The Gaelic speaking Aran islands of Inisheer (Inis Oirr, meaning ‘eastern island’), Inismaan (Inis Meain, meaning ‘middle island’) and Inismore (Inis Mor, meaning ‘big island’) lie 45km south-west of Galway and about eight km from the nearest point to the Clare shore. Inismore is the largest and most developed and is 10 miles long. The two smaller islands do not encourage visitors.
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Geologically speaking the islands are an extension of the Burren region in County Clare, a lunar like landscape famed for its rare flowers. Archaeologically they are rich in remains.
The pre-industrial society of the islands was celebrated in classic works of print such as John M. Synge's 1907 The Aran Islands and in film (Robert Flaherty’s 1934 Man of Aran, famous for sea scenes).
There are many derelict and deserted houses on the island. The island used to be home to over 2000 people, now with only 800, the houses have just been left to rot away. Everyone on the island is employed in the tourist industry except three policemen, the schoolteachers, garbage collectors, and other sorts of necessary jobs. The younger men still fish but not like they used to because the fish aren’t there anymore.
There is a nice sandy beach on the island that is used in the summer. There are no trees whatsoever because the soil is too thin. The soil exists because in the past sand and seaweed were brought by the people up from the beach to create it.
Everywhere there are stone fences and more stone fences. These exist because the land was cleared of the stone for meager crops and pasture for cattle and cows. Now there are only a few sheep.
Also the stone fences exist because land kept being divided among all the sons in each generation—one of the reasons the Irish were so poor.
You can take a 10 minute flight to Inismore. A minivan meets the plane and takes you to the main village, Kilronan, on the island where there are places to eat and a couple of places to stay. Shops sell stuff for tourists as well as Aran wool sweaters. Kilronan is also the village where the ferries land. Many people get around the island’s very narrow roads by bicycle. Visitors can hire these out at the village.
At Kilronan is a Visitor's Centre, Ionad Arainn, which gives an introduction to the history and culture of the island. East of Kilronan is St Ciaran’s monastery with some early cross slabs and a holy well. Nearby is St Soorney’s church and St Enda’s church. St Enda is associated with the spread of Christianity on the island.
At the harbour there are 28 mini buses/vans lined up to take people on a tour of the island. The focus of the tour is to go to the prehistoric stone fort called Dun Aenghus. It covers 11 acres. The buses let passengers off where there are three shops and two places to eat. From here you walk to the path that goes up the hillside to the fort. It’s a two mile round trip. The first part of the path is loose gray gravel. The second and steepest part is really no path, just rocks jutting out which you have to carefully place your feet on to climb up, worn into a very, very rough semblance of a path over the many centuries. The fort is only three-sided because the 4th side is on the edge of a 300 foot high cliff. It isn’t fenced in. The fort is constructed of limestone blocks. The reward at the top is far reaching views over the island and the sea. The bus tour then goes on to the end of the island and returns to its starting point.
Licensed ferries travel from the Clare coast to the islands. The Doolin Ferry is the shortest crossing point. The journey takes less than 30 minutes and there are several sailings daily.
Tel. 065 707 4455
Email: Doolin Ferries
Web: Doolin Ferries
Aer Arann runs a 10 minute flight to the Aran island of Inishmore from the R336 near Inveran, 40 minutes from Galway city. If you don’t have a car, a shuttle bus service runs from the city to the airport.
Web: Aer Arann
Tel. 091 593 034