In Dorinda's recent post, she mentioned a forthcoming holiday in Ireland, visiting Dublin and the Aran Islands. Serendipitously, looking for some old photos on the computer, I found these pictures my husband took on a team-building business trip to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor, in summer of 2008.
The Aran Islands are situated on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway Bay. There are three islands: Inis Mor (pronounced 'Innishmore', the 'big island'); Inis Meain (pronounced 'Innishmeaun', the 'middle island')and Inis Oirr (pronounced 'Innisheer', the 'east island'). The islands are one of the designated 'Gaeltacht' areas, meaning the language used in day-to-day living on the islands is Gaelic. Everyone is bilingual but the accent in the islanders' spoken English is specific to the area, reminiscent of Gaelic in its cadence and its rhythm. On the island there are several sites of historical significance dating back to Christian and pre-Christian and Celtic times. The Dun Aonghusa (Doonayngussa) stone fort is a World heritage site, for instance. Here is a photograph of the 300ft cliffs which the fort overlooks.
There are roads on the islands but tourists are encouraged to use a bicycle or 'Shank's mare' (walking!). The islands are limestone formations, grudgingly covered in soil that supports many rare and unusual plants which cling defiantly to the cracks in the soft, weathered limestone. Like the Burren in County Clare, further down the Irish coast, the soil here features many plants unique to this landscape.
Luxurious pink on grey - with lichen accents:
The traditional stone walls:
Clearing land for cultivation with old ploughs turned up these stones which were used to build stone walls marking the sub-division of farms among each new generation of sons. The stones divide the farms and edge the roads, weather-proofing the exposed traveller. They have been used to construct many of the enduring heritage sites, including the Dun Aonghusa fort. Here's a view of the cliffs and the ‘wild Atlantic’. This photo is framed by the edge of the fort, its rectilinear blockwork pattern of local stones duplicated in the irregular cracking rendered by erosion and weathering in the cliff-face below.
Life on the islands has been difficult. Although Galway Bay is not wide, the islanders were often cut off from the mainland by weather conditions which made it impossible to travel. For the children going to secondary school in Galway this was a relief but, to adults who needed to supplement their income by employment in a Galway factory, this was a more significant inconvenience. Local fishermen risked their lives battling the broad Atlantic in the traditional currach, a canoe-shaped boat that ferried passengers regularly to the 'mainland' until very recently. Everyone knows the Aran jumpers with their distinctive patterned stitching; what you may not know is that the bodies of fishermen recovered from the sea were identified by the patterns on their jumpers, each family having a particular pattern.
My aunt came from Aran, from Inis Meain. As a child, I became ill in her house one summer. It had never dawned on me that she spoke a different language until then, when she could not pronounce the word 'vomit'. Every time she tried to say it, she said 'W-omit' because Galway Irish does not have the hard 'v' sound. I remember her talking on the phone to my uncle, worried about this child in her temporary care, who could not help laughing into the toilet bowl even as she 'womited'!
This photograph illustrates how the limestone substrate has cracked and pushed through, jagged and urgent. The stone fort has stood for centuries but life has been hard for the islanders clinging as defiantly to the soil as the endangered plants. My aunt got ill on the island when I was about 15 years old. It was the middle of a stormy night and she was eventually taken by helicopter to Galway Hospital. I remember my parents speaking of it in hushed, don't-frighten-the-kids tones and softly-voiced phone calls to my uncle.
The lichen is a testament apparently to the lack of pollutants in the air. It clings to the rock everywhere in brilliant living adornment - Alpine beauty on the Atlantic coastline.
'The Aran Islands', an account of his travels in the islands at the turn of the 20th Century by J.M. Synge, is available free on Project Gutenberg but without the famous Jack B Yeats illustrations. Finally, a photograph of the rock-pools on Aran and a clip from Rita Connolly singing 'Ripples in the Rock Pools coming into Connemara', for your listening and viewing pleasure!