Get into the Aran Islands' spirit! Join us on a boat trip to Inishmore here.
Inishmore, Inisheer (Inis Oirr) and Inishmaan (Inis Meain) are one of the few remaining Irish speaking areas in the country. Some of the old people that never left the islands never learned English at all in their lifetime. Although those days are gone and everyone is able to speak English nowadays, the spoken language in the homes is still Irish. For anyone who wants to learn Irish, this is a great place to visit. Many secondary school students come here to attend Irish College for a couple of weeks in summertime.
But even if you just want to soak up the atmosphere, hear the sound of the Irish language being spoken, and maybe try out a couple of Irish phrases, this is the place to be.
As well as the language, some old traditions have survived here.
Here you can still see people using currach boats. Currachs are the Aran Island boat, and their construction and shape has been perfected here over centuries. Traditionally, currachs were the island transport boat for people, goods and life stock, anything, you name it. Today, they are used by the locals for fishing.
Currach boats have a wooden frame which traditionally used to be covered in animal skins. These days, animal skins are mostly replaced with more economical tarred canvas. A currach is mainly a rowing boat, but some are made to be fitted with a simple sail.
There are records of currach boats being built along the Irish West Coast as long ago as Early Christian times. Saint Brendan the Navigator, for example, who was educated on Inish Mór, is said to have reached America sailing in a currach.
Your first impression here will be an overwhelming amount of stone walls, supposedly as much as 10,000 kilometres. Dry stone walling is a craft on all three islands. It is not as easy as it seems. You cannot just pile one rock on top of another! The builder has to pick the right rocks that will fit snugly together to make a tight and stable wall. The rocks might have to be customised. The work is physically very demanding, and very labour intensive.
Every builder of dry stone walls and every Aran Island has their own style. Some use the stones vertically which wouldn’t be seen on the mainland. Most walls are built of big rocks. One gentleman however, who was well known for his skill in building walls from small pieces of rock was Peter Conneely of Inish Mór (Inishmore), who died at the age of 106 in 2011. This photo shows the house that he built himself where he raised his family of nine daughters. The house is surrounded by beautiful neat stone walls surrounding tiny green fields that he used to farm.
How do you MAKE soil, you ask?
The islands are mainly limestone rock. There is some fertile ground on the Northern side of the islands but the rest is barren, often bare rock. So, over many generations, people have created soil for a bit of pasture, or for a vegetable garden.
This is how they do it: First they remove rocks, at least a good few of them. They pile them up into very high walls to store them, and then they bring in seaweed and sand. The rotting seaweed is a great fertiliser and soil conditioner. When the seaweed rots, it mixes with the sand and makes soil. In the old days, not a scrap of seaweed would stay on the beach unused.
When you visit, look out for potatoes from the islands that are grown on this type of soil. They are very tasty. Aran Island potatoes are served here, and are an island experience not to be missed.
Well, without a doubt, making a living here is difficult. Just look at how barren the land is, and think about how isolated the location of the islands is. Everything has to be brought in and out by ferry...
These days, tourism is a major source of income. Inishmore has as many as 2,000 day trippers every day in high season between June and September. Inisheer will get about half that amount. A lot of tourists will stay over here for a few days.
And then there are also Irish Colleges. They will have students all summer, staying for a couple of weeks at a time. The ferry companies, restaurants, cafe’s, the local hotel, B and B’s, pubs, local transport, craft shops- all these small enterprises bring money to the islands.
When you visit the islands, you too will play a small part in keeping the island culture alive.
Traditionally, men from the Arans worked as fishermen. Growing up, they would have spent a lot of time fishing, so they already knew the trade. As fleets became bigger though, and as fishing became international, they had to work away from home. They raised their families on the mainland, or abroad. Now, many are coming back to retire on the islands. Instead of fishing, which is physically very demanding, they take up occupations in the tourist industry, or return to farming.
Farming? On this barren ground? Well, they do! Traditionally they used to farm sheep because sheep are easier to sustain on infertile ground, and also because sheep’s wool was harvested for Aran jumpers. In the last few years, a new opportunity has opened up- organic beef farming. A family might have only a handful of cows that they graze in their tiny fields. Yet it can be worth their while because organic cattle will fetch a good price.
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