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Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be a Part of Your Ireland Trip

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com

As the itinerary for our Ireland trip came together, I knew two things had to happen: 1) I had to stay in a castle while we were there, and 2) we had to visit the Aran Islands. Everything else was negotiable as long as both of those stipulations were satisfied.

Thankfully, both experiences ended up being just as fantastic as I'd hoped they'd be. I knew that I wanted to visit the Aran Islands in some capacity because they are isolated from mainland Ireland (something that's always appealing since I love to get off the beaten path!) and because they kept popping up as one of the must-do items in everything I read about Ireland.

So, on a very, very cold morning, my husband and I packed up our suitcases and headed past Galway. The GPS led us onto increasingly smaller roads until we were driving along this tiny path that cut through some of the rockiest terrain that I've seen lately. I was about to suggest that we turn around since we were out in such rural area when I saw a tiny ferry sign. And, lo and behold, just around the corner was the ferry port!

By this time, the temperatures had dipped down even further and it was beginning to sleet. We bought our tickets (and, as a bonus, got a Gaelic pronunciation lesson from the ticket lady) and shuffled back out into the cold to await our ferry's boarding. There weren't but a handful of takers for the Inishmore ferry--most of whom were native islanders heading home--so Landon and I took a seat by the window to make sure we got the best view.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com

We needn't have worried since the boat rocked and rolled once the trip got under. I'm not someone prone to seasickness, but in the 15+ foot swells, even my stomach started feeling a little wonky. (Later on that day, we had several islanders tell us that we were brave to have come across in that weather. Apparently, there was a lot of debate about canceling the morning crossing because it was so rough.) A very long 45 minutes later, we pulled into the Inishmore harbor--only to be greeted by sheets of snow and sleet.

So far, my much anticipated trip to Inishmore wasn't living up to what I'd wanted it to be. Originally, I'd hoped that we could rent bikes to see the island on our own time, but there was no way that I was going to get out in that weather. Our innkeeper, Penny, had arranged to meet us at the docks to carry us to Tigh Fitz; when she heard that we wanted to go bike riding, she laughed and flagged down Noel Mahon, who runs a minibus tour of the island.

I hadn't wanted to take a minibus tour initially because I was afraid that it would be too touristy and rushed, but Noel did such a great job on the tour that I'm not sorry the weather prevented our bike riding. Noel, whose family has lived on Inishmore for generations, drove slowly enough for us to take in the sights, and even stopped at regular intervals so the people on the bus could get off and take pictures.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com

On the bus tour, we hit all of the major sights on the island: Dun Aengus (an Iron Age fort that teeters just on the edge of the cliffs), a traditional thatched cottage, and the Seven Sisters (the ruins of a large monastic site founded by St. Brecan).

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com
At Dun Aengus, an Iron Age Fort at the edge of Inishmore. It's a dry construction, which means there's no mortar to keep it all together!

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com
The Seven Sisters site. Fun fact: there are 7 ancient Romans buried in the corner of the graveyard; they made the journey to Inishmore 2,000 years ago.
We were also treated to a running commentary on everything from the building of the island's stone walls to where you can find local goat cheese. The nearly 3 hour tour cost $10 a person and was one of the most in-depth tours that I've taken.

After the tour, Noel dropped us off at our inn's front door, where Penny, the innkeeper, was waiting with our luggage. We settled into our room, but, as it was only about 3 PM at the time, decided to head back out for a walk.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com

Our inn, Tigh Fitz (pronounced "Tee Fitz," not "Tigg Fitz" as I initially thought), was just across the bay from Kilronan in Killeany, so we head back into the town to see if we could find some dinner. Nothing was open (in the off season, there are very, very few restaurants open at all, and those that are open usually have a gap between lunch and dinner), so we wandered through the island's one grocery store and came up with an uninspiring conglomeration of yogurt, crisps, and fruit.

We thought about catching some live music, but, as you can imagine, there wasn't much going on at 4 in the afternoon. With nothing else to do, and the daylight quickly leaving us, we headed back to Tigh Fitz to sit by the fire or watch TV.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com
One of the many monuments scattered across Inishmore: each is a memorial to an islander who lost his or her life in the ocean surrounding the Aran Islands.
Up until this point in our day, I was happy that we'd decided to come. After our sad lunch/ dinner at the grocery store, though, I began to question my decision to stay overnight. Thankfully, I'd come to realize why so many guidebooks and bloggers had recommended a night's stay very soon!

Just as we returned to the inn, we met two other guests, a married Irish couple that was taking a weekend break there. The four of us got along fantastically, so we made plans to head back out to a pub that night. The night that the four of us had out was one of the most fun evenings I've had maybe ever. We listened to their trivia night called in Gaelic (so Landon and I were little to no help), we met half of the island's residents, and helped pull the winners for the raffle benefiting the local soccer field. Even if you're not much of a drinker, find a local pub--you'll end up with a completely new group of friends by the end of the second round.

At Tigh Jo Fitz with our new Irish friends (I'm in the middle. The guy to the right had lost that picture of himself and his regiment from the '80s. SO many cool stories!)

Just don't drink too much if you have to catch the early morning ferry (like I may or may not have done--oooh, my stomach on the way back!). At the end of the night, Landon and I and our two new friends from the inn caught a ride from a very nice local guy who took pity on us and our cold mile-long walk from Kilronan back to Tigh Fitz.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com
The lights of Kilronan twinkling in the early morning light from our room at Tigh Fitz in Killeany.

What to Know When You Go

Noel Mahon, who runs the minibus tour we took, is also the island's unofficial chauffeur and taxi. He picked us up to take us to the docks for our return trip home, he drove us to the pub for trivia, and he shuttles people to and from the small airport.

Triple check that you're on the correct ferry to the islands. There are three Aran islands: Inishmore (Inis Mor, in Gaelic), Inishmaan (Inis Meain), and Inisheer (Inis Oirr). All of the ferries leaving from Rossaveal look exactly the same and often don't have any signs on them, so make sure you are on the right boat! During the summer months, you can take ferries to the islands from Doolin, too.

Everything is very laid back, so just go with the flow. Ordinarily, I'd never hand over my luggage, laptop, and everything to someone I just met, but our innkeeper treated us just like family. If you're staying outside of Kilronan, the main village, your innkeeper should arrange to pick you and your luggage up from the ferry dock. If you get stuck anywhere, just ask a local. They're very likely to give you a ride or help you figure out what to do.

You can't rent a car on the island. Your feet, a bike rental, or a ride from a friendly local are the only ways to get around Inishmore.

Gaelic is the first language on the island. The local schools are taught exclusively in Gaelic, so the islanders will often converse with one another in it. Don't fear, though, as they're all well versed in English, too.

Stay the night if you can. The islands are very much a day trip destination for most people, so there are many more opportunities to dive into the local culture if you stay over and catch the morning ferry.

If someone buys you a round, you're expected to pick up the next round. As soon as the first person in the group has finished his or her drink from the round before, that's when you need to get the next round coming, even if you're not done drinking your beer. This tradition can lead to you holding two or three full pints if you're a slow drinker and a very, very rough time the next morning.

In the high season, you've got a few more options than we did for a great pub night. Tigh Fitz (where we stayed) has a bar that's open during the summer months, and Joe Watty's is another popular spot for traditional music and beer. We headed to the cozy bar at the Kilronan Hostel, Tigh Jo Fitz.

The weather is spastic...even moreso than the weather elsewhere in Ireland. When we visited Inishmore, we were about halfway through our trip, so we were getting accustomed to the rain one moment and sunshine the next. On Inishmore, though, it would be 50 and clear and fairly warm, and then, 15 minutes later, the weather would plummet and driving sleet would be falling out of the sky. Seriously, be prepared for everything.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com
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