The Aran Islands are three relatively small islands that are situated just off the coast of Galway Bay. They are Inisheer, Inishmaan, and Inishmore. Each island has a unique story that adds great depth to Ireland’s history. When visiting the islands, you will find ancient forts, churches, and monuments, as well as tourist activity. Today, I will be visiting Inisheer, the smallest of the three islands.
It is six-thirty in the morning when my alarm goes off. I reluctantly get myself out of bed and crawl to my suitcase to get dressed. The only thing that is keeping me awake at this taxing hour is the thought of being on a boat with incredibly choppy waters. Any form of adrenaline-pumping activity will keep me awake, no matter what time of day it is. I take the seven-thirty bus into town, walk to my favorite coffee shop “Caffee Nero,” and order myself a delicious Caramel Latte. I must admit that Europe’s coffee is far better than that in America – no comparison. I look at the time and notice it’s only seven o’clock. Well, my bus doesn’t leave until nine. Oops! Given I am early, I decide to roam around the train station for a while. The morning has indeed started a bit dreary, but the radar said it was supposed to clear up by mid-day. I refuse to let my anxiety over the forecast dictate whether or not I have a pleasant experience.
I follow the directions I was given and walk to where the buses are located. Currently, all I see is a boutique hotel, a stone wall that obstructs my view of the river, and a substantial amount of tourists looking just as lost as I am. A tall, skinny man stands in front of a mini black bus and repeatedly says, “Aran Islands Tour, Aran Islands Tour.” I hop onto the overly air-conditioned bus and patiently wait for everyone else to board. While I’m waiting, my mind wanders and I think to myself, “Shoot, did I dress accordingly?” I look around to see what others are wearing and luckily, it seems like I dressed appropriately. I examine the bus and notice its lovely interior – black leather seats and neon purple lights on both sides of the roof. Once all the passengers are accounted for, our tour guide introduces himself as Nick. Shortly after Nick pulls away from the station, he starts to sing out of tune and collectively asks us if we’re enjoying his “tunes.” An erosion of silence erupts from the crowd and the humiliation begins. Just kidding. Ha. Anyway, it was a comical way to start the journey, if I do say so myself.
We finally set out onto the beautiful country roads. The first twenty minutes of our journey consist of Nick telling us about the history of Galway. Typical. My head is on a swivel as I admire the beautiful landscaping that lay elegantly outside the bus doors. Granted I’m distracted by the scenery and find myself spacing out for a good portion of Nick’s commentary, I still manage to grasp the following information:
Galway is the third-largest city in Ireland and boasts a population of just over 79,000. It is also the largest Gaelic-speaking community in all of Ireland, followed by the towns just south of Galway, such as Kilkenny, Cork, Waterford, and Mayo. Although Gaelic is the most prominent language throughout Ireland, English will continue to grow more popular throughout the years, especially in today’s society. Gaelic originated here, but then spread to other regions of the world such as Scotland and the Isle of Man. I also learn that the downtown area I was referring to in my previous post is actually called the “Eyre Square.” It’s home to many food, wine, and musical festivals, as it hosts an average of 122 festivals and events per year. Quay Street, the street parallel to Eyre Square, is trendy for shopping and dining — another great area for tourists. Previously, I had read that Galway doesn’t have any major weather variances, and indeed, Nick confirmed that fact. In other words, it’s rare for climates to reach freezing cold temperatures (below 25 degrees), and/or very hot temperatures (above 86 degrees). Irish natives often joke that there are “three seasons in one day,” and because the country is on an island where wind and rain can pass through flat terrain quickly, it allows for wind storms to travel rapidly across the countryside without creating too much damage. I’d consider this a blessing in disguise, for sure. As we pass through thousands of acres of farmland, Nick shows us where each battle for Ireland’s independence took place, as well as where families lived during these difficult times. I can’t imagine what their lives must have been like – a harsh, yet skilled teacher to say the least. The sheer number of facts that Nick pulled from his brain was staggering, always adding tidbits of knowledge from his personal experience into the equation. He was determined to educate us on the country and city in which he grew up. It seemed as though every nook and nanny of Ireland was explained. It was simply awe-inspiring.
At last, we arrive at where the ferries depart. Once the ferry is deep into the waters, a young lady approaches me without any hint of hesitation.
“You straight?” she asks.
My eyes widen and my mind goes blank.
“What the heck,” I silently think to myself.
“Yes, I am!” I reply.
Shortly thereafter, I notice a beer bottle in her hand. May I kindly add that it’s not even noon yet? I politely excuse myself and head to the lower deck to “use” the restroom. Once I come out from the restroom, I head back upstairs, praying that she removed herself from the upper deck. Of course she didn’t. There she is, singing obnoxiously loud, “Cockles and Mussels” by the Dubliners. I look around and quickly realize that I am not the only one disturbed by her actions. I see now that she’s highly upsetting other people. The scene quickly escalates, but security steps in and takes her away. After the hour-long endeavor, we finally reach the island. Nick calls our group over one last time. “Okay team, gather around. We have exactly three hours to explore the island. Be back on the boat by 1 pm sharp! Now go have fun.” Nick exclaims. Virtually, there were no rules as to what we could or couldn’t do. One of the more interesting activities that the island offered was a horse and buggy tour – right up my alley. After a delicious lunch, I climb onto the back of a buggy and squeeze myself between two strangers. Things are already getting quite cozy around here.
We zig-zag our way through mortarless walls that stretch for miles on end. These ‘mortarless walls’ seem to have no evidence of glue between the stones. It looks like whoever constructed these walls just decided to throw stones on top of stones. It was a beautiful mess, for lack of a better term. As the horse trots its way along the seemingly never-ending maze, we come across a famous shipwreck called, “The Plassey.” In 1960, this ship was carrying cargo of whisky, stained glass, and yarn when she was caught in a severe storm. Two weeks after the first storm occurred, a second storm approaches that sends the ship onto land. Miraculously, the entire crew was rescued from the ship by the Inisheer Rocket Crew, which was comprised of eleven men who were all trained in maritime. When the demolished ship hit land, it was practically like Christmas day for the people, as all salvageable cargo was claimed. It’s a blessing that the crew was rescued because now the island has a beautifully displayed ship for visitors worldwide to see. You never know — it might have been less fascinating had the crew not been saved. I’m glad our group was made aware.
After our pit stop to “The Plassey,” we come across the “Saint Kevin’s Church.” This is a ruined church that was built in the late 10th century. The church was naturally buried by drifting sands and is currently half underground. All that remains visible from the structure today is the chancel. A “chancel“ is the space around the altar, including the choir and sanctuary. Not having grown up attending church, as I’m Jewish, I’m not familiar with the layout of a church, nor what a church’s design is supposed to look like. Even so, from what I’ve seen, it’s a beautiful piece of art. After the horse and buggy expedition, the remainder of my time on the island is spent visiting the islands’ fudge booth, taking photos of the sea, chatting with the locals, and wandering around freely. The best part about wandering the island was the amount of tranquility in the air. There was no soul in sight, and all you could hear from a distance was the crashing of waves and loud motorboats.
Once we are back on the boat, we set sail towards the Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare. The Cliffs have faced the Mid Atlantic Way for over 350 million years and I find their majestic beauty unassailable. The cliffs have been in several movie productions, including Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Into the West, and The Princess Bride. During the filming of The Princess Bride, the cliffs were portrayed as “The Cliffs of Insanity.” I’m not surprised. Many productions use these cliffs as a focal point. Another fascinating feature that I’ve noticed is the volume of birds in the area. They soar peacefully above and below the cliffs, showing everyone their beauty. About ten minutes into the journey, the ocean decides to show us her power and attempts to throw everyone overboard. At one point, the waves were so intense they elicited accidental squeals from those most frightened. I find it quite funny. Of course, karma sneaks up on me and throws me directly into the back of an elderly lady’s seat. The lady turns around and gives me the most exasperated look, making my smile recoil into a serious face. “Sorry!” I say. Those damn waves! Just as the cliffs come into view, everyone eagerly takes out their cameras and starts snapping photos. The man next to me aggressively tries to take the plastic off his new camera, but as he pulled and pulled, his wet hands slipped and his elbow went directly into the side of my forehead. Good lord was that painful. While I remained outwardly calm about the situation, I was slightly screaming on the inside. I’m starting to wonder why he didn’t take the plastic off before the trip – seems to me like an obvious key factor. To add to the chaos, people were stumbling over each other in order to get a decent snapshot of the scene in front of them. A little boy nearly topples overboard while his mother yells at him to “sit down!” To err on the side of safety, the conductor announces over the intercom that everyone needs to stay seated! Even he noticed that the commotion was becoming a little too hectic and dangerous. With all that being said, however, it was still a lovely journey.
Following the comicality of the previously mentioned scene, the ferry makes its way over to land. We all confess to each other that we’re starving. Nick promises us that it will only be thirty more minutes before we stop for food and drinks. We hop back on the bus and set off towards our next destination. I was beginning to get tired but still had enough energy to make small talk with the lovely gentleman sitting next to me. Ron, another American, asked me questions about myself and vise versa. All of a sudden, our casual conversation is disrupted when Nick starts singing “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” by the High Kings. Ron and I start giggling. We look at each other and exchange knowing glances. In other words, everyone agreed that Nick needed to stay silent for a while! When we arrive at the cafe, we settle in at the bar. One of the girls in our group decided to order oysters. While that sounds delicious, I was nauseated from the heat of the day and wanted to nourish myself with something other than raw fish. The thought of oysters made me feel queasy, so I defer to a salad and a Guinness — this will surely tide me over until dinner.
Once we begin the trek home, Nick decides to pull over one last time. “Did the bus break down,” we all wonder? Nope. It turns out that we just made a brief pit stop to drink from an ancient wishing well. Goodness, gracious — Nick had to have been driving on these roads for at least twenty years prior to this day because this fountain was literally located in the middle of nowhere. As far as I could see, there were no landmarks indicating where we were. “I don’t think this is very sanitary, sir,” a lady mutters. After her doubting remark, Nick illustrates to us that the water was indeed filtered. He nonchalantly fills up his bottle from the well, drinks up, and says, “Ahhh! Your turn, Maddie.” I resign to the fact that he is most likely telling the truth…so I do as I’m told and fill up my bottle. It turns out he was correct. It was indeed cold, filtered water. Thank god I didn’t get sick from this. I watch the other participants take large gulps, followed by huge sighs of relief. It was as if they hadn’t had anything to drink in two days. The remainder of our pit-stop consisted of lounging on the side of the road while drinking filtered water and looking out towards the beautiful sea. If I had to sum up this experience in one word, it would be “refreshing.” On the final stretch home, it was unnaturally quiet. Everyone was tired from the days’ activities and wanted to be alone with their thoughts. Thank you, Nick, for sharing your passion for Ireland with us. I love you dearly, Ireland!
P.S. No matter what time of the season it is, always carry an umbrella with you. Once you visit, you’ll understand why. 😉