The Magic of Aran

In the pictures below, you will find several candidates for cutest baby cow in the world, an example of a dolmen, or portal tomb, a seal doing tricks, an Iron Age Celtic fort, a Tennessee white and orange cottage, and an oddly specific problem involving pigeons at Galway’s St. Nicholas church.

In other words, here are some pictures from my trip to Galway and Inis Mór.

I rode the ferry to Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands with a population about the size of the Agnes Scott College student body (900).  Inis Mór is also the island most visited by tourists of the three, and that fact was pretty apparent.  As a tourist myself, I can’t exactly complain about the craft shops and cafes placed conveniently near the island’s sights, but I do wonder how some of the locals feel about it.  Perhaps the trade off is that tourism helps support the fairly traditional way of life that still thrives on the Aran Islands.  Residents still speak Irish daily!  I once made a very brief attempt in fifth grade to teach myself Irish out of a pocket Gaelic phrase book.  Needless to say, I failed miserably, but I enjoyed hearing the language spoken all these years later, even though I had no idea what was being said.

To get around the island, I rented a bike, which actually took some courage.  I haven’t ridden a bike much at all in the past eight years or so, and my last bike riding experience in Decatur was slightly scary.  However, I’d taken so many guided tours at this point in my time abroad that I really wanted the freedom to explore the island on my own.  So, I trusted the common wisdom that you can never really forget how to ride a bicycle and struck out, helmet fitted carefully to my head.  I bought a picnic at the local Spar supermarket, including Fanta, brown bread, crisps, an apple and Irish goat’s cheese.

It was supposed to take thirty minutes to bike from the main village of Kilronan to the Iron Age Celtic fort Dún Aonghasa, but it took me much longer as I stopped to take pictures every time I saw something charming, surprising, beautiful or romantic.  (And, okay, I walked the bike up a few hills, but those were mostly on the way back).  After a while I had to reign the photography in a bit, because I found the island to be stunning on the whole.  I stopped for a picnic on the shore where seals are often about.  I had asked the cashier in Spar if she knew the best time to see the seals.  “Probably high tide,” she said, then spoke to one of her coworkers in Irish.

“We don’t know when high tide is,” she said turning back to me, “but you’ll see them anyway.”

She was right.  At first I couldn’t tell if I was seeing bobbing bits of kelp and just imagining them to be seals (as I imagined as an eleven-year-old that I could speak Gaelic), but soon enough they came closer and revealed themselves to be seals!  Apparently, seals like to stick their heads and tails out of the water like they’re doing a trick.  See if you can spot the seal below.

There is so much that I could tell you about Inis Mór, which is definitely one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far, but I’ll focus on my interactions with animals on the island as there are a couple of good ones in addition to the seal-watching.

I met the white horse in the picture below when I was biking back to Kilronan after visiting Dún Aonghasa.  I needed an excuse to take a break from peddling, so I decided to try and make friends with this horse who leaned so curiously over the dry stone wall.  She was a very sweet horse, nuzzling my hand when I followed all the horse rules and offered a flat hand to pat her nose.  Then she tried to eat my dress, so I said goodbye.

A little further along the road, I took a detour, following a sign to Teampall Chiarain, the ruins of St. Ciaran’s monastery on the island.  The detour led me down a tiny and steep country path, where I definitely need to get off the bike and inch carefully along.  Suddenly, I heard a dog barking ferociously from someone’s backyard.  I froze.  The black dog appeared and continued to bark.”This dog is going to bite me,” I thought.  I tried following the dog rules, don’t look the strange dog in the eye, don’t make any sudden movements.  The black dog quit barking and edged towards me even as a tried to make my careful escape.

I held my hand out for the dog to sniff, palm flat, fingers closed.  He sniffed me and allowed me to pat his head.  Then he sat down next to me.

This was no ferocious attack dog!  This was a sweet old black lab mix, with a graybeard.  He was just protecting his people by barking…and he really wanted to be petted.  I named him Ciaran, as I was looking for the Teampall Chiarain when I met him, and the meaning of Ciaran is black!

Finally, of course, as many horses, donkeys, cows and sheep as live in dry stone wall paddocks on Inis Mór, I frequently stopped and squealed, saying things like, “Hi, baby cow!” and thinking, literally, “That’s the cutest baby cow I’ve ever seen.” Until I saw the next one.

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2 thoughts on “The Magic of Aran

  1. Ann White says:

    Hmm…there were hills only on the way back??? I am reminded of our pony trap driver (also Ciaran?? I think so…) on Inis Mor, who said the good thing about the small population is you know who to sit with in the pub, and who to avoid!

  2. There were hills both ways, but I was more tired on the way back so didn’t even attempt to ride up them usually:) That would be a good thing about it…I suppose that’s like Agnes Scott as well! :P

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