Ireland of Dreams: The Aran Islands

Rough seas, thick sweaters, an ancient clifftop fort, and a drunken taxi driver

Perhaps we should have taken that high seas comment as a warning.

Two days later I found myself sucking down Dramamine and shutting my eyes tight against the pitch and roll of a ferry loaded down with sacks of potatoes, bags of carrots, and groups increasingly green-faced Irish schoolgirls and French tourists.

As more and more passengers dashed for the bathrooms or leaned over the back rails, I started regretting—for the only time on the trip—the "full Irish" breakfasts I had been cheerfully indulging in each morning.

The last thing you want weighing in your belly on a boat ride like this is that Irish cholesterol fest of thick back bacon, fried eggs, fried black (blood) and white (don't ask) puddings, toast and brown bread slathered with homemade preserves, hot buttered porridge, fruited yogurts, fried potatoes, half a tomato (the Irish put half a tomato in everything), and a pot of tea.

The ferry causing so much suffering was bound for Inishmor, chief of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway, famed for its thick hand-knit jumpers (sweaters) designed to keep out the pre-dawn chill on a fishing boat bobbing in the North Atlantic. When we finally hit land, even the hardy islanders admitted gruffly that the crossing was "pretty rough."

We shelled out €5 each to share, with a small group of Germans, one of the minibuses that lined the arrival docks. All we wanted was to get to our inn and lie down for a while and stop the ground from rocking, but the Germans were bent on their sightseeing daytrip, so we got shanghaied to visit the overgrown ruins of the tiny Seven Churches (just what it sounds like) en route to our B&B.

The Man of Aran B&B was a whitewashed thatched cottage snuggled behind a lush garden of flowers and herbs slashed here and there with the tar-black oblong of an upturned currach (traditional Aran canoe). It looked like something out of a movie, and it was. The house was built in the 1930s to film "The Man of Aran," and is now run as a B&B by Joe and Maura Wolfe.

Maura is an islander, born and bred, and her 85-year-old mother still knits three to four jumpers (sweaters) a year. She sells them at a shop called Rossalin in the clutch of thatched buildings that make up the village of Kilmurvey, just up the road from our B&B at the turnoff for Dun Aonghasa, Inishmor's ancient ring fort perched at the edge of a seacliff.

We had neglected to ask for bikes when booking, and none were now available, so—after a climb up to the nearby and spectacularly sited TK—we spent two hours walking along the shore road back to the main town, praying for the rain to hold off (it did) and passing endless stone walls in silence.

We saw more seals sunning on the rocks than we did people. It was lovely—in that eerie, isolated, insular way—but by the time we hit town the sweater shops were all shut, as was Star Bar, a promising-looking canary-yellow pub where the front patio swarmed with roosters.

Instead, we warmed ourselves inside the dockside American Bar and discussed our dilemma: there were no minibuses around, dusk was falling, and we had to be back at the B&B for dinner (which turned out to be fabulous) in less than an hour.

A rheumy-eyed man at the end of the bar overheard us, hoisted a half-full glass of beer—clearly not his first—and said. "I'll take ye!" He paused and reconsidered his offer. "As soon as I've finished this pint."

The road back was one lane wide, but our benefactor still managed to weave about at frightening speeds, focusing most of his concentration on conversation.

He told us he loved Yanks—was in fact a US citizen himself, by dint of having done five years in our Navy, which he signed up for in Philadelphia after having gotten into "a wee bit of trouble."

He had planned to stay Stateside, but came back to Aran for a visit, fell in love, and was married for 30 years until his wife died of cancer two years back. Now he drives tourists around the island in a red minibus, and drinks in the American Bar.

» On to: Sligo Surprise

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in September 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.