Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are famous for many reasons, not least for the beautiful sweaters produced there which many of us came home with, but also for their beauty and the ruined fortress of Dun Aonghasa. Most of the group cycled around the largest of the Aran Islands, Inishmore, but Elizabeth and Lauren rode in a horse-drawn cart.

The day started out with the golden promise of bright sun rays, but it soon clouded and turned into a very wet day. Although we didn't know it for the first hour or so, we all would be drenched to the bone before the day's end.

I'm used to the rooster's crow in the morning, but I didn't expect to be awakened by a seagull's cry outside our hostel window that morning.

The drive to the ferry.
It was sunny in the morning. Truly.
 My favorite thing about Galway is the increased presence of horses. Everywhere else, for every one time you see a horse in the pasture, you'll see at least ten pastures of cattle or sheep. In Galway, there are horses in practically every other field. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get good pictures of horses as you're hurtling by in a coach so all my pictures are quite blurry.

Boggy Galway landscape
 We arrived at the Ferry, climbed out of the bus and promptly realized that with the sun steadily disappearing and the coastal wind (not a breeze. WIND) was freezing, and I was wishing that I'd chosen to the winter coat, sweater, and scarf sitting on my bed in the hostel.
Our ferry.
 The land getting farther away on the horizon.

What is that? A purple house!
 We finally did arrive at the Aran Islands and climbed into our cart. We were already cold, and it hadn't even started raining.

The west of Ireland is mostly boggy or rocky terrain. Neither makes for good farm land, but since the Irish were forced to live there, they had to get all the rock out of the land they were trying to cultivate. This is mostly the reason for the thousands of stone walls throughout the west and on the Aran Islands. As they dragged the rocks out of the field so they could plant it, they built stone walls around the field.

More horses!

I'm not kidding. Stone walls are in abundance here.
 When w reached the other side of the island, we hiked up to an old bronze and iron age fort on the cliffs called Dun Aonghasa. Unfortunately, Lauren and I started up the hill a few minutes before it started raining. As we climbed it started coming down in sheets of water and the wind gusts were so strong, we were nearly knocked off our feet. The rain stung our faces and ran down our faces in rivers. Our jeans and coats were quickly soaked, but we decided to continue since it was pointless to turn back seeing how we were already soaked. When we got to the top, the rain was mostly stopped allowing us to briefly enjoy the area, and get a view of the lovely cliffs which don't get the attention they deserve.

Dun Aonghasa

Dun Aonghasa was seen as a great and powerful fort because of its location. Since it is built on the top of a hill along the edge of a cliff, it has a great defensive and offensive advantage. It is high enough that it would be impossible to attack with a surprise raid. Since it is built on a cliff rather than near the shore, it cannot be attacked from the sea either. The fort Dun Aonghasa was very large and oppressive, enemies would be intimidated by its grandness. The strength and size of the fort would inspire the people and show them the strength of their leader. 

The bronze and jewelry excavated at Dun Aonghasa suggest that the residents were of high class. Among the dig, they discovered that the population living inside the fort itself was only a small percentage. The lands would have been covered with fields and livestock. Because of the harsh landscape, the livestock were small, and there would have been only a small number of pigs. The fort thrived and was economically separated, for the most part, from the mainland, giving the Islands a remote and independent political power role.

Soaked and longing for a warm fireplace, we hiked back down and did some shopping before climbing back into our cart. Our Driver's name was Martin, and his horse was named Hopper. Despite the torrents of rain, this was probably my favorite day yet because it was spent around so many horses.
Hopper wondering if we had any food.

Hopper has one blue eye and one brown one.
 Martian also directed us to an old church. It was neat getting to travel with him because he gave us a lot of interesting insights on the Aran Island and showed us old buildings like these which most people would normally pass by.

 Even the trip back started out pretty well, but the weather didn't hold long. The rain steadily drenched us for most of the ride back. Although Martin gave us blankets and raincoats to help, the rain was relentless and eventually poured over into every unprotected crack and down our necks and backs. There was no shelter, so our only choice was to push on.
Every landscape is improved when viewed between the ears of a horse.
 We finally arrived -- drenched, freezing, but quite happy.
 We said goodbye to Hopper and Martian, got some hot chocolate and huddled up in a Pub until our ferry arrived. We never really got warm, just slightly less chilled. I put on my new Aran sweater since that was dry and warm, but all my other close were still wet.

Of course, as we were leaving the Island the sun came out.
Another horse. *Squeal*

Where were you a few hours ago?!

I spotted a lighthouse on the ferry ride back.

Galway Bay
 After the hour long ferry ride, we got into our coach and had another hour long ride back to Galway city. We learned that we were late for our reservation at Roberta's a fancy Italian restaurant, and we would be going directly there.

By the time we arrived in Galway, I was just starting to get warmer, but then we stepped out into that coastal wind again and walked a block to arrive at the restaurant, shivering again. It was a humorous sight. We were sitting at candlelit tables, soaking wet and looking like bedraggled street rats.
Diana ordered us all hot tea and we soon got a hot meal, and once we got back to the hostel, we were able to dry off and get warmed up.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Oh, and that purple house....could it be Mr. Pine's country home?!?!? :D