from the surf, a part of the coast and fort has collapsed and fallen in to the see, is not entirely clear, but seems likely. There are many more of this type of forts on the island, but Dun Aenghus is one of the most spectacular because of the high limestone cliffs.
These kind of forts are dated in the Iron Age, around 300 BC to 500 years after Christ.
Dún Aonghasa (anglicized Dun Aengus) is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands of County Galway, Ireland. It is on Inishmore, at the edge of a 100 metre high cliff.
A popular tourist attraction, Dún Aonghasa is an important archaeological site that also offers a spectacular view. It is not known when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought to date from the Iron Age. T. F. O’Rahilly surmised that it was built in the 2nd century BCE by the Builg following the Laginian conquest of Connacht.
Today we know that the first construction goes back to 1100 BCE, when the first enclosure was erected by piling rubble against large upright stones. Around 500 BCE, the triple wall defences were probably built along the western side of fort.
Dún Aonghasa has been called “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe.” Its name, meaning “Fort of Aonghas”, refers to the pre-Christian god of the same name described in Irish mythology, or the mythical king, Aonghus mac Úmhór.
Form and function
The fort consists of a series of four concentric walls of dry stone construction, built on a high cliff some one hundred metres above the sea. Surviving stonework is four metres wide at some points. The original shape was presumably oval or D-shaped but parts of the cliff and fort have since collapsed into the sea. Outside the third ring of walls lies a defensive system of stone slabs, known as a cheval de frise, planted in an upright position in the ground and still largely well-preserved. These ruins also feature a huge rectangular stone slab, the function of which is unknown. Impressively large among prehistoric ruins, the outermost wall of Dún Aonghasa encloses an area of approximately 6 hectares (14 acres). Although clearly defensible, the particular location of Dún Aonghusa suggests that its primary purpose was religious and ceremonial rather than military. It may have been used for seasonal rites by the druids, perhaps involving the bonfires that could be seen from the mainland of Ireland. The location also provides a view of as much as 120 km (75 mi) of coastline, which may have allowed for control over a coastal trading highway.
The walls of Dún Aonghasa have been rebuilt to a height of 6m and have wall walks, chambers, and flights of stairs. The restoration is easily distinguished from the original construction by the use of mortar. Exploring Dún Aonghasa requires a bit of climbing, and there is no rail at the edge of the cliff, so it may not be a good place to visit with small children or people with mobility problems. There is a small museum illustrating the history of the fort and its possible functions. Also in the vicinity is a Neolithic tomb and a small heritage park featuring examples of a traditional thatched cottage and an illegal poteen distillery.
Dun Aenghus is a huge D-shaped fort on top of the more than 91 meters high cliffs. The period in history from which the fort dates is unknown, but it would be long before the days of early Christianity.
From the cliff edge the view was very impressive, especially when you look straight down over the edge, lying flat on your stomach.
The fort consists of three semicircular walls at the edge of a 90 meter high cliff. The courtyard, 45 m in diameter, is surrounded by a large amount (thousands) of sharp, upright standing stones, in defense of the fort, similar to a tank barrier from the 2nd World War.
Near the fort was a beautiful cove in the shore, where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean rolled and pounded in. After having enjoyed sitting in the summer sun, The Wandelgek walked through the barren, Burren like landscape around the fort, back to his mountain bike. Between the stone walls he cycled back to the main road and continued his journey on the island westward.
Scattered among the stone walls are small, whitewashed houses with thatched roofs and small sheds.
At the side of the road The Wandelgek saw a small cemetery that stood out because the graves beared Celtic High Crosses.
Trees on the Aran Islands, as in The Burren and along large parts of Ireland’s West Coast are very different in appearance from trees on the mainland. They are almost all solitary and are growing in the direction of the prevailing wind (west wind).
After a while it was time to return to the port of Kilronan to reach the boat to Rossaveal. This crossing took 20 minutes and from Rossaveal, a sparsely populated harbor village on Galway Bay, The Wandelgek returned to Galway by bus.
The Wandelgek likes to conclude by advising everyone who has never before been to Ireland to go to the Aran Islands, which are at the utmost West of Ireland and which are somehow one of the last stronghold of old Irish culture and language.Share this blog on:
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