Published: March 26th 2009March 24th 2009
I peered over the edge of the cliff, straight into the crashing waves hundreds of meters below. Other, braver souls, dangled their feet off the ledge. We were in the enclosure of the Dun Aonghasa, an ancient, dramatically situated fort perched high above the Atlantic, on a slopping slab of limestone known as Inis Mor (Inishmore). The "Big Island", of the Aran Islands.
I am not sure why it is I am drawn to these lonely outposts. Storm-battered, treeless islands in the North Atlantic, with peoples proud and hearty. The Aran Islands were never easy places to live (just take a gander at the sort-of-documentary "Man of Aran" from the 1930s - the islanders had to pulverize stones and mix in seawood to create mini-fields just to grow potatoes) . But they are starkly beautiful and, in good weather, wonderfully peaceful. There are few trees, and most of the land is carved into small parcels of green by stone-pile fences (making it difficult sometimes to determine what is man-made and what is natural in that stony world!). Sometimes those parcels are occupied by friendly horses and cows. Many times they are simply empty.
As the islands are a world
apart from mainland Ireland, it's perhaps not too surprising that the Aran Islanders still speak Gaelic as a living language, one of the last areas of Ireland where that's the case. I had heard it being used in Galway (my gateway to Inis Mor), but in the islands it is essentially the first language. Because of this - and despite the small population - the Aran Islands were the focal point for something called the Gaelic Revival at the turn of the twentieth-century, when a major attempt was made to bring back Gaelic more generally in Ireland. Impressionable me, I now really want to learn it!
While on Inis Mor, I stayed in a B&B that had once served as the cottage in "Man of Aran". It was situated on the sea, near a moon of beach and just downhill of Dun Aonghasa. At night, when most of the day trippers had left, I roamed the quiet hills and pretended to be a new Man of Aran....
There are more photos below