The Ireland Diaries: The Aran Islands
“This is the last outpost of ancient Europe; I am privileged to see it before it disappears forever..” — J.M. Synge
My trip to Ireland concluded with a visit to the Aran Islands, which are a trio of three isles boasting gorgeous views of the sea, the Connemara Hills, the Cliffs of Moher, and Galway Bay. Rather than visiting the most popular and touristy big sister Inishmor, we decided to stray off the beaten path with a detour to the quietest and most peaceful of the three islands, Inis Meáin (or Inishmaan), which made us feel like we'd literally stepped back in time.
For any literary buffs: This hidden gem, the views by the bay in particular, was said to be the poet John Millington Synge's favored spot for reflection and writing. He is known for penning "Playboy of the Western World," "Riders to the Sea," and of course "The Aran Islands," which were all inspired by the remote destination.
The isle is perhaps the best preserved example of the area's original culture. Most locals work in fishing or tend sheep as part of the island's internationally-renowned Aran Islands Sweater Factory, and you'll find ancient stone walls dotting the entire landscape, countless livestock, and even the odd local here and there dressed in traditional garb.
Keep scrolling to check out my top must-dos on the island, including stopping at Synge's home on the island, scaling one of the isle's awe-inspiring ancient stone fortresses, and stopping in at some ancient churches, all while enjoying Inis Meáin's incomparable views.
Next time, I'll be sharing my adventures in Prince Edward Island, Canada, so stay tuned!
This 300-year-old cottage, where the poet stayed during the summers of 1898 to 1902, has been completely restored and opened to visitors. Featuring a thatched roof and whitewashed walls, the quaint home offers several original pieces that Synge used. Adventurous visitors can also take a 45-minute walking detour to the scenic spot where the poet was inspired by the panoramic views at the Cathaoir Synge
This oval-shaped 5th century fortress, which dates back to prehistoric times, offered some of the best views from my entire trip as it is perched on one of the highest points of the island. Climbing up the path and over decaying stone walls, it was easy to imagine that we'd stepped back to the time of Chonchúir and were watching for invaders from the lookout points.
We were told that on a clear day, one can see as far as Mount Brandon on County Kerry.
While the arrangement looks like the fort was once a bustling community, it was eerily empty save for the random cow or traveler wandering in the overgrown pastures.
When you're closer to the water, 8th century church Cill Cheannanach emerges from the lonely landscape. While the building itself is small, it is stunningly well preserved and juxtaposed by an old graveyard and neighboring megalithic stone formations.
Church of Mary Immaculate
Mary Immaculate Church is an anomaly on the island in that it looks a lot more modern than the rest of the buildings. It was built in 1939 on the site of a 15th century church, and while the white-washed exterior doesn't include any of the stonework that you'll see around the rest of Inishmaan, inside, however, the church is full of artistic treasures. We loved the stunning stained-glass windows designed by the Harry Clarke studios and an alter crafted by the father of Irish writer and poet Padraig Pearse.