The Aran Islands- Inis Oirr (Inisheer)

August 7, 2010

Irish traffic jam! Cows being herded off to be milked.

(Pssssst! Click on the words in blue for links to video.)

After going to bed early (11 p.m. hah!), I awoke well-rested and excited to go on a trip to one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr, the smallest and closest to shore (where the Cliffs of Moher are located) and incidentally, the one that fewest tourists bother to visit. It is said that the purest form of Gaelic is spoken on this island of about 300 natives, where English is a second language. On the bus ride back to the Cliffs of Moher, where the ferry departs, we encountered an Irish traffic jam. If you have no idea what this is, be sure to look at the picture.

The ferry ride took half and hour was a tad tumultuous. Mary, Aubrey and I stood out on the lower, front deck to watch our ferry make it’s way through the Atlantic waters. We got soaked in the process but it was well worth the view. But after the second big wave, I called in quits in fear that my camera would get damaged and headed into the inside cabin.

When we got onto the island, most of us headed to the pub for a bite to eat. I got a bowl of delicious seafood chowder, with whole pieces of mussel and big chunks of various kinds of fish and sea-life and vegetables. A sign on the wall read “When I die, bury me under the pub so my husband will visit me 7 times a week!”

After that, we all headed into our own separate directions. Some people rented bicycles for 10 Euros, I chose to walk. The island is quiet and aside from the occasional chatter of the locals and tourists that you overhear, the only sounds are birds chirping, the wind rushing in your ears and gravel crunching under your feet. Speaking of the ground, there was no soil here originally, only rocky surfaces. Soil was

The stone walls used for penning in livestock.

made by pounding rocks and sand into fine grains and mixing it with seaweed and animal manure to, over the years, create dirt suitable for growing plants and crops in. Can you even imagine the work involved? As a Floridian, I appreciated it, especially since we don’t have real dirt back home. Only the sandy “wannabe dirt” soil that sticks to everything.

I wandered up to the ruins, situated on one of the higher points on Inis Oirr. To get there, you wander up a winding paved road, surrounded by low walls made of stone. If you look out into the fields, you can see these walls crossing the entire island. The parts of the field sectioned off by the walls are generally where animals like horse, sheep and cows are kept.

As you continue to walk, the Caislean Ui Bhriain (O’Briene Castle) comes closer into view. I can only imagine that it was majestic back in it’s hey day.The O’Brien family, who owned the island until 1585, built the three-story tower house. It was partially destroyed by Cromwellian forces in 1652.

A little further up the road, you come across the Signal Tower, built in 1804.

Torie, Laura, Lauren, Dr. Robin, Naomi and Carol in front of the wreck of the Plassy, a small freighter washed way up on the rocky beach years ago in a huge storm. Photo by Dr. Rick Wilber.

There are numerous other ruins, cemeteries and things to see, like the Plassy Shipwreck, that I didn’t personally walk because I lethargically followed the winding path for quite some time, enjoying the cool breeze on my cheeks and the smell of fresh hair and the countryside. i got sidetracked and lost track of time and had a few other things  wanted to check out.

I popped in to a few Bed & Breakfasts’ to inquire about the cost to stay there and was met with friendliness. At every place I stopped into, I had my camera out snapping pictures, a notepad and pen in hand and paused only to ask questions of people while they worked and no one regarded me with suspicion. Back home, I get questioned all the time about what I’m writing, why I’m taking pictures and what angle I’m taking with my story. None of these people cared about those things. They just went about their day and let me get my “reporter groove” on.

I stopped into a craft shop on the way back to the dock and met Dr. Robin, Torie, Carol and Naomi there. The shopkeeper there chatted with us about Gaelic and wrote  down a few phrases for us. He grew up on the island and said he has no desire to live anywhere else. Growing up, classes were small- just five or six students most of the time. I bought an Aran Islands t-shirt and a messenger bag handmade from wool sheared from local sheep.

We met back at the bicycle rental area and sat down at a picnic table to discuss the day while we waited for our ferry. Michael O’Connor discussed more about the Irish language with us:

  • “Le mor gra” (with accent marks above the o and a)= “With much love.”
  • “Ta me ngra leat” (with accent marks about the first and second a’s and first e)= “I love you”
  • A lot of money is spent on translating public documents, signs, etc. into both Gaelic and English
  • Words are often made up for things that didn’t exist at the time the language was developed. A lot of words are made to sound like the words for the object in other language.
  • A lot of Gaelic seems to be spelled out phonetically, even if there is a proper spelling for it.
  • Gaelic and Irish= same language.
  • Just about everyone on the island speaks Gaelic as their first language, English as their second

Shortly before the boat pulled up, Dr. Rick noticed three men rowing a traditional-style canoe up to the beach. The small boats are made of tarp and tar. I sprinted to grab some video of them rowing up. Click here to view it.

The ferry ride back to shore made everyone a little nauseous since we had to wait our turn to dock during ferry rush hour. But we had a beautiful view of the cliffs the entire time that we bobbed up and down on the deep blue water. Dr. Rick even saw a big sea turtle gliding by that he pointed out to us. Very exciting stuff guys. That blew Lowry Park Zoo out of the water. I can no longer enjoy the sting ray tank.

The Caislean Ui Bhriain (O'Briene Castle).

Aubrey standing on top of the remnants of the castle.

Mart enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze atop the ruined castle walls. She was in no rush to climb down.

Lauren climbing down the steep, rocky steps of the castle wall. much harder to climb than the watch tower.

A gate in the stone walls lets farmers come in and out of the penned in area.

The Signal Tower was built in 1804 and the remnants can be seen from quite a distance.

The Inis Oirr beach. Very cold water but a lot of children in wetsuits.

I stumbled across two or three tea houses in my walk around the island. The tea is delicious and cheap and the people are friendly.

Daylina, Laura and Lauren gazing out into the ocean, waiting for the ferry to pull up.

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