Aran Islands – The Right Choice

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There are many sightseeing options when visiting the central western side of the Emerald Isle. The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and Connemara National Park are all on a must-see list. If you can squeeze it in, a visit to one of the Aran Islands should also be high on the list. It is a full-day commitment due to the fact that it is accessible only by ferry (or small plane), but it is a special day, where you step back in time to a different era.

The Aran Islands are three rocky isles guarding the mouth of Galway Bay. We visited the largest island, Inishmore, mainly because it was the most convenient to get to, and it is also home to the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa, perched on top of a high cliff. After a 30-minute car ride from Galway to the ferry terminal, and a 30-minute ferry ride, we arrived at the small village of Kilronan. Inishmore is inhabited by less than 1,000 residents, very few of whom speak English. The signs are all in Irish, but that only adds to its charm and fun. While you can hire a taxi or horse-drawn carriage to travel around the island, we rented bikes for the day, which was an enjoyable way to tour this small island.

aran-island-blog-1.jpgBiking the island can be strenuous, but it allows an intimate introduction to the Aran Islands. You can stop and say hello to the animals. We were fortunate enough to come across a foal and its mother, the afterbirth not far away, indicating that this baby horse was probably less than 12 hours old. Aran-Island-Blog-2

Biking also allowed us to visit and explore the craggy shore line. The island is an extension of the Burren. The terrain of the island is composed of limestone pavements with crisscrossing cracks known as “grikes,” leaving isolated rocks called “clints.” A tough and challenging walk for sure, but fun for discovering small ocean life.Aran-Island-Blog-3

Biking also allowed us to view close up the famous stone walls that permeate the entire island, and give rise to the patterns found on the Aran Island sweaters. Of course, it is also fun to see the many thatched roof cottages that dot the island as well.Aran-Island-Blog12
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The highlight of our day was a visit to Fort Dún Aonghasa. No bikes are allowed at the fort; the uphill pedal probably would have been impossible anyway. A 14-acre site, the remains of the fort consist of three terraced walls perched on the edge of a 300 foot-high cliff. The views from it are breathtakingly spectacular. Excavations indicate that people had been living at the hill top from about 1500 BC.
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One fact I found amusing was that there was a fence that prevented a person from wondering off the fort property onto neighboring farm land, but no barrier that prevented someone from falling 3oo feet straight down into the ocean! Aran-Island-Blog-6Not far from the fort, people actually do dive off the cliffs into the Worm Hole, a naturally formed, rectangular-shaped pool which hosts several cliff diving competitions. Not for the faint of heart, but it would be fun to watch.Aran-Island-Blog13

As there is only one return ferry to the mainland at the end of the day, a leisurely bike ride can get a little more harried as the day progresses. Heading back to the harbor, we quickly stopped at the medieval ruins of the Seven Churches, Aran-Islands-Blog14took more pictures of the stone walls and cottages, and of course had to see the some of the residents making the most famous export of the island, the famous Aran knit sweaters. In fact, one of our sweater suppliers, Carraig Donn, got its start right here on Inishmore, but I will tell that story in my next blog. Of course, if you can’t visit the island personally, you can always check out our selection of Aran sweaters (men’s and women’s) as they are made in and come directly from Ireland.Aran-Islands-Blog15

After arriving back in our hotel after an exhausting yet exhilarating day on Inishmore, we knew we had made the right choice. A day on the Aran Islands is truly a special day.

 

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Doug

 

 

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Our Irish Driving Trip—Five Things About Driving on the Left to Make Your Visit Right

Somehow we found our way to Kilkenny

Somehow we found our way to Kilkenny

Laura and I visited Ireland in January to attend Showcase Ireland in Dublin, the Irish crafts and products trade show. After finding a number of spectacular new items to add to the Ever Irish Gifts site, we rented a car to travel the Irish countryside and visit the workshop and studios of several of our craftsmen. What a fabulous—and, occasionally, exciting—adventure.

Ireland is truly a majestic country and so worth a visit, but if you decide to tackle it from behind the wheel of your own car, we suggest you keep a few points in mind.

  1.  To my mind, renting a car is the best way to see the countryside. Notice that I said “countryside,” and not Dublin. Dublin is congested, lots of one-way streets, and challenging parking. Walk or take public transportation or a taxi when in the city, and then do as we did, go by taxi to the car rental location, which is preferably is located on the outskirts of town.
  2. Driving on the left side of the road is a bit confusing at first, but you get used to it. Strangely enough, readjusting to driving the right side again once back in the States was actually more difficult for me. My advice, however, is to rent an automatic car. Unless you are very experienced with a manual transmission, operating a stick shift with your other hand, while sitting on the other side of the car and driving on the other side of the street, takes way more concentration and dexterity than you may be prepared to devote. We hadn’t even driven our stick-shift car out of the rental car lot before we changed our minds, hopped out, and went back in to the office to exchange it for an automatic. Yes, it was more expensive, but it was worth every euro to me. Just make sure you indicate your preference when making the reservation.
  3. Rent as small a car as you reasonably can fit into. You will be shocked at how narrow many of the streets are once you get off the main motorways. A number of times, as a vehicle approached from the opposite direction, I would pull as far over to the left as I could, stop, and then just close my eyes and pray as it roared by. Mind you, I may have slowed down, but the other drivers, particularly those in trucks, apparently never even considered applying the brakes. Take my advice and accept the insurance from the car rental agency (and read what is or isn’t covered, because it is different from the policies in the U.S.).
  4. Understand that addresses basically don’t exist in many villages. Street names are difficult to determine since many of the signs are hidden or simply missing. When visiting some of our suppliers, all we had to help us in locating them was a village name, but somehow we managed to find everyone–eventually. If your spouse (like mine) has a difficult time reading a map, save your relationship and get a GPS. Realize, however, that you are most likely going to have to enter the longitude and latitude coordinates, so make sure you know how to do that.
  5. Don’t expect to get anyplace quickly. It always took twice as long for us to travel the same distance as it does over here. Signs are either nonexistent or confusing, roundabouts can be tricky (although you can keep going around in circles while you figure out which road you want to take), and one-way streets as you enter towns can throw you off course easily. So go at a leisurely pace, plan to get lost, and enjoy the scenery and experience. It is worth the drive.

Of course, in the 1700 and 1800s, traveling in Ireland was a lot different, but the maps of those eras were beautiful and awe-inspiring. Check out our selection of brilliant Irish country and county map reproductions. You won’t be making a wrong turn.

Ireland as depicted by Visscher in 1700. 1700!

Ireland as depicted by Visscher in 1700. 1700!

Stay Ever Irish,

Doug