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May 28, 2006: Ireland Trip - Aran Islands

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While we were in Galway yesterday we swung by the offices of the ferry company run by the islanders, and bought our tickets to Inishmoor. So this morning right after breakfast we hopped into the car and headed off to Rossaveal to catch the ferry over.

When we reached the island there were lines of tourbusses all lined up and waiting, and we'd talked about just taking one of those around the islands, but then we spotted a much smaller line of horses and buggies and decided that would be far more fun. It's been pretty cloudy all day, but not a drop of rain anywhere, so the prospect of riding in a buggy open to the elements was actually a good one, for a change.

Our driver was a crusty character, in his mid 50's, with a weathered face from spending all his life on the island. He told us the only time he's ever left is for a trip or two to Galway. The island is only about 9 miles long and 4 miles wide, and has about 800 people (and over 1100 cows). I know that this is likely due to the fact that we moved around so much when I was younger (due to my dad being in the military) but it's such a foreign concept to me, to imagine staying in such a tiny (by my view) place for my entire life!

The ride in the buggy was, I think, far better than taking the minibus. For one thing, it was a bit slower paced, so we might not have seen as much, but we probably got far more commentary from our driver. He took us past some old churches and the local schools, and up to the entrance to Dun Aonghasa, which is a stone fort built right on the edge of a cliff that over 300 feet high, and it's several thousand years old. The path up to the fort itself is extremely steep and rocky and pretty much every single person on the path with us was gasping for breath by the time they reached the entrance through the outer wall (Richard and I included). Luckily the area inside the outer wall is full of places to collapse - the landscape of grasses and outcroppings of limestone made sure of that. We waited until we were inside the inner wall to find a place to sit down and have ourselves a little picnic with the rest of the bread and cheeses from yesterday, and we certainly weren't the only ones who were eating lunch up there as well.

The walls of the fort, as I mentioned, go directly to the edge of the cliff, which falls straight down to the ocean below. I held my breath and inched my way as close as I could make myself get to the edge to get a few shots (stupid fear of heights), but didn't join the other tourists who were lying on their stomachs on the very edge to look down.

Unlike yesterday's failed attempt to see the Cliffs of Moher, the weather was perfect for viewing the cliffs around the fort (plus, Pat says the cliffs here are just as good, if not better, than the Cliffs of Moher. Heh). We had a marvelous view out over the water, and across the rest of the island, which is divided into tiny little fields by ancient stone walls pretty much as far as the eye can see.

Once back down the hill, we rejoined our driver and his horse, and wound our way back toward the harbor with the ferries. He took us past more of those tiny rocky fields, and talked about how they 'make land' on the island - through application of layers of seaweed and sand, left to mingle together and then planted with grass seeds to provide a shallow ground cover. He showed us where the harbor seals like to sun themselves, and we could actually see a few spotted grey bodies far out on the sand. And then we finally got back to the harbor.

We wandered through the Aran Sweater Shop and Museum (not so much a museum as a series of printed posterboards positioned among all the sweaters for sale) and wandered through there for a bit. I poked around in the sweaters, checking out cables to see if anything might spark any ideas for my next Aran cardigans, but nothing really jumped out at me. So instead we found a little food shop and split a piece of carrot cake and waited for our ferry to arrive, since by then there really wasn't enough time to walk to anywhere else we might have wanted to see.

On the drive back home we both decided we were in the mood for fish and chips, so we ended up at a Supermac's for dinner, since it's the Irish equivalent of McDonald's (in that it is pretty much everywhere), where we had what is quite possibly the greasiest dinner either of us has ever eaten in our entire lives. It didn't exactly satisfy the craving for fish and chips, but it did fulfill our fried food and grease quotient for the rest of the year.

Pictures from our trip to Inishmoor are here.

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