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“To explore an island is to risk obsession”

Tim Robinson

Inis Mór has long been a source of inspiration for a string of artists, poets and writers, from the literary legend of John Millington Synge to the gifted voice of Seamus Heaney and still to this day, continues to hold a special place in the hearts of all who visit it’s craggy shoreline. An island shrouded in a sense of mystery and awash with traditions of the past, I take a trip to find out why the largest of the Aran Islands has managed to capture the imagination of so many. 

Echoes of the Past

 I immediately found that one of the biggest draws of the Island lies in its deep-rooted connection to a time long forgotten. Whilst island life itself represents a far cry from the hustle and bustle of modern day on the mainland, ancient symbols of our ancestors are prevailing features throughout the rugged landscape. Examples of this extend from the old monastery of Teaglach Einne as well as the precious ruins of the ancient church Teampall Bheanain, both set amidst a backdrop of several other reminders. However, it’s the stone fort of Dún Aonghasa dating back to medieval times, which is perhaps the most striking and commanding of them all. Perched proudly on the edge of a 100 metre-high cliff top, remnants of it's four stone walls are still visible, as is a series of upright stone slabs, thought to have acted as defensive mechanisms for it’s chieftains in prehistoric times. An important archaeological site, it is commonly referred to as the ‘most magnificent barbaric monument’ in Europe and indeed as I stand among it’s still dominant ruins, with only the sound of the waves below, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of nostalgia as I try to imagine what once was.

The Great Outdoors

As well as it’s history, the island is renowned for it’s rugged landscape and breath-taking scenery. Falling under the umbrella of the Burren region, it is acclaimed for it’s magnificent displays of limestone and unusual mix of flora including Mediterranean, Alpine and Artic plants. The stark contrast of the rocky landscape against such delicate beauty makes it a truly unique experience for nature lovers and explorers alike. Indeed, I found one of the best ways to experience the wilderness of the Island was by foot or bicycle – if you don’t mind a few bumpy roads – and there is certainly no shortage of walks and routes to take. The puffing holes (which are still active on stormy or windy days) lie waiting at the bottom of the island and present just one of the many ‘off the beaten tracks’ where you can experience the truly untamed nature of Inis Mór. With no defined beginning, middle or end and endless views of the ocean beyond, one really does feel as though they were standing at the edge of the earth.

Art & Craft  

The island also represents an epicentre for local arts and crafts with knitting, weaving, spinning and even the old method of basket weaving, still very much alive and integral to everyday Aran life. Home to the famous Aran Sweater, the Aran Sweater Market in the picturesque village of Kilronan, offers a range of unique Aran styles which pay homage to these island crafts including the old traditional fisherman’s sweater, making it the perfect place to purchase one’s island souvenir. The craft village of Kilmurvey at Dún Aonghasa also presents a great location to browse a wide range of local products made on the island.

The Islanders

When one considers the combination of the elements as described thus far, the island’s attraction is undeniable but with only one evening left, I discovered that I had completely underestimated perhaps the most alluring draw of all - the Islanders themselves.

When speaking to one of the locals in the pub that same evening, amidst a ruckus of lively traditional music and thirsty tourists, it slowly dawned on me.

In a voice trembling with passion he explained; “You need to spend more time here to really understand the island. Where else can one relive the past, connect with such culture and learn about their ancestry? Celtic spirituality is alive everywhere, from the smell of the sea air to roar of the waves. Surely there is no place on earth quite like it.”

I found myself agreeing with him. It’s true, much of the Island’s beauty lies in its ability to connect with a past long since forgotten and traditions once so alive, now but dusty memories. Bonfire night, once an Irish institution, still sees the island set ablaze year on year and age old festivals such as Patrún, honouring the Island’s patron Saints, still bring communities together in a three day display of curragh racing, traditional Irish music and dancing. Even the sound of a language once so familiar to me in my school days, is again another strong symbolism, not only of the island’s existence, but of the very foundations of Irish culture, my own culture and heritage.

As I catch my last glimpse of the island before embarking on the ferry back to Galway the following morning, I am yet again struck but strangely comforted by the old rusted fishing trawlers lined up against the pier and the bright and buoyant colours of the scattered houses and shops of Kilronan. As I take in my last breath of the salty sea air, I realise I am already thinking about my next trip to the island.

Author : Laura MacSweeny

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Posted: 17 Jul 2014 by Claire Regan | with 1 comments

Tags: Galway, Inis Mór

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Comments
Francis McCaffrey
Thanks for the Mention of the Aran Sweater Market and great blog about the Aran Islands.
30/07/2014 14:25:05
 
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