AranLIFE features on Nationwide

All of last week’s Nationwide programmes broadcast on RTÉ 1 were recorded on the three Aran Islands.  In case you missed any of them please see links below for all 3 programmes in the following order: Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, Inis Oírr. Patrick McGurn, AranLIFE project manager features in the Inis Oírr programme, where he discusses the project and related ongoing works with Mary Kennedy.   Taifeadadh cláracha Nationwide uilig a craoladh ar RTÉ1 an tseachtain seo caite ar an dtrí Oileán Árann. Ar

Source:: Aran LIFE

Mapping Aran Irish: A 25-Year Job!

Over 25 years ago, the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies asked me to document the spoken Irish of Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. No serious study of Inis Mór Irish had been done there since the Danish scholar Holger Pedersen and the German scholar Franz Nikolaus Finck had investigated the dialect in the years 1894-1895, nearly 100 years before. Since my father’s parents both came from Inis Mór, I was a logical choice for the work.

In a way, though, I was an odd choice. I was a Californian whose previous field experience in linguistics was a sociolinguistic study of the spread of the Swahili language in western Kenya.

When I began my work, I knew that the dialect of Irish on Inis Mór and on Inis Meáin was very similar to the dialect of Irish spoken in the Cois Fharraige area on the Connemara mainland. I also knew that the Irish spoken on Inis Oírr was quite different, with traits that tied the dialect to the Irish spoken in eastern mainland areas – in the Burren and even in distant Kinvara.

I thought that my work would be simple, that I might discover a half-dozen differences in speech that might distinguish the Irish of the west end of Inis Mór from the Irish of the east end. Then I would discover a few more speech differences that would distinguish the Irish of Inis Meáin and of Inis Oírr.

I soon discovered, however, that on Inis Mór itself, the speech differences were far complex than I would ever have believed. Even little groups of townlands on Inis Mór could be distinguished from each other by their speech. The island could be divided into three or four subdialect areas separating the townlands on an island hardly 9 miles long!

And of course there were other speech differences separating the other two islands from one another.

Still, I thought that I could sort out all these complex differences with three or four years of hard work. As it turned out, the work occupied 25 years of my life!

The result is a 1,000 page research work on the speech differences in the Irish of all three islands, with special attention given to Inis Mór. A PDF of this work can be downloaded at no charge from the website http://aranirish.nuigalway.ie/en/.

In addition to the downloadable PDF, you will find three pages with links at the website which will summarize the most important points about this research work. Accompanying this website is the Facebook page www.facebook.com/aranislandsirish/. And for yet more information relating to the rich history and culture of the Aran Islands, be sure to visit the bilingual website www.aransongs.blogspot.ie.

Séamas Ó Direáin / James Duran, Ph.D.

Generousness

between night and day

Between night and dawn

At dawn

Another day, another pair. Even another colour. The same size though. Nearly every morning around the same time I lay down a different pair on the brown polished shelf. Pure pleasure it is for me to give them their nicely tugged in place. It is between the small but sturdy wooden tractor for the small children to play with and the freshly spun wool with its’ specific smell of lanoline from the sheep of Inis Meáin.

In full brightness they shine towards me. Their lively and bright colour attract straight away of course but there is more. Is it perhaps the material itself with her touch of softness; is it the way it is made? What is it?

nicely tugged inNicely tugged in

It was during the summer, not long after the cuckoo had left the island, that she was sitting on the stone wall in front of her house. Obviously she was waiting for me to pass for when we greeted one another and had enjoyed a little chat she asked me whether I would like to present them to the visitors. “Of course, I said, I feel it as an honour if I can do you this favour”. And so we decided. The next day a coloured bag was already waiting for me.

From that day on I actually have become friends with the dog because of my regular visits to the house. And yes, almost every night I go up and tell her where they went today. Then her lovely face on which there is always a smile, shines from one ear towards the other. Before leaving she reaches for her basket to present me with another pair and off she starts with her needles again…

It is the sharing of a vital part of how she has spent all her life up till the present day. Although the colours might have been changed in the cause of the years the reason “why” will not have been changed. It is her generousness in full brightness which shines towards us.

generousGenerous

Slán go fóill,

Elisabeth from Inis Meáin

Source:: aranisland.info

Home coming

Inis Meáin

Inis Meáin

Puffing hole

In fact it was only just a tiny little scrap out of your entire life time on the island that I got to know you. For it was here on Inis Meáin that you were born and bred. Amongst your family, your brothers and sisters and all those living around you grew up.

windingWinding

With a good lot of them you walked for many a year the tiny and sheltered roads for going to school. With them too you probably played on the slabs of limestone, looking out for the little ferns growing in the narrow grykes.

slabs of limestoneSlabs of limestone

In your garraí (potato field) it was I first met you when you were preparing the wide ridges and deep ditches. You generously allowed me using a strip of them for growing some vegetables. Sometime later you showed me how you restored the gate of a stonewall. It was thrilling to see how deeply you were connected to the stones; out of the heap you just knew and blindly you picked the one you needed.

gate of a stone walllGate of a stone wall

Not long before you left the island you gave me your last advice for which I am still up to this day very grateful to you; “Tigh Cháit will be a lovely place for you to give out cups of tea”, you said.

While standing at your grave I even sensed your smile, fully content you seemed. And you were so right, I think. Really everything was prepared for you so well. On the soil freed from the acquired hole various spades had been laid down. At both sides of the dug grave the grass was neatly cut on three sides which was nicely wrapped up in a roll afterwards. After the coffin was lowered into the hole and the first padríní (prayers) had been spoken the priest spread the first heap of soil over the grave. Your family and friends took a spade then and filled up the left space with care. Whereupon the carefully laid aside wrapped rolls of grass were put back on top.

I will miss you but I am sure for you this is home coming.

home comingHome coming

Slán go fóill,

Elisabeth from Inis Meáin

Source:: aranisland.info

Love, Relationships & Island Living

I called up to a friend of mine, called Niall some time ago and I could only say that Niall really is a man of Aran — he is a first class fisherman, a champion oarsman, a builder of walls or indeed anything, he is a tremendous father and husband and I know he’d agree with me when I say that one of his best ever decisions was in marrying the lovely Genie, who could only be described as ; as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Over the last 15 or 16 years since I’ve been separated, for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to make a “go” of any relationship.
I have received, (mostly from my friend’s wives and partners) — kindly words, support and even
understanding. Partly due to the fact that I am not a bullish fellow, am probably a romantic and am happy to admit that I am in love with the notion of being in love —

Anyway, I have had many the supportive conversation whereby it’s been pointed out that I just haven’t met the “one” yet and one of these days, she’ll step off the boat and ill know when I know.
So, I sat up in Niall and Genie’s house overlooking kileaney bay, was spreading real butter on the currently bread made by Genie’s fair hand and I was reasonably expecting her to tell me warm and kind things like —
What’s meant for you, won’t pass you by or some such thing.
Well she smiled, looked at me straight in to my two eyes and said
” did you ever think that you might just be a selfish bastard ”

Well, I burst out laughing and in fairness, as her declaration is possibly for others to judge but once again I found myself feeling blessed to be living in a small community with real friends who will call it as they see it.

I left their house , no wiser but alot happier after the candor and a good belly laugh.

These things only ever seem to happen to me on my beloved Island.

More soon.

Conor Meehan.

Pátrún Festival – Currach Men and Modern Men

I remember years ago reading a story written by the Great Island Author, Liam O Flaherty in which he described the feelings of a newly wedded young man who was going to dig his potatoe ridges for the first time as a married man.

He described a really beautiful and urgent picture of this young man in the field desperately wanting to show his young bride that she had chosen a man who would always provide for her and whatever family came along , he knew in ways that this was a rite of passage in his village and he desperately wanted to show his neighbours that he was strong enough and resourceful enough to fulfil his sacred duty in looking after his care.

O Flaherty wonderfully captured the conflicting yet motivational feelings of burning ambition along side terror and self doubt.

Very understandable and certainly a human range of emotions that I can most definitely identify with.

In our previous society, the opportunity for a man to work through the fears and doubts and to challenge himself physically and thus provide for his care was a powerful asset in that it was a very tender yet strong act of love and it meant that the very qualities that took the man through that barrier were used for what nature intended them for, and that because they were not repressed or misguided , the man, and his family could reap the honest rewards.

It’s harder , today for men to find and fulfil that primal challenge but I believe it’s still highly important, as I have observed and experienced, that such men generally are not driven by ego, self promotion or aggression.

Sometimes when a man allows himself to become or to feel immasculated, he can very often be badly behaved and not just let himself and his family down but his gender too.

I was incredibly blessed in that as a child, along with my father, my role models were men who faced life and death at sea and were consequently very much at peace with themselves.

I was attracted by this and to be honest, I just tried to copy it.

I owe these brave Island Men a big thank you, for showing me the way.

Best place to be

golden path

Sure he must have felt his reasons why he slipped in. Was it perhaps the light which shone so brightly from the inside or maybe the heavenly sounds elicited from the harp? Anyway both of them had the quality to prepare him a warm welcome. Actually thinking back, I suppose the main reason for him to come was that he wanted to be assured of the best place he could ever get for the following morning which was now still available. And the music and the light would have strengthened his desire to do what he did…

Golden path

It was quiet that same evening when I went over for closing. The sun had already set. Nice colours marked the sky and there was no wind of any importance. The birds had probably found their shelter for the night yet at least I did not hear any tone of them. The only animal I did see was the cow near Dún Chonchúir, she looked at me without actually looking. I suppose I distracted her out of her atmosphere of the night.

Dún Chonchúir

As I used to do when I enter in the evening, I first had a look inside if someone was still in. Then I blocked the door and went through.

in front of the altar

In front of the altar

Only a few candles were still lightened but those gave everything around the altar an intensified and intimate glance. I saw lovely bunches of flowers everywhere around as well as on a small table in the front on which a lovely embroidered cloth was laid. In addition there was a booklet called An Chéad Chomaoineach (the First Communion) with a picture of the children attending the school, the receiving child to be, inclusive. Between the first benches there was the covered harp and the music. Everything looked tenderly looked after. I extinguished the candles and left.

When I returned the following morning and lit the candles again I heard an ongoing chirping. It was only when I unlocked the door that the bird which seemed to be so eager to be in the oncoming festivity, emerged.

agus as go brách leisAgus as go brách leis (and off he went)

Slán go fóill,

Elisabeth from Inis Meáin

Source:: aranisland.info

The Aran Islands in the dead of winter – a life-changing experience

"I’d

I’d been to Ireland dozens of times, but a winter’s day on Inishmore was something else entirely.Photo by: Arkell Weygandt

“What if we just didn’t get on the ferry?”

All three of us had been thinking it as we cycled the coast road of Inishmore back to the main village of Kilronan, where the 5:00 pm ferry was waiting to make the last trip of the day back to the mainland.

We pulled our rental bikes over to the side of the road, each of us quietly debating how crazy it would be to forgo our New Year’s Eve plans and cozy AirBnB in Galway for a few more hours on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. We had 20 minutes to decide.

The main road on Inishmore. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The main road on Inishmore. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The border collie who had been gamely running alongside our bikes for the past half hour stopped to take a drink from a puddle and wove around our legs, leaping up affectionately.

A white cat the shape of a large cotton ball emerged from the pub Ti Joe Watty’s, padded across the road, perched on a stone wall and looked at us quizzically.

The cat from Joe Watty's. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The cat from Joe Watty’s. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

That was that.

Arkell, my boyfriend, and I walked in to Joe Watty’s where a welcoming fire was just getting going and a few local gents were settling at the bar with pints. His sister Annalisa, who’d been the first to speak up about wanting to stay, cycled off towards a sign that said B&B.

The barman raised a skeptical brow when we asked him if he knew where we could find last minute accommodation. But he went to the phone and returned with the welcome news that “the hostel up the hill” was open and had room for us.

The famous Joe Watty's. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The famous Joe Watty’s. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

We raced to the pier and confirmed with the bemused boatman that we could use our tickets for the morning ferry instead, slipped a note under the door of the shed where we’d rented the bikes saying we’d return them in the morning, and headed back up the hill on Inishmore’s main road to Mainistir House Hostel, arriving just as darkness set in.

We’d set out for Inishmore bright and early that morning from Galway, boarding a shuttle bus that took us to the Aran Islands Ferry at Rossaveal. It was a grand soft day, meaning that the rain was pouring and the wind was blustering and the small ferry rocked from side to side throughout the 30 minute journey, sprays of ocean water pouring over the top deck.

In the summer, during the peak of the tourist season, hundreds of visitors flock to the three Aran Islands each day by ferry and airplane. Inishmore (Inis Mór) is the largest and most populated, with a little under 900 people living on the 12 square mile stretch of land.Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), the middle island, where playwright John Millington Synge drew his inspiration, is the second largest and the least populated, home to fewer than 200. Inisheer (Inis Óirr), the smallest of the three islands and the closest to the Galway coast, has a population of almost 300.

Map of the Aran Islands. Image: Creative Commons.

Map of the Aran Islands. Image: Creative Commons.

Though the entire population of the Aran Islands hovers around 1,200, tourism brings an additional quarter of a million people to the islands each year. On New Year’s Eve, however, we were three among just a small handful of visitors to step off the ferry and on to the pier at Kilronan, Inishmore’s main town.

At the end of the the pier was a bike rental. A Japanese family and group of young French Canadian tourists we’d been on the ferry with made a beeline for it, cycling off minutes later into the drizzling rain. The proprietor plied us with maps and friendly advice about the best route to Dun Aengus, the semi-circular Iron Age fort atop Inishmore’s imposing cliffs, but we declined his offer of €10 per bike for the day in favor of shopping around.

“How much are your bikes?” We called to a man with a fleet of cruisers leaning against the front wall of his shop. “Ten euros,” he answered. Right before the road curved up and inland away from the harbor, there was another shed with bicycles. Also €10 for the day. “And I’m the last one,” the owner told us with a smile.

Delighted with our bikes after "shopping around." Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Delighted with our bikes after “shopping around.” Photo: Arkell Weygandt

He advised us to take the main road to the town of Kilmurvey at the start of the path to Dun Aengus. Inishmore boasts many other important forts, ruins and monastic structures, but Dun Aengus is the largest and the most famous, and with just a few hours on the island (or so we thought) we had our sights set on it.

In Kilmurvey, the man said, we would find a café and an Aran knitwear shop with much better prices than the larger sweater market in Inishmore. For the way back, he said, the coast road would be our best bet. “There are fewer hills and you’ll be tired by then, and you might see some seals when the tide’s coming in.”

As we set off, the rain miraculously let up and the sun began to break through the low-lying clouds in the sort of meteorological coincidence that forces you to believe in good luck at the very least.

Inishmore’s main road (labeled as Cottage Road on some maps) curves uphill from Kilronan Harbour, winding past the sweater market, a place called The American Bar, a Spar, the post office, and cheery looking B&Bs. At Joe Watty’s Bar and Restaurant, the coast road forks off to the right and the main road continues farther uphill, the spaces between houses growing wider and wider until the landscape opens up to reveal Inishmore’s stone walls and green fields punctuated by limestone karst, the same rock that covers The Burren in Co. Clare.

The stone walls along Inishmore's main road. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The stone walls along Inishmore’s main road. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

While the karst makes a suitable home for some unexpected varieties of Alpine and Mediterranean flowers, it does not lend itself well to farming or agriculture. What green fields you see on Inismor were grown out of determination as generations of islanders created a layer of arable soil by spreading seaweed and sand on top of the limestone. Interestingly, a local informed us, this meant that the islanders suffered much less during the Great Hunger than those on the mainland, accustomed as they were to relying on alternate methods of farming and what they could take from the sea.

Cottages on Inishmore. Photo: Sheila Langan

Cottages on Inishmore. Photo: Sheila Langan

The patchwork quilt metaphor is synonymous with Ireland’s landscape, and while I’ve always understood it looking at Ireland from above during the descent into Shannon or Dublin, I’ve never witnessed it so clearly on the ground as I did on Inishmor. The stone walls section off the fields into parcels of land, some so small you can’t help but wonder. When you reach a high enough elevation, towards the center of the island, the walls stretch out as far as you can see, white cottages dotted in between like grazing sheep.

The stone walls may seem like a relic of times past, but many still serve their purpose and are maintained, as proven by a young guy in a hoodie and track pants who we saw stacking stones back together on a section of a wall that had toppled down.

The shops at Kilmurvey. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The shops at Kilmurvey. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

The road led us straight past the beautiful horseshoe-shaped Kilmurvey Beach and into a town of the same name, though on Inishmore “town” may be a relative term as Kilmurvey is really a small cluster of houses, a café, and craft and souvenir shops.

As promised, Aran sweaters here were indeed less expensive than they had been in Kilronan. One of the shops had shelves upon shelves of cardigans, scarves, hats, blankets, even mittens and baby booties. The hand-knit items were priced higher than the machine-knit ones, but they were all made out of delightfully soft merino wool and therefore a far cry from the thick and itchy Aran sweater that upset me greatly as a child. As we tried on different styles and colors, we were joined by a robin who flew in the open door and perched on Annalisa’s head before hopping over to a stack of men’s sweaters.

A friendly robin perched on Aran sweaters. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

A friendly robin perched on Aran sweaters. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

Leaving our bikes in a small parking lot, we entered the Dun Aengus visitor center, where for €5 we learned the history of the fort dating back to 1100 BCE and gained access to the path leading up to the cliffs, which the center cleverly obstructs (though there is, we later learned, a path at the side of the center that can be accessed outside of business hours).

Leading up to Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Leading up to Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa) is named after Aonghus mac Úmhór of the Fir Bolg, a legendary ancient race who are said to have ruled Ireland before their defeat by theTuatha De Danann.

Approaching Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

Approaching Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

Its three semi-circular rings end at the edge of a 300-foot cliff that drops straight into the Atlantic. Excavations conducted in the 1990s revealed that Dun Aengus was at one point regularly inhabited, though some theories suggest that the inner-most ring was used for religious or ceremonial purposes. Others have argued that it served a military function.

Steps up to Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

Steps up to Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

A defensive construction known as chiveaux de frise remains in place today, with forbidding stone spikes and slabs studding the ground along the approach, though a path has been cleared for contemporary visitors.

Remains of the chiveaux de frise that protected Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Remains of the chiveaux de frise that protected Dun Aengus. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

As we made our way up to the cliff top, four people were returning to the visitor center. They were the last people we saw for the next hour – when we reached Dun Aengus, it was shockingly, wonderfully, deserted.

Exterior wall of Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

Exterior wall of Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

Having heard and read that it’s usually thronged with visitors during the tourist season, we knew full well how lucky we were. Despite the excavation and some restoration work, Dun Aengus feels more or less untouched – completely wild and pre-historic. The lack of barriers and the sheer isolation make the view and the experience a thousand times more majestic and exhilarating than the Cliffs of Moher or anything remotely comparable.

View from Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

View from Dun Aengus. Photo: Sheila Langan

The sun sinking into the Atlantic reminded us that we had a 5:00pm ferry to catch, so we ran back down the hillside, dodging the slippery patches of limestone, hopped back on the bikes and pedaled towards the coast road.

Sun setting beyond the cliffs. Photo: Sheila Langan

Sun setting beyond the cliffs. Photo: Sheila Langan

As we passed back through Kilmurvey, a black, white and brown dog leapt into stride alongside us. We thought he might stop when we passed the last of the houses, but he didn’t. We thought he might turn back when we reached the beach, but he kept going. When we slowed down, he slowed down. When we sped up, he did too. Yelling over the wind at each other, we decided he was herding us back to the ferry.

Dog running alongside us as we biked the coast road. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

Dog running alongside us as we biked the coast road. Photo: Arkell Weygandt.

On our right side, cottages, ruins and stone walls flashed by. To the left of us, the shoreline wove in and out, sandy stretches of beach giving way to rocky outcrops. Paradise for some people might be palm trees and sunshine or the top of a mountain, but for the half hour we spent cycling the twists and curves of that road, drinking in the ocean air, I had found mine.

Cottage along the coast road on Inishmore. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Cottage along the coast road on Inishmore. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

So when all three of us admitted we wanted to stay, there was no question about it. And luckily, Joel D’Anjou, the owner of Mainistir House Hostel, agreed to take us in at quarter to five on New Year’s Eve.

It was pitch dark by the time we got there, not a car in the car park and nary a light on in the house. Visions of low budget horror movies danced through our heads as we approached the reception desk, deserted but for a radio playing classical music. For a good 10 minutes we shouted “Hello?” through different doors and grew increasingly suspicious of our surroundings, which included a portable ironing board with scorch marks and a magazine from 1996.

Approaching the hostel with some trepidation. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Approaching the hostel with some trepidation. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

When a door we’d thought was locked suddenly flung open, I shrieked and then sheepishly tried to pass it off as a very excited “Hi!” Joel was completely unperturbed and went to retrieve our room keys from behind the reception desk. As we chatted and settled the bill, his wry humor dispelled all slasher-flick delusions of five minutes earlier.

Since arriving on the island nearly 30 years ago he’s become a local fixture, as testified by the framed newspaper clippings praising his “mostly vegetarian” buffet dinner as one of the best meals you can have on Inishmore. He told us about the havoc wreaked the same week the year before by a massive storm that washed away some of the pier and cut off boat access for days. He recalled a letter he once received addressed simply to “The Black Man, The Hill, Inis Mor.” Learning we didn’t have dinner plans, he called Joe Watty’s and asked them to hold a table for us. “Goodbye, bye, bye, bye, bye,” he said into the receiver before hanging up – the surest indication I know that someone has become well and truly Irish.

At Joe Watty’s we feasted on fish and chips and sipped whiskey next to the fireplace, watching people file in and listening to them move seamlessly between conversations in Irish and English. We were not the only tourists – the group at the next table was from Quebec, and two guys from India who had been on the same ferry as us appeared later on in the night. Shortly after 10pm, the dog who had herded us to the pier came running through the door, made a beeline for our table and snuggled beside us in the booth. Maybe this was his plan all along, because we lavished him with scraps and belly rubs until the manager came over to say he wasn’t allowed in the bar. “Come on Shadow, you’ve had enough,” he said sternly leading the dog outside. “Go home.”

Annalisa and Shadow at Joe Watty's. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

Annalisa and Shadow at Joe Watty’s. Photo: Arkell Weygandt

A band set up on a stage in the corner and launched into Johnny Cash covers before switching to trad. Next to the bar a small space cleared and two older men and women started set dancing. What at first seemed quaint soon became downright amazing and intimidating as they picked up the pace, spinning around so quickly that one misstep would have sent them flying across the room. If the dancers themselves were entertaining this possibility, it didn’t show at all. They just smiled at each other serenely and laughed every time they switched partners, hopefully secure in the knowledge that they were a million times better at dancing than the young ones who took over the floor when the band started playing Rihanna covers.

By the time the countdown to 2015 began, people were spilling out the door. At midnight on the nose everyone cheered, started singing Auld Lang Syne, and we wished each other Happy New Year.

It was 2015 on Inishmore. I thought about my friends in New York, where it was still 2014, just getting ready to go out. I thought about the way my 2014 had started, wine drunk and dancing in a smoke-filled loft. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more different way to start this year if I had tried. But I hadn’t even tried, and it turned out wonderful.

2014 comes to a beautiful close on Inishmore. Photo: Sheila Langan

2014 comes to a beautiful close on Inishmore. Photo: Sheila Langan

Travel section ofIrishCentralhttp://www.irishcentral.com/culture/travel/

My Favorite Place in Ireland: The Wild West – By Andrew McCarthy

An innkeeper, a painter, a bodhran maker.

Almost 30 years ago on a chilly June night I stumbled into Ballinalacken Castle House Hotel in County Clare and came upon a gruff lion of a man with an unruly mop of hair who offered me a country welcome amid peat fires, heavy blankets, and flowing pints of Guinness.

Denis O’Callaghan has endured my comings and goings at all hours, my crashing into his car, my insistent requests for more of his wife Mary’s unmatchable soda bread, nearly every year since.

He has become as much a part of my visits to the west of Ireland as the nearby Cliffs of Moher, the traditional Irish music played in McDermott’s Pub just down the hill in Doolin, or my wind-whipped hikes across the Burren. His site on a bluff overlooking the sea and the Aran Islandsbeyond is a place I return to in my mind on a weekly basis.

A large canvas covered by a roiling blue-green sea led me to find Carol Cronin halfway out on the Dingle peninsula, a craggy finger of unmanicured land jutting out into the Atlantic in County Kerry. Carol’s gallery on Green Street in the town of Dingle is filled with a riot of seascapes—gray, golden, turquoise; some placid, some in turmoil.

A view of Dunquin Harbor and the Blasket Islands beyond (Photograph by Marshall Ikonography, Alamy)

She can be found there painting—usually barefoot, long brown hair yanked back off her face—on most afternoons. It’s Carol who pointed me to Curran’s, a Main Street pub where the owner/barkeep shared with me crumbling letters of gratitude sent to his grandfather by so many of the people who had fled Ireland during the Great Famine with a few pounds of the elder Curran’s money in their pockets to ease the way.

It was Carol, too, who insisted I go out to the Blasket Islands, the now deserted, treeless outcrops that were home to a few dozen rugged, Irish-speaking people until the mid-20th century. Alone on Great Blasket, amid the handful of derelict houses, under raging wind then lashing rain then burning sun, I spent a day in potent silence that I have never forgotten.

____

And it was out in Roundstone along the coast road in Connemara that Malachy Kearns told me, “I had a wild call to be by the sea and I couldn’t wish it away.”

A stone wall keeps a horse from wandering in Connemara. (Photograph by Medford Taylor, National Geographic)

It explains why Ireland’s premier bodhran maker has secluded himself far from the beaten path in County Galway, and why musicians make the pilgrimage to his seaside studio for his custom-made drums.

An outsize man in every way, with pale blue eyes full of mayhem, Malachy embodies much about this wild, merciless, untamable corner of an already wild and untamed west. Connemara is Ireland’s Ireland, “a different world out here, to be sure.”

For more than a quarter of a century I’ve traveled this coast, up from the filigreed fringe of west Cork, along the lakes of Killarney, to the world-class golf links of Ballybunion and Lahinch, to Yeats country in Sligo, meeting people like Denis, Carol, and Malachy.

Next year, I’ll meet still more.

Celebrated travel writer, actor, and director Andrew McCarthy is an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewTMcCarthy.

Mystery of the moving rocks off Irish island solved

Scientists have uncovered the mystery of the moving rocks on the rugged shoreline of the Aran Islands.Photo by: Tourism Ireland

A mystery on the Aran Islands off the Irish West Coast has finally been solved by one of the world’s top geologists.

Something had picked up massive boulders off a beach and propelled them over high cliffs to a flat landscape beyond. The largest of these boulders weighed about 78 tons, and  they now lie some 40 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Smaller boulders, weighing about 4 tons each, lie more than 820 feet inland.

“The local people say that these rocks are moving,” said geologist Ronadh Cox, a professor of geosciences and chairwoman of the maritime studies program at Williams College in Massachusetts.

The mystery of how they got there has finally been solved.

The most likely culprit, a tsunami hasn’t hit Ireland  since 1755, when a magnitude 8.7 earthquake in Portugal sent tidal waves across the ocean to Ireland.

By dating the rocks they proved that some arrived on land  thrown up from the ocean 2,000 years ago, but others arrived less than 50 years ago,a key piece of evidence that leaves powerful storm waves holding the smoking gun, Cox said.

A local man provided much needed evidence when he recalled a ferocious storm in 1991 that deposited massive boulders from the sea bed up a cliff and hundreds of feet away

Cox hunted through Irish government data and found that in the winter of 1991,a particularly ferocious storm did indeed hit the area. ”

She said the mystery was solved and the ocean’s power is truly astonishing “The waves can just climb these cliffs in amazing ways,” she said.

Original Article Source (Irish Central.com): http://www.irishcentral.com/news/mystery-of-the-moving-rocks-off-irish-island-solved-133521838-237739871.html

Visitare le Isole Aran è stato un dono del cielo e dell’amicizia. (Italian & English)

Mi trovavo per concerti al mio terzo viaggio in Irlanda e nei giorni passati a Galway con mio cugino e Alessandro, un mio caro amico, ricevemmo la proposta di visitare un po’ la zona. Alessandro era già stato alle Isole e ci propose di andare là, così, accompagnati dalla simpaticissima amicizia di Joe e Katherine ci organizzammo per visitare Inis Mor.

Già il viaggio in traghetto si era caricato di allegria e gioco. In qualche modo i passeggeri erano venuti a sapere della mia passione per il canto e così mi hanno fatto improvvisare qualche canzone italiana lungo il viaggio.

Appena sbarcati ci siamo fermati a mangiare qualcosa e poi, muniti di una macchina, abbiamo iniziato a gustare l’aria, il paesaggio, l’autenticità della gente, genuina e accogliente. Inutile dire l’emozione viva e la gioia di camminare sul quel suolo. L’aria, il paesaggio, le persone… tutto sorrideva di una pace energica.

Arrivammo ben presto sulla scogliera ovest, dove l’Atlantico incontrava le rocce scavate nei secoli con forza e nobiltà. Come resistere a questa poesia? Io sono per mia natura attratto dalla bellezza e non ho mai trovato bellezza più completa di quella seminata nella creazione. Ecco: là trovavo tutte le sensazioni di cui ero assetato. Il vento, l’acqua, i prati e le rocce. E non potevo resistere, cantavo e cantavo di continuo correndo qua e là tra le pietre antiche, testimoni di sagge culture di un tempo.

A un certo punto trovai un prato, davvero invitante per il mio cuore. Mi son steso ricordando di essere terra come il suolo che mi ospitava e sentirmi fratello di quella natura non poteva che suscitare una lode semplice e felice al nostro Creatore. Steso là, ad occhi chiusi, gustavo tutta la bellezza di quel momento che avrei voluto fosse infinito. Senza dubbio si è ancorato nel mio cuore.

E infine la benedizione che sentivo di lasciare a quelle scogliere: “Deep peace of the running wave to you!”. Un canto libero e tranquillo che ho voluto donare come un bambino a sua madre.

Ma il tempo scorreva velocissimo su quel paradiso, e siamo dovuti tornare indietro verso casa. Ed ecco che durante il nostro cammino ho intravisto in un recinto alcuni amici: simpatici asinelli che ci guardavano con quello sguardo tipico degli animali abituati a veder passare stranieri. Uno di loro mi colpì: era albino, tutto bianco; una meraviglia! Così ho provato a chiamarli: si sono voltati verso di me, mi guardavano chiedendosi, forse, cosa mai volesse questo essere umano vestito tutto di marrone. Ed ecco che dopo poco l’asino bianco si avvicinò a me e si lasciò accarezzare con tanta tenerezza. Come esprimere la mia allegria? Ero davvero felice grazie a tanti regali. Ok. Potevo tornare a casa sazio.

Ma l’avventura non finì qua. Sul traghetto durante il viaggio di ritorno c’era una coppia di novelli sposi e qualcuno (chissà chi…) li informò che c’era là con loro un certo frate cantante. Fu così che mi chiesero di cantare per loro un’Ave Maria e con questo canto concludemmo il nostro viaggio.

Dio ci dona pezzi di Paradiso qua e là sulla terra per ricordarci che non siamo soli, per ricordarci la nostra vera meta, per ricordarci di quale sostanza siamo fatti: libertà, gioia e pace. Questo sono le Isole Aran: una finestra aperta sul Paradiso che ci attende.

(Translated into english by friar Eunan McMullan, Ireland) —————————————————————

Visiting the Aran Islands was a gift from heaven and the result of friendship.It was my third trip to Ireland for concerts and I found myself in Galway with my cousin, and a dear friend also called Alessandro, when it was suggested that we visit a little of the sights in the area. Alessandro had already been to the Islands and proposed a trip there.So, accompanied by our wonderful friends Joe and Katherine we organized a trip to Inis Mor.Even the ferry crossing was filled with fun and games. Somehow the passengers came to know about my passion for singing and I was obliged to improvise with a couple of Italian songs along the way. On disembarking from the vessel we stopped to eat something and then with the aid of a car we set off to experience the fresh air, the countryside, the authenticity of the people – so genuine and welcoming. I cannot describe the emotions
and the joy of walking across the land. The air, the countryside, the people… everything seemed to smile with a peace-filled energy.We quickly arrived on a western cliff where the Atlantic ocean meets rock – carved with strength and nobility over many centuries. How could I resist such poetry? By nature I am attracted to beauty and I have never found beauty more complete than that sown in the
creation that surrounds us. Here, I found the water that I had been thirsting for – the winds and the fields and the rocks. I could not resist. I sang and sang moving here and there through the ancient stones that spoke of ancient and wise cultures of the past.

Suddenly I found myself in a meadow, so attractive to my soul. I lay down, remembering that I was made of earth like the soil that was welcoming me and feeling myself to be a brother of Nature, felt compelled to raise a simple and happy praise to our Creator. Lying there, with my eyes closed, I was savouring the beauty of the moment and I wished that it could last for ever. It doubtless entered into my heart and I felt compelled to leave a blessing for those cliffs: “Deep peace of the running wave to you!”. A song, free and peaceful which I wanted to give as a child’s offering to his mother.But the time ran very quickly in that paradise and we had to return back home. During our walk back I saw some “friends” in a pen, little donkeys with the typical aspect of those that are used to seeing strangers passing. One in particular struck me. It was completely white, an albino, and marvellous to behold. I tried to call them, and they seemed to turn questioningly towards me as if wondering what this human being dressed all in brown wanted of them. After a little while the white donkey approached and let himself be carressed with such tenderness. How can I express the joy of that moment? I was truly happy, thanks to such wonderful gifts. I could return home satisfied.The adventure didn’t finish there. On the return crossing there was a newly wed couple and someone…. who knows who?…. had told them there was a certain singing friar on board. It was thus that I was asked to sing for them an Ave Maria and it was with this we concluded our voyage.

God gives us little pieces of paradise here and there on this earth to remind us that we are not alone, and to recall to our minds the reason for which we have been made: for liberty joy and peace. These are the Aran Islands, an open window to the Paradise that waits for us.

Paradoxically our hearts are delicate yet robust

This morning as I finally decided that Xmas was over and that a form of routine was reluctantly the way that I could get in touch with the islands natural rhythm and introduce a bit of balance back to hopefully pre – xmas levels.

I’ve noticed over the years that I excitedly look forward to breaking free of routine and always, without fail, by early January I run back to the familiarity + safety of my routine.

Before I set off up the hill, I noticed that I engaged in my usual mind game with myself, whether it’s winter sea swimming or exercising.

Everyday when I am going for a swim, I come up with the most plausible and valid reasons why it makes no sense whatsoever to get into the sea….. Knowing full well that I am going to …….

I’ve never backed out yet.

Also, I have never once gotten out of the sea or completed my exercise and said “I wish I hadn’t have done that”.

I took off up the hills, fueled by the effects of overindulgence and with my mind full of ideas, goals, and possibilities for the year ahead.

In addition to that, there is a natural re-calibration that comes from living on this island – it’s a potent and effective mixture of living with nature, the elements and a warm, vibrant, close community. It’s impossible not to be impacted.

As I hit the first hill, in sequence; my legs tightened, my lungs opened, I breathed deeply, and boom!!….. my mind and heart opened.

Paradoxically our hearts are delicate yet robust and serendipitously this island is gently rugged intimately remote, wild yet very very beautiful.

I find it right at this moment the thought of looking ahead at my life to be futile as I am so conscious and naturally immersed in my gratitude + awareness for living on this stunning rock in the Atlantic ocean.

FINDING LOVE ON THE ARAN ISLANDS

lovers on aran

I was initially inspired to write this heading when i saw that there was to be a singles weekend in the Island’s Hotel, and it got me thinking.

 
I thought, imagined and, indeed, even reminisced about how the romance and magic of this Island can wrap a couple up in a loving embrace, while they go on to share and experience the very best that Mother Nature has to offer.  (more…)

Aran Island Journey

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The Aran Islands, they sound exotic, perched off the coast of Ireland, next stop Newfoundland.

All I knew of them was the old black and white film, Man of Aran by Robert Flaherty.

A dramatic soundtrack accompanying grainy images of rock strewn land, high cliffs and storm lashed coasts. Emphasising how hard a life it was for the few inhabitants of this wild unforgiving landscape.

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“A lot of things catch the eye – fewer catch the heart”

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I wrote this heading last Wednesday and had a general idea about what I was trying to express based on my experiences traveling to many places all over the world and the memory of them will stay with me forever. My own experience of this beautiful island is that; it catches my heart and fills my soul in a deeply personal way. I have met people all over the world and in the most unusual places and circumstances. Their lives have been so positively influenced and their sense of place in the world forever enhanced by the island.

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“The truth is what you feel” – The Aran Islands

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When you come to this wonderful island, one of the challenges that is worth facing and overcoming is; to give yourself permission to feel your feelings, tune into your senses – to dispense your mainland head, which is all shorthand for leaving aside your business thoughts, relationship worries, materialism and so much more so you can just, live, breath and feel – the right things will happen.

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Gleann Na Ndeor – Inis Mór

I decided to embrace the rhythm of the island and sleep with the curtains open. The sunrise either crept in stealthily or else I was just nicely tired from the fresh air . But either way it was bright as I set off to cycle east in the early morning sunlight. Galway Bay was twinkling and shimmering as I cycled silently through the morning.

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The Aran Islands are  located in the center of the Wild Atlantic Way. It is Accessible from Rossavel (Connemara & Galway). The Aran Islands are also accessible from Doolin which is close to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

Learn More about The Wild Atlantic Way