The rain streamed down the windows, blurring our views of the rough Atlantic ocean waters while the ferry lurched like a roller coaster car only halfway through its ride. Those who enjoy the thrill of the choppy waters laughed with the drops, kept busy on their phones or were helping a friend. The other half took solace in the small plastic bags the crew walked around handing out, their sea legs keeping them steady during the gale.
It was not long before one of the Aran Islands, Inish Mor, rose in the distance, its green hills and old stone walls standing proud. We all stepped off the boat and were immediately told to choose a bike from the rental shop. Sea legs, to land legs, to bike legs, we were off. As someone who has not ridden a bike in years, the saying “it’s like riding a bike” is true. However, those hills were not kind. Five minutes in and I was regretting my complete lack of exercise over the past several months. However, I’m not sure if it was this or the view of the countryside which knocked the breath out of me first. Rolling hills divided by stone walls crumbling at the edges, dotted with cows, sheep and horses. Bright cottages were scattered along the sides of the road, each sitting in their own sea of green.
After about 30 minutes of what felt like the uphill spin class I never signed up for, we discarded our bikes on bike racks and started up a short trail to Dún Aonghasa. The ancient, what appeared to be an amphitheatre, with an altar or large flat podium of sorts centered at the edge of the cliff, was interesting to say the least. The view looking out at the ocean was stunning and magnificent.
Now, when 10 Stags are standing on a huge cliff with an amazing view, what do you think they’re going to do? Did we all lay down on the cliff and stick our heads over the edge to get a better look at the cliffside and the water? Heck yeah, we did! I thought it was windy to begin with, but the wind just off the edge of the cliff is like having one of those massive wind fans you see in the movies aimed at your face.
We explored the area for a bit longer, taking in the rocky ruins scattered over the overgrown grass fields, before rolling out and heading to lunch.
During our lunch break I decided to pop into one of the small sweater shops to pick up my authentic Aran Islands Irish woolen sweater. For those who don’t know, the Irish are famous for their wool and the sweaters and products they make from the material. With many of their fields filled with herds of sheep and the cold, windy weather, Irish sweaters, especially from the Aran Islands, are the coziest pieces of clothing you could own. The small sweater shop was filled with sweaters, scarves, blankets, mittens, hats and so much more. Each item was hand-knitted by the women in the shop, the one working the front desk was in the process of knitting a blue blanket while I browsed. I left a short while later with a pink (unshocking choice for anyone who knows me) woolen sweater dress with a zipper down the front that could also be worn as a cardigan. Even on the days when it’s in the mere 40’s outside, I can walk outside in a t-shirt, leggings and that sweater and be warm as can be!
After lunch, our guide took us to tour a seaweed factory. The small, family run company collects seaweed from the ocean in the morning, then takes it back to the factory to clean and dry it. The seaweed is used for cosmetic and food purposes. It was an interesting, worthwhile stop before we moved on to bike around the rest of the island.
From the seaweed factory we biked to the Seven Churches, which are really only three or four old chapels that lay in ruins amist an ancient graveyard. Some graves go back as far as the Roman occupation during the early years when Catholicism was initially introduced to the Irish people. The beautiful buildings were tiny, the doorways requiring us to duck in order to pass through. The small heights of the doorways in conjunction with the lengths of the old graves indicate that malnutrition likely kept most people around four or five feet tall, so if you thought you were short…
Our last stop was a small beach to catch our breath and enjoy the view. However, midway through taking pictures of the beach, Jack Callanan ‘20, Kyle Klaschka ‘20 and Brian Gozzo ‘20 ran into the frigid water, despite the 57 degree air temperature. While they had brought swim trunks and towels in preparation, it did nothing to curb our surprise at our freezing friends as they dove into the oncoming waves.
Overall, it was a wonderful and exhausting day, made better by the friends I shared it with. The Aran Islands is definitely a place I would love to go back to and visit in the future.