A Visitors View of Our World

I am happy to repost the following Inis Mor. Dun Aengus fortwhich was written by Bob Singer for his own blog after his visits to the Aran Islands.  We became friends earlier this year and I mentioned him in a previous post. We are honoured to have this post as part of our blog, and we think you’ll agree that, in his words and photographs, he really captures the magical charm of the islands, both Inis Mor where we live, and Inisheer our neighboring island. Enjoy, and then pop over and view his other beautiful posts about his past year living in the west of Ireland.

Man of Aran

What is it about islands? Why do they have such appeal to us? All around the world they are treasured as special. Sometimes the residents are fiercely protective. In Australia we have many that hold a singular place and I was lucky enough to live on one such of these – Magnetic Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. There are others though; Rottnest Island, where you can’t live but it is still very dear to the heart of Perth people, or Kangaroo Island off South Australia, or the beautiful Lord Howe Island among them. Ireland has a few too, such as Tory, Achill, Skellig and of course the Aran Islands.

Mention the Aran Islands and you immediately have my attention. The place has a mysterious lure. Despite knowing little about it (except that it is where the Clancy Brothers got their jumpers from and one of the most omnipresent tunes in sessions around the world is named after one of the Islands) it was a place I felt I must visit. I have been on two separate occasions. First, on a freezing summer’s day in July 2014, to Inisheer for an overnight stay; and more recently over three glorious sunny, warm days in April 2015. That’s Irish weather for you – freezing in Summer and hot in Spring!

The Islands are accessed either from Galway or Doolin, in my case for both trips I took the boat from Doolin, half an hour from my home in Caherush. My first visit was a spontaneous decision based on the fact there was blue sky in the morning. Of course by the time the boat left the weather had turned and the squally rain and howling wind off the Atlantic made for a very rough half hour crossing which took over an hour as we were buffeted by giant waves. At one point we stopped in the middle of the ocean in a futile attempt to retrieve a feral buoy. This was in contrast to my trip to Inis Mór when the sea was mirror calm with not a ripple. So I saw the islands in its various moods.

Ferry to Inisheer.  Rough seas with Cliffs of Moher in the background Arriving Inis Mor

Inisheer Sunrise Harbour at Kilronan.  Inis Mor

Inisheer Inisheer.  Early morning sky

Technically the islands are part of Galway, but geographically, geologically and culturally they belong to Clare as the three Aran Islands are an extension of the Burren.  They all have that wild inspiring landscape that I found so enriching in north Clare and that I have blogged about before.https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-burren/

https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-burren-again/

All the features of the Burren are there. Sometimes better exposed than on the mainland: clints, grykes, rillenkarren, dolines, kamenitzas, glacial erratics, fossil shells and corals, limestone pavements, but with the ever present Atlantic around almost every corner.

So back to my first question. With the Aran Islands, is it that inconvenience mixed with expectation that getting there involves that makes it attractive to visitors? Or that feeling that once there you are completely cut off (well maybe not now with smartphones).   Or the slower pace? How would it be to actually live there?

Of course many do and Melissa and Johnny Gillan and their five children are among them.  Melissa is from Maine and married an Irishman from Aran who after their second child convinced her to leave the States and start a new life on Inis Mór. Melissa tells the story way better than I could on her blog (which is how we met) https://thearanartisan.com/2014/11/08/i-live-in-aran/.  I have never seen anyone happier. She now has five kids and an enviable lifestyle where she has created a paradise – a garden that sustains her family within this harsh environment and is moving towards her dream of starting a business based on this. The whole family is involved, with the kids nurturing the garden and animals with a sense of pride. Her philosophy is captured by the layout of the garden beds which spell the word LOVE and which was revealed with delight by her kids after an enthusiastic guided tour. I was invited to dinner there one night, which comprised razor clams gathered on the shore, a tuna steak from a fish caught by Johnny’s brother off the coast, potatoes, carrots, kale, rhubarb crumble and a parsnip cake. All from the garden and made with skill and affection. The kids embrace the lifestyle. I was reminded a little of the zest for living my own kids had on Magnetic Island for the three years we lived there. Melissa and Johnny may not be your typical Aran family, I don’t know, but I also met Cóil and Grainne, both young islanders who gave up their day to show me around their island with an obvious pride. I was greeted with nothing but warmth and hospitality.

Melissa Gillan's grarden Inis Mor  The Gillan family.  Inis Mor

Both the Islands I visited seem to have somewhat different characters. Inis Mór (the Big Island) has sweeping landscapes with hardly a tree; massive limestone pavements and steep cliffs. It doesn’t seem heavily populated but there are about 900 people spread across the entire island. Inis Oírr is smaller with about a third of that but the houses are more concentrated around the main settlement of Inveragh and the fields as defined by the stone walls seem smaller. Both have the same sparse pasture, lush in places barren in others.  Inis Mór has more tourists and a lot more bicycles but it is easy to avoid the day trippers by starting early. The evenings everywhere are gloriously empty of people except for the inevitable craic behind the walls of Ti Whatty or Rory’s.

Inisheer.  Stone fields

Inisheer

Inisheer

Inisheer

Inisheer

Inis Mor. Coping with the elements

Inis Mor.

Inis MOr

IMG_5709

There is plenty for the tourist. On Inis Mór, bike hire is popular and the circuit to the Dún Aonghasa fort is a well-worn trail. But off the beaten track are some amazing sites such as the Black Fort, the Seven Churches and Teampull Bheanáin, reputedly the smallest church in the world measuring around 3m x 2m.  This unusual church can be seen from all around the island and was the best location I found for viewing the unique Burren flora.  Then there is the spectacular Worm Hole or Poll na bPeist. It is a hole in the rock platform that looks like it has been sliced out by the hand of Fin McCool himself. There is a more prosaic explanation that relates to erosion along mutually orthogonal jointing but let’s stick with Fin McCool, I think! Connected with this is a blow hole where the back pressure from the hole causes the sea to shoot up periodically  higher than the cliff.  This is an awe-inspiring place that has been put on the tourist map by the Red Bull people who have filmed one of their diving videos here.

Inis Mor. Teampull Bheanáin

Inis Mor. Teampull Bheanáin

Inis Mor. Teampull Bheanáin

Inis Mor. Teampull Bheanáin

Inis Mor. Blowhole at the Worm Hole. Poll na bPeist

Inis Mor. Blowhole at the Worm Hole. Poll na bPeist

The Islands, and in particular Inis Mór is well known for the excellent preservation of their megalithic circle forts. Dún Aonghasa gets the most attention, but others such as Black Fort are just as interesting and much quieter. These forts are fascinating and here on Aran occupy a coastal positon where the cliffs are used as one line of defence and a semicircular stone rampart as the other enclosing a headland within which was a settlement. There were also a number of outer walls in some cases and unique and spectacularly well preserved examples of chevaux de frise. These are fields of sharp limestone lugged into place and designed to make cavalry or foot progress difficult and retreat impossible. They were placed about 30m away from the wall as this was the range of hand thrown projectiles of the time. The original structures at Dún Aonghasa appear to date from around 1000 BC which places them near the end of the Bronze Age. The famous portal tomb at Poulnabrone on the mainland is much older (3,800BC) as are other tombs on Aran which date to 1850 BC.  This first period of settlement at Dún Aonghasa ended about 700BC but then the site was added to and inhabited during medieval times and later. I spent hours at these forts mesmerised by the ambience and the anicientness (if that is a word!)

Inis Mor. Dun Aengus fort

Inis Mor. Dun Aengus fort. Cheval de frise

Inis Mor. Dun Aengus fort

Inis Mor.  Rock platform Dun Aengus fort

IMG_6641

Inis Mor. Inner wall. Dun Aengus fort

Inis Mor. Dun Aengus fort

Inis Mor.  Black Fort. Cheval de frise with glacial erratic

Inis Mor.  Black Fort showing walls of medieval houses

Inis Mor.  Black Fort

Inis Mor.  Black Fort and cheval de frise

The landscape helps make this a unique world. I have talked here and elsewhere about the typical Burren landforms, but I should mention the widespread glacial erratics, dropped by melting glaciers. Well that is the scientific explanation. Local legend has it that they were left by giants who were throwing stones at each other (Fin McCool again!) Doesn’t this make sense? How else could boulders of granite from Connemara get onto the Aran Islands? The Burren is known world wide for its flora with its rare combination of alpine and Mediterranean plants.  Spring is the best time to see it and in the three days I was on Inis Mor I witnessed an explosion of life with the spring gentians and orchids bursting into flower. The wildlife does not disappoint either with seals, water birds, birds of prey and dolphins all on show at various times.

Inis Mor.  Glacial erratics near Black Fort

Limeston Pavement Inis Mor

Inis Mor.  Burren landscape

Inis Mor

Inis Mor.  Near Black Fort

Beach near Kilronan.  Inis Mor

Inis Mor

Inis Mor. View from Black Fort

Inis Mor. Burren landscape.

Inisheer.  The Burren limestone   Inis Mor. Inis Mor. Inis Mor. Seal colony Inis Mor. Seal colony   Inis Mor. Wild duck's nest

Inis Mor. Teampull Bheanáin.  Spring gentian Inis Mor.  Spring in the Burren

IMG_6126

On each of my visits to Aran I was resigned to having nights without music but on each occasion I discovered the craic. On Inis Oírr I met Mícheál O’hÁlmháin, the leading musical identity on the Island and members of his family and we played in the hotel until the small hours and on Inis Mór I met three French guys, Alex, Mathieu and Victor who turned out to be amazing guitarists and with Michelle, Lea and Rom from Switzerland we had two nights of Celtic meets Gypsy Jazz meets 70s rock meets Europop!  On Inis Oírr I also stumbled onto an Irish language summer camp. It was held in the hall and I was drawn by the distinctive sound of irish dancing. The front door was open but what I saw was not what I expected. It was full with teenagers maybe 150 of them having the time of their lives. They were playing a game of musical statues to the recorded music of a ceili band. I stayed and watched as they threw themselves into a succession of musical and dance numbers including a country and western song about Connemara in Irish, some updated versions of set dances, line dancing and some pop songs. I was impressed that here was a camp dedicated to preserving the Irish language and culture but prepared to do it in a modern way that was relevant to today’s youth but still respectful of the heritage.  And then to top all that while on Inis Mór  and thanks to an invitation from Melissa I played with the local Island kids at the regular Comhaltas gathering with Galway Bay as a backdrop.

Inis Mor.  For the craic.  IMG_7588

IMG_6285  IMG_6188 IMG_6331

Inis Mor.  A regular gathering of the local Comhaltas group.

There is a lot more I could say about these Islands but by now I think I have probably lost all my readers (If you have read this far please let me know – it would be nice to know if anyone reads beyond the first paragraph!), so I will let the pictures talk from here.  Just a few more images that give a taste of these islands that I am sure I will return to regularly.

Inisheer.  Fisherman returns escorted by dolphin

Inisheer

Inisheer.  Wreck of the Plassey

Inisheer.  Wreck of the Plassey

Abandoned house Inisheer  Inis Mor.  Atlantic on a calm day Rusted bikes, Inisheer

Inisheer

Inisheer.  Fining pots

Inisheer.  Limestone outcrops glowing in the morning sun

Inisheer.  Curragh and ruins

Inis Mor. Goat farm

Inis Mor. Goat farm

Inis Mor. Abandoned house

Inis Mor.  Site where Curragh was re-tarred

Inis Mor.  Stairway to Heaven?

33 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for your fascinating piece on the islands. I need to find out more about the geology; I’d no idea of the terrain, the rocks; or the history. Lovely photos, also. The picture that stood out among them, for me, is the bicycle in the foreground, boats scattered across the water, the dim light. And all the smiling faces, including the goat. Enjoyed it very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Liz, Bob will read this and surely appreciate your kind words. I certainly do and am in agreement with you about learning more about the geology; I did a bit of googling to understand what he spoke of there 🙂

      My husband pointed out that there’s a dolphin aside the front boat in the picture you like best. http://clareherald.com/2014/07/14/dusty-the-dolphin-relocates-to-inis-oirr/ Perhaps this one?

      Thank you for sharing this on facebook also. 🙂 I was going to comment but wasn’t allowed as it’s your personal page. Anyway, you made my day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • A thank-you to your husband for pointing that out. I have some small trouble with low-contrast pictures, but by increasing the view and contrast I was able to see the dolphin. I should think it’s nice to have a member of another intelligent species hanging around, playing games and kibitzing. Makes the world seem not quite so small. Happy to share your page with my acquaintances on FB; if I’m interested, then there’s a sizable percentage of them who would be. Where I am living was glaciated, and the Red River Valley in N.D. was formed by a large glacial lake (Lake Agassiz).

        If you have a personal FB page also, you could “friend” me, if you like, but it’s not necessary. You can always send me an email. Is my first name at my last name dot net – While my responses to email occasionally become too long (like my blog comments), I enjoy corresponding with people. You can always tell me to shut up. 🙂 There’s a family story connected with that, but perhaps I won’t tell it on a public blog due to … naming names.

        I plan to read more of Bob’s stuff. Enjoying it. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

          • Most of my posts on FB are Friends Only. If you have a personal FB page and include nonfamily/acquaintances, feel free to send an invite to me.

            Eyes are giving me a bad time, today, and so I’m being domestic to start. Put the cold-brew coffee to brewing, last night, and just decanted and refrigerated it about an hour ago. Heated the milk for yogurt; just switched it to another pot for cooling before adding the starter. Finalized a sale with the editor of a poem to Star*Line, last night. First time I’ve sent them something since 2011. Happiness!

            I hope that your garden is doing well. One cannot safely plant, here, until the weekend before the last Monday in May, and so will be watching yours instead for a while longer. 😀 I’m glad that we’ve met.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Most of my fb posts are nor personal. I hadn’t gone on fb since last November until I hooked my blog up to it last month, the opposite of you. It seemed the thing to do as regards to moving towards opening our gardens for tours and having workshops, etcetera.
            Sorry to hear about your eyes. Sounds like they aren’t keeping you from having a fruitful day though. Is cold brew coffee like iced tea? I don’t like coffee, but know a few who might be interested in iced coffee. Wonderfully rewarding to make your own yogurt isn’t it? What do you do with the leftover whey?
            Congrats on your poetry sale! What an amazing achievement, but I am not surprised in the least bit. I share your joy!!
            We do not plant out until end of May, early June either as the cold winds are too damaging. Today is tempting me but Johnny says predicted high winds next week. We’ve learned from past years.
            I’m glad that we met also. I enjoy chatting, but now back to the garden and will catch up in my Reader this evening with a mug of tea. Talk soon, Melissa Xx

            Liked by 1 person

          • The cold brew coffee I make is actually a concentrate (see Google for Toddy coffee instructions). I’ve got a plastic tub with a cork in the bottom and a thick, reusable filter that fills the well that the plug is stuck into (from the bottom, so it can be pulled out without disturbing the coffee grounds as the concentrate is drained out). I use 12 oz of Folgers medium grind classic coffee, which is relatively sweet, and 7 cups of cold water. Alternate the ground coffee and a cup of water and allow the coffee to become thoroughly saturated without stirring it. The coffee/water brews in its container somewhere out of direct light for 12 hours or so. At that time, the tub is balanced on top of a jug, jar, carafe, or something else nonprecarious, the cork is pulled, and the coffee concentrate drains out through the filter. The mixture is never heated, and no pressure is applied to squeeze the water from the coffee grounds. The concentrate keeps for two or three weeks in the refrigerator. I mix it anywhere from 1 part concentrate to 2 parts milk or water to 1 part to 4 parts. From there it can be either heated or cooled, BUT NEVER HEATED TO THE BOILING POINT.

            This provides hot or cold coffee that has only a third as much acid as coffee that is heated to boiling at some stage in its preparation. I like iced coffee mixed 1:2. When I make it that way with milk instead of water, there’s a rich chocolate-like undertaste.

            As to the whey in the yogurt . . . the only time I’ve filtered my yogurt is when I’m using it as a “cream cheese”. The rest of the time, I eat it as is. If you use a starter that tolerates a higher temperature (110-115° F) and incubate it longer (12-15 hours), it will be more firm. The starter I use calls for a temperature from 73-77° F, and I incubate it for 8 to 10 hours, usually. I use whole milk for the yogurt. While usually I eat it plain (it is not sour, the way I make it), I sometimes whip it (6 oz jar) with a tablespoon of rhubarb-raspberry or strawberry preserves.

            Like

    • singersong says:

      HI Liz, I was going to point out the dolphin in that shot but Johnny beat me to it. I only noticed it after I took the photo! Thanks for the kind words. For those interested in the geology there is a new book called “Banner Rocks” by Matthew Parkes. Very simply explained and available free from Clare County Council.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob, of course I read beyond the first paragraph! What a delightful glimpse into the Aran Islands. I’ve always been fascinated by those places in the world that manage to seem at once unyielding and even harsh yet comforting and magical. Otherworldly and homey. What contrasts! And so full of vibrant life. I love that this blog let’s me taste a little piece of it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Melissa!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a gift to my family and the wonderful folks who visit and read here. I was very excited to share it and so so happy that he allowed me to repost and make it a permanent piece of this blog. Thank you Rosie for your beautiful words, you have described the Islands perfectly!
      And I will be sure to tell Bob that he has a personal message or two here. Melissa Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eddy Winko says:

    I’ll have to come back and read more, my breakfast tea break is almost over 🙂 What a great post and pictures, it looks like a truly magical island, although I imagine it can be bleak at times. Having lived on the Isle of White and Jersey for a time and visited may others I have a place in my heart for Islands, although it has to be said it’s not for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, winters are very gray and windy. Maybe Bob will come back and photograph the starker side of island living…. I don’t mind really as I enjoy much in house time too. Always happy when spring arrives though 🙂 Being new to Europe, I barely know Irish geography, head down with children for past six years, just looking up lately really! I went to the mainland today to do some errands. Nice, but always good to return home. Island living is not for everyone, fortunately 😉
      Hope you had a lovely day Eddy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • singersong says:

      Thank you Eddy. If that’s an invitation Melissa I’ll definitely come back in the winter. As you know I live on the rocks at Caherush, near Quilty looking out over the Atlantic and Mutton Island. I just love the wildness of the place. There is a lovely song which I sing called Clogher Road, written about my little enclave. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlzcbyS5fq0. It has the wonderful line: “That sentinel that stands alone, way out from the shore; Sugar Island get’s its full, full share of Atlantic wind and roar.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • That’s a true Irish ballad there Bob. Love the accents coming through so clearly. And you have an open invitation to visit anytime. At least you know what you are getting yourself into at that time of year. There are some hopping weekends that might be good to plan around. And you can sing Clogher Road for us 🙂
        Thank you for coming over and responding. I had every intention to let you know but not planning computer time until this eve. So, on that note, back to the garden for now. Melissa Xx

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a BBC documentary but in photos. Amazing storytelling photos. It looks like an archeologists dream. Absolutely wonderful and the reason for your blog being an absolute favorite. How do you find the time?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Melissa & Johnny! What strange and alluring landscape. I can’t stop looking at the photos which are magnificent! This post makes me want to hop on a plane and go visit the Aran islands. Beautiful words and images and it’s great to know a little more about these beautiful islands. On my ‘Bucket List’! 😀

    Like

    • Ah brilliant! Once again I am reminded that I need to start a bucket list 🙂 I am in love with Bob’s photography and he is a good soul also. Got to love a combo like that. It goes without saying that you are welcome anytime. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have visited and absolutely loved it, left thinking that the experience may be what some people expect when visiting Inis Mor, no so much traffic and hustle and bustle. A wonderful place to cycle. One of the best days of my island life was spent there a few years back when attending my daughter’s music feis. I will pass your message on to Bob. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • singersong says:

      Thanks so much for the link, veerfabry. I am sold. It looks stunning. Great photos. I will incorporate a visit next time I go and I can see I will have to rewrite my blog to make it complete. Thanks Melissa for drawing my attention to it. Hey you might have to put up with me sooner than you think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • veerfabry says:

        It would be nice to meet you there, but I’m not living there yet. Working at it though, because I love the place so much. I made the website on request of some Island friends, to promote it to the right people and to prove that it’s absolutly not true ‘there is nothing there’
        You would like the pub I think… In the summer there are sessions almost every day.I’ll be back on Inis Meain from the 22 July till the end of August. Maybe we can have a pint…

        Liked by 1 person

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