The Aran Islands

After my trip to Dingle, I was supposed to stop in Doolin for two nights and then make my way from Doolin to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.  However, anyone who saw the size of my bag before I left would know that traveling on the bus system there, with this bag, was pretty much impossible.  Not to mention that as good of a system as Bus Eirann is, it still has its flaws... and although Dingle to Doolin is only a 3 hour drive, on the bus, with all the stops and changes,  it was going to take 9 hours.  So I made the decision to get a ride to Tralee, rent a car, and drive to Galway to drop off my bag.  I was due to stay with a family in Galway for a couple of weeks, and so I got in touch with them and asked if I could come and stay for one night and leave the bag.  They agreed, and let me tell you, it was a huge weight off of me... literally... to drop this bag off and travel light for a week or two.  And the main port for ferries to the Aran Islands is in Galway anyways, so it worked out perfectly.  

I stayed in Galway Friday night, and on Saturday morning made my way on the bus out to Rossaveal, and took the ferry out to Inishmore.  I was absolutely exhausted from getting no sleep in a new place the night before, but it was a perfect weather day and I knew I couldn't waste it.  I checked into my B&B, The Seacrest, and was thrilled about my choice.  I mean, not that there is much choice on a tiny island of 800 people, but Seacrest was right off the pier and within walking distance to all the bars, the beach, the shops... it was a perfect spot and I loved the owner Geraldine immediately.  Her husband, Thomas, owns a horse and trap business on the island... more on him later!

 

So since you can't bring cars on this island (and I didn't have one anyways), there are bike hires greeting you when you get off the ferry.  I rented from Burke's, and since it was midday he cut me a deal: 15 euro instead of 20 euro for 2 days, because half the day was gone already.  Can't beat that, and I set off down the coast road of the island to get to Dun Aengus, a famous stone fort on the other side.  Also the place where they shot the proposal scene in Leap Year, but I digress...

 

For such a small island, there really is a lot to see, and all of it is stunning.  The coast road is just the perfect bike ride and you pass some picturesque spots, like the Seal Colony.  In the 3 times I ended up visiting it, I never saw seals (epic fail), but it was still gorgeous.  There's also a nice cozy beach along the way... but the beauty of Inishmore is really in the stonework.  The stone walls create a patchwork quilt of land like nothing you've ever seen, and of course there are cows and horses and some goats behind every wall.  It's amazing.

 

I got to Dun Aengus and climbed to the top, and while I was happy being there, my mind that day was pretty weighed down with worry.  As I said, I had gone to Galway the night before, and slept at the house I was supposed to spend two weeks at... and I didn't think it was going to work out at all.  The room I was renting ended up being right off the kitchen, and the owners of the house had two teenage sons.  Now, I'm going to say something that might get me in trouble, but here goes:  Irish teenagers are THE WORST.  Like, ever.  I won't go into all the horrible examples I have of this, but for the sake of this story, let me just say that this woman's teenage son kept me up until 4 am because he was slamming around the kitchen, most likely intoxicated.  So yeah, I was having second thoughts about staying with this family.  And I had no idea what to do, and on my way up Dun Aengus from the visitors center, I called my friend Karen in Cork to talk it out.  I decided I would figure out a way to not stay in Galway as long, and I would go back to Cork, where I had made some good friends.

 

Crazy how things can change so quickly, isn't it?  ;-)

 

After Dun Aengus, I headed back to my B&B, got ready, and headed to Joe Watty's for the night.  Like I mentioned in an earlier post, a lot of times music in bars in Ireland wouldn't start until 10, and they'd stop serving food at 9, so I'd often eat dinner at about 8:30 and stay on for the music.  If you went out too early in Ireland, like 6 or 7, there would be tumbleweeds blowing through the pub.  But on an island, especially a small one flooded with visitors since it was such a nice day, I knew things would be a bit different, and so I headed to Watty's at about 7:30.  There are a few bars on the island, but when I had gotten on the ferry in Rossaveal, they had a few people handing out brochures for places like the bike hires and the sweater market, and Watty's was the only restaurant to have a brochure, so I had decided to go there.  Good thing I did...

 

I never thought I would meet someone on such a small, tiny island.  I went there planning to completely unwind, unplug, be on my own, and figure out my next move in changing my itinerary around to go back to Cork.  I'm not going to tell you all the awesome details about the first time I saw Kevin, how he and I got to talking and how great he turned out to be for me.  That would just bore my friends to tears  (since I spent about a week gushing about him after we met).  What I will say is that no, he wasn't my tour guide lol... I think I posted a photo of us and said "best tour guide ever" at some point so people thought that that's how we had met.  Give me a break people, it was a hell of a lot more romantic than that... we met at a bar ;-)  No, in all seriousness, it WAS romantic, it was fun, and it was the best thing that happened to me on this trip.  We had an amazing two months of travel together and I'll always be grateful for everything he showed me.  I can't say what's going to happen in the future but I can say that I feel very lucky to have fallen in love with such a great person in such a beautiful place :)

 

Moving on... the next day we visited the Wormhole and the Black Fort.  Again, for such a small island, there is a lot of beautiful spots... but I wouldn't recommend going to the Wormhole or the Black Fort unless you have an islander showing you the way.  These places are way out and aren't marked at all... wait, scratch that... they're marked with random arrows painted on random rocks... and by random rocks I mean you're standing in a place with hundreds of thousands of rocks that you're walking on... and maybe 3 of them have arrows lol.  They don't exactly make it easy for you.  But both places are absolutely worth seeing, especially the Black Fort.  Here is with me with one such amazingly marked rock:

 

 

Inishmore is a place I ended up going twice, and we also threw in a night in Inisheer the second time around.  Inisheer is the smallest of the Aran Islands and I LOVED it... I almost liked it better than Inishmore.  ALMOST :)  Inishmaan is the third island and the smallest in terms of population, coming in at about 150 people.  Inisheer has about 300 and Inishmore has about 850.  All of the islands are part of the Gaeltacht and so you're likely to hear lots of Irish being spoken in all the pubs there.  Anyways, Inisheer had its own charms and it's somewhere I would definitely go back to for a relaxing weekend.  I didn't get to go to Inishmaan, but I probably wouldn't... most people said that because it's such a small population, they try to discourage tourism... I think we looked it up and could only find one B&B on the whole island.

 

I'll post some favorites from Inishmore first, and then a couple from Inisheer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dun Aengus...

 

 

 

 

The view from Dun Aengus doesn't suck....

 

 

 

 

The Black Fort...

 

 

 

The Wormhole... also where they had a portion of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series... you can see the pool they jumped into in the bottom left hand photo.  Here's a video I found on YouTube that shows some dives from that day... it's crazy because it literally looks like the person is diving into rock... you could not pay me enough to make that jump!

 

 

 

 

So this is Thomas, the husband of my B&B owner Geraldine.  The second time I visited Inishmore, he was nice enough to let me jump in on a ride he was giving to a couple from CT, so I could take a few pictures of him and his horse and trap around the island.  The couple on the ride were great, and they love Inishmore so much they are talking about moving there and starting a business.  They have been to Inishmore several times and even got engaged there.  They were great craic and I had a great time touring them and Thomas!

 

 

 

This was actually a semi- scary-turned-funny situation.  We came around a bend in the road and we saw a cow that didn't seem to be breathing.  There was another cow laying on top of it... (in hindsight, this could have been the problem haha)... but we couldn't tell if the cow was dead and the one laying on top was trying to protect it, we couldn't tell if the one on top was injured... it just didn't look good.  So Thomas pulled the horse and trap over and went over to investigate, and then he had to call the owner, who was another horse and trap driver on the island, and he was out in the field quickly and both were trying to get the dominant cow off the small injured one.  It turned into quite the scene and I snapped a few pictures.  All the cows turned out to be okay but they ended up having to separate the other two from the crazy dominant one.  There's one in every herd, I tell ya... this was a fun little glimpse into life on the island.  Thomas saves the day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas told me he had a photo of his father at this very sign, so he asked if I would replicate it.  Gladly :)

 

 

Some of Thomas' other horses...

 

 

 

More island charm...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were taken on our night in Inisheer...

 

 

 

 

This guy was hanging out on the road as Kevin and I walked the island... he ended up following along with us for a good long while... loved him!

 

 

 

 

Rebel :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best walks I can ever remember taking.  This island was so beautiful and peaceful!

 

 

 

Up next... Clifden, Cong and the Connemara!