An Overnight Trip to the Aran Islands
01.11.2007 - 14.11.2007
Monday morning found us wide-awake in Doolin, although I hadn’t slept very well. I awoke sometime in the night to what sounded like chairs being moved around in the bar downstairs. When we left earlier that night, most of the chairs were stacked up on the tables the way you generally do before you sweep the floors. The only thing wrong with this is that I knew there was no one down there. As if that wasn’t enough, the smoke detector went off at around 3am. I rolled over and looked at Amy but she was dead to the world. I heard the people in the next room leave and go running down the hall. I sat on up on the edge of the bed, tilted my head back and sniffed the air searching for some sign of smoke. I stood up and felt the doorknob to see if it was hot. Nothing. I went over to the window and peered out. Nothing. The smoke detector quit screaming and I sat back down on the bed, bewildered still trying to smell smoke and listening, only to hear the breathing sound of Amy’s sleeping pattern.
I wasn’t at all worried about an escape route should the building actually be on fire. Our window over looked a flat roof that we could climb out on if need be and from there it wasn’t too far of a drop to the back lot. 10 minutes had lapsed before I heard the couple in the next room return then I laid back down. A half hour would go by before I returned to the Land of Nod. When morning rolled around I told Amy of the doings that transpired in the night.
“Wait, wait, wait. The smoke detector went off and you didn’t wake me?!”
“Well, you were sound asleep. I figured if there was any imminent danger I would.”
“Man, are you something.”
Is the joint haunted? I don’t know. What I do know is that there’s no reason for anyone to be constantly scuffling chairs for about a half hour at 2:30 in the morning, let alone the smoke detector going off when there’s no sign of a fire.
A few hours later we packed, headed down to the car and drove to the lower part of Doolin to see if the ferries were running to the Aran Islands. We were heading to Inishmore and since it was off-season, ferries to the islands are catch-as-catch can and they weren’t running this day, so we made tracks for Galway. Heading northeast through the Burren on N67 we hit a detour that sent us ‘round Robin Hood’s barn along nothing more than a Michigan two-track that served as main roads for the farm houses that dotted the landscape. Driving at a cautious speed, I noticed up ahead a van approaching the crossroads where we needed to turn left. It’s a good thing he turned in the opposite direction because there was no place to pass save for a couple of spots every so often where both drivers split off the road at the same time. No wonder vehicles are smaller over here.
We arrived Galway about mid-day, found a parking garage (car-park) and headed next door to the TI office to check for information on transport to Inishmore. As I wrote in the first post of this adventure, the Tourist Info office is the best place to start. Almost every town in Ireland has one and they’re easily identified. Just look for the white i on the green background. The one in Galway is located one street north of the bus/train station on the corner of Forster and Bothar.
We walked in, bought some post cards and talked to a tourist agent about booking a trip to Inishmore, who in turn referred us to an Aran Island Ferries booking office that was just down at the end of the block on Forster towards the train station (normally you can book at the TI but for some reason they were closed that day, of course we were there in the off season). We went there and inquired about our trip to the woman at the desk. She was on the phone in no time speaking Gaelic (which is quite common in the west) and in less than two minutes after that, we were booked in a B&B and round trip passage on a boat at €100 for the both of us. We had to drive to Rossaveel, a tiny fishing village about 40km to the west of Galway on the north coast of the bay to catch our boat, but it didn’t leave until around 5:30 or 6, meaning that we had an afternoon to kill so we wandered the streets Galway City. If you don’t have a car, there are shuttle busses that will take you to Rossaveel for an extra €6 and depart downtown Galway an hour before the ferry sets sail. If for some reason you need an alternative, there is also Aran Islands Direct who are owned by the islanders and offer pretty much the same deal.
We headed over towards Eyre Square, a big park on the northern edge of downtown that also contains John F. Kennedy Park, honoring the late American President of Irish descent who visited there in 1963. We were starving so we kept our eyes peeled for a place to sit, have a few pints and enjoy a meal, settling on a pub located on the main drag that changes names abut a half dozen time.
From what we saw, Galway is a nice town. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend a lot of time there. During lunch we wrote out a few post cards and dropped them off at the post office on the way back to the car. It was time to head on to Rossaveel and our connection to Inishmore.
Of course I over estimated the time it would take to get there and by doing so, got there a little too early so we parked the car and did a little hiking. We walked up a road past houses until the road became a two track that was probably a service road. We followed that for a while until it ended at the base of a round tower overlooking Costelloe Bay and built in the early 1800’s for a Napoleonic invasion that never came. It looked like it was still in use too, but by people who go there to party.
Once back to the dock we still had time before the boat took off so we just sat around annoying each other. Before too long a bus pulled up, offloading a group of older people who boarded in Galway. I struck up a conversation with one guy and found that they were all from Wisconsin and came over on the same flight as us. No wonder a couple of them looked familiar. Shortly after that our boat docked, we embarked and were out to sea.
The ride was about an hour, maybe less but we got to Kilronan, the main town on the island and the only town with all you may need in the form of amenities (store, pubs, restaurants, post office, bank/atm, etc.). We had about a quarter mile hike or so in front of us to get to our b&b. It was no big deal but it was night. There isn’t much in the way of streetlights on the Island and there is auto travel, so in the pitch-black night it is wise to have a flashlight with you. It doesn’t need to be industrial-sized… a Mag-light served me well, just remember to swing it back and forth and in front of you as you walk to make yourself that much more visible to oncoming traffic. Another thing I noticed while driving at night in Ireland was that many locals wear those reflective road worker vests. They’re very lightweight and compact and you can probably find them at a bike shop, so it might be a wise investment if you plan on walking in the Irish countryside at night.
We got to our B&B, the Clai Ban, just ahead of the owner, who was away on vacation with his family and had just returned. The place was a little chilly yet, having stood vacant for a week or so, but warmed up in no time. Our room was very cozy and brightly decorated with a TV that we never turned on.
Not too long after checking in we headed out to find a restaurant, skirting the edge of Kilronan and ending up at the Patin Jack Bar inside the Ostan Arann hotel a quarter mile or so down the shore from the center of town. Dinner was good and ran about $35.00 for the two of us, including pints and the place looked nice. Modern, if you will. In fact, this is where the group from Wisconsin wound up and they pretty much commandeered the dining area. I’m not too sure if there was going to be entertainment – The Ostan Arann has a traditional Irish music and dance show – but Amy and I wanted something a little more low-key. So after dinner we headed back towards our B&B to Joe Watty’s Pub (which is practically right next door) and while there we had the best Guinness while on the whole trip. I even asked the bar tender why it was so good as opposed to the rest of the Republic and he said something about letting the kegs relax for a few days after delivery from the main island. I don’t know what that means, but it works. We sat there for a while talking about the day and planning our adventure for the following. The place was sparsely populated with Gaelic speaking locals, which I found relaxing. I had no idea what they were saying though, because Gaelic is a language that doesn’t sound like it has it’s roots in the Latin-based languages that English derives from. It sounds more Nordic or Scandinavian, if you will. A National Geographic article I read the previous year wrote that it ‘Hark[ed] back to the Late Bronze Age (1200-800 BC) and a civilization of aristocratic warrior tribes (Nat Geo, March 2006). What ever the origins, it’s just as hard to pick up on as it is to read.
After another hearty full Irish breakfast, the next morning found us hiking on down to the foot of the pier where we hired a couple of mountain bikes for €10 a piece for a trip to the cliffs at Dun Aonghasa (phonetically: Dun Angus), a semi-circled ring fort built 4000 years ago. We were leaving on that evening’s boat so we also checked out of our room. There’s not much in the way of public bag storage that I knew of but our host was kind enough to let us keep our packs at the B&B until we returned from our bike trip.
From the town of Kilronan it’s about a half hours bike ride to Dun Aonghasa… mostly up hill. Our plan was to have a little picnic over there so on our way out of Kilronan we stopped by the Spar Supermarket, which has everything you need and is a great source if you are staying at the Hostel, which, I’m told, has a self-serve kitchen. We got a few Cokes, some potato chips and cookies and then went to the deli next door where the kind woman behind the counter made us up a few ham samwiches. We also stopped and gawked at a couple of free-ranged chickens that amused Amy as they strutted and clucked around the Lucky Star Pub, which looked closed for the season.
It’s about 5 miles from Kilronan to Dun Aonghasa and roughly takes about a half hour by bike. You could also go by tour van that’ll bring you there and to other sights around the island as well as by horse and buggy that you can hire for a tour. After about an hour’s bike ride (because we stopped to explore a few things like a dilapidated old stone dwelling and a light house) along the High Road, we finally reached Kilmurvy, a tiny hamlet consisting of craft shops, a café and of course… a pub. From Kilmurvy it’s only a small jaunt west to the foot of the Dun Aonghasa visitor’s center, a busy little area that also has craft shops and a restaurant. We locked our bikes to a provided rack and headed right to the visitor’s center that also houses a museum that shows off some pretty interesting archeological finds.
Dun Aonghasa is covered by the Heritage Card and is a bit of a hike to get to (roughly 900 feet), so wear comfortable shoes. One lady making the trek, looked to be in her 60’s, and was dressed as if she was heading to church… heels and all! I wished I had taken a photo of it because I couldn’t believe it. What was more amazing was the fact that she was hiking at a good pace.
Once inside the semi-ringed fort, the first thing we did was head over to the edge and stare out onto the Atlantic Ocean, literally feeling like we were at the end of the earth. There are no fences or barriers keeping you from the edge, so mind where you step. And if you have kids with you, keep an eye on them. We worked up the courage to lay on our stomachs and hang our heads over the edge to watch the waves as they crashed 300 feet below; the boom it created was magnificent, echoing up in a beautiful sound, the likes of which I’ve never heard before.
We spent a good deal of time there, just exploring and taking in the scenery. We asked the ranger a few questions about the fort; she was well versed and knowledgeable about certain intricacies. After we ate our picnic lunch we looked around a little more then headed back to the visitors’ center and checked out the museum. We then perused the shops in search of an Aran sweater. We didn’t see any we could settle on here so we went back to Kilmurvy and found a couple that suited us in a quaint little shop there. They’re beautiful creations: %100 wool, all hand made and smell like the sheep they came from. It was starting to get a bit chilly so we just put ours on and went across the road to have a pint at the pub and write out more post cards before we headed back to Kilronan.
Stopping by the Clai Ban to pick up our packs, we thanked our host for watching them then headed down to the pier to return our bikes. We had about an hour before our trip back to Rossaveel so we sat about a touristy little restaurant that overlooked Killeany Bay and had a pint. A few hours later, we were back in the car and headed off to the town of Westport.