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Some of the stunning scenes of the Fort of Dun Aonghasa. This is the primary destination of most people who hire bikes on Inis Mor Island. The cycle takes on 35 minutes on gentle terrain.
Caisleáin Aircín( Arkyn Castle)
This is situated on the shore side of the road before Cill Éinne pier and village. The site probably marked the location of an O Brien stronghold. English occupation in the 1580s, however, saw the building of the castle. Following the arrival of Cromwell in the mid 17th century it was further fortified using the masonry from the nearby round tower and churches. Little remains of it today.
Caisleán Uí Bhriain
Located in a field to the north of the village of Eoghanacht is the remains of what is thought to have been a tower house. Known locally as an Seanchaisleán it is said to be the remains of an early O Brien stronghold. This is quite probable as the O Briens were dominant chieftains both in Munster and on the islands for centuries. It is likely that they would have had close links with the nearby Seven Churches whose founder Naomh Brecáin came from Co. Clare and whose monastery probably enjoyed their patronage.
Located in the village of Iar- Áirne in the extreme eastern tip of the island this is a small dry stone tower over looking Gregory’s sound, the stretch of water between Inis Meáin and Inis Mór. In former times it may have been a look-out post. Legend on the islands has it that St Gregory was buried here.
War of Independence Memorial
Memories of the British Black and Tans forces visiting Inis Mór survives. Fifty of them arrived on the island in 1920 in search of three volunteers on the run. They rampaged and terrified the community. A stone on the lower road( Bóthar ó Thuaidh) marks the spot where islander Lawrence Mac Donagh who was on his way to mass was shot dead by them.
Leachtaí Cuimhneacháin( Stone Memorials for Dead)
These large cenotaphs( Leachtaí Cuimhneacháin) are to be found throughout Inis Mór and are a definite curiousity for the visitor. Most are situated along the roadside between Cill Éinne and Eoghanacht and date from the 19th century c. 1811-1886. The oldest three however dating from the early 1700s are found inland at Cill Éinne. The cenotaphs are erected as memorials to certain families among them; the Fitzpatricks, Mc Donaghs, Dirranes, Wiggans, Mullens, Gills, O Donnells, Naughtons, Conneelys, Hernons, and Folens. The inscriptions on them are written in English. Local Lore has it quite erroneously that they are the graves of people who were buried standing upright! Leacht na nIascaire( The Memorial to the Fishermen)
This overlooks Cill Éinne bay and is situated on the northern-shore side of the road at the village of Cill Éinne. It is a modern cenotaph built by the islanders in 1997 and dedicated to all who have drowned at sea. There are extensive names on it dating from the early 19th century. Each year on August 15th there is a memorial service at it for those who lost their lives at sea.
The remains of Early Christian monuments are scattered throughout the islands. It is to these island hermitages of prayer and learning that monks such as St Brendan the navigator or St Colm Cille( Columba) of Iona came to study. They then went on to establish their monasteries in the wider world. This monastic movement which owes some of its origins to the Aran islands led to Ireland’s fame as ‘The island of saints and scholars’.
Early Christian Inis Mór
The island is popularly referred to as Ára na Naomh (Aran of the Saints). This is in reference to the many saints who spent time here. It is from the islands that Irish monasticism spread throughout Ireland, Britain and many parts of Europe
Teaghlach Éinne( St. Enda’s Household)
One of the earliest monasteries in Ireland was established on Inis Mór in the 5thcentury by St Enda. A native of the east coast of Ireland Enda was granted land on Inis Mór where he established his monastery at Cill Éinne. The village of Cill Éinne which literally means Enda’s church takes its name from the monastery. The remains of an early 8th century church known as Teaghlach Éinne( Enda’s Household) can be seen in the graveyard at Cill Éinne. The remains of a decorated 11th( Pictures) century high cross are also in the ruins of the church. It is said that Enda and 120 other saints are buried in this graveyard which is still in use today.
Just south of the cottages in Cill Éinne is the remains of a round tower which dates from about the 10th century. It is here that St Enda’s monks are said to have taken refuge. A well dedicated to St Enda ‘ Dabhach Éinne’and a small stone altar is closeby. The base of a decorated high cross is to the east in a nearby field.
The round tower was destroyed by Cromwellian forces in the 17th century and the stones were used for building Aircín castle.
Teampall Bheanáin( St Benan’s Church)
This is reputedly the smallest church in Ireland. It stands atop a hill overlooking Cill Éinne Bay and is a landmark on the island for fishermen at sea. In contrast with churches elsewhere in Ireland it has a north south orientation. It dates from about the 7th century. The views from it are outstanding. Nearby are the remains of a cashel wall and a clochán( stone cell).
Teampall Chiaráin is in the village of Mainistir (meaning monastery). It is said to have been founded by St Ciarán of Clonmacnoise who studied here under St Enda before sailing up the Shannon to establish his foundation at Clonmacnoise. The church which dates from about 12th century stands on the old site of Mainistir Chonnacht. Several cross-decorated slabs stand near the church. These may be old Tearmann crosses( boundary crosses). The most striking one is immediately to the east of the church. It is well decorated and has a hole in it indicating it may have been used as a sundial. Traditionally islanders draw a handkerchief or scarf through the hole for luck or fertility.
In a field to the west lies Tobar Chiaráin( St Ciaráin’s Well). It is also known as Tobar an Bhradáin ( the well of the salmon). Tradition has it that the well miraculously produced a large salmon big enough to feed 150 monks. Pilgrim rounds are traditionally done at the well by the community on St Ciarán’s feast day, 9th September.
Teampall an Ceathrar Álainn( The Church of the Four Beauties) is found in the village of Corrúch in the middle of the island of Inis Mór. Dating from about the 15th century it is a small church built in Gothic style. The doorway is beautifully pointed. In the east window stands a statue of Our Lady which was donated to the site by local woman Bridget Dirrane on her 100th birthday. Bridget lived to be 109 years old . She wrote the book ‘ Woman of Aran’( Dublin 1997). The four beauties are said to be buried under the stone flags in an enclosure to the east of the church. These flags are said to have healing powers. Local lore is un-certain as to who the four beauties are but they are improbably identified on a wall-plaque as; SS Conall, Berchan, Brendan of Birr and Fursey.
In a field south of the church lies Tobar an Ceathrar Álainn( The Well of the Four Beauties). Its waters are reputed to have healed a blind boy from Mayo or Sligo in the 19th century. This well and its associated legend was the source of inspiration for John Millington Synge’s play ‘ The Well of the Saints’. Islanders pray and do the rounds at this well regularly. The special day of celebration is 15th August when the community comes together to pray at the site.
Teampall Asurnaí( St Sourney’s Church)
This small ruined church is situated in the village of Eochaill and can be accessed by following the sign-post from the lower road, (Bóthar ó Thuaidh). It is the only foundation attributed to a female patron on the island. No one is sure who Asurnaí was. Legend says she retired to Aran from Drumcoo near Kilcolgan, Co. Galway. Local folklore tells us she must have been a tiny sized woman because her church is extremely small in size.
Leaba Asurnaí( St Sourney’s bed) a rectangular stone marked by a slender pillar stone lies north west of the church. St Sourney’s well to the north west of the pillar stone is a large bullaun stone which is said to never run dry. A thorn tree is revered as her tree. Islanders seldom visit this site nowadays. The new recycling plant on Inis Mór is located close by.
Teampall Mac Duach and Teampall na Naomh
Both of these early churches are in the heart of the village of Cill Mhuirbhigh. Teampall Mac Duach( the Church of St. Mac Duach) is in the grounds of Kilmurvey House B&B. It is an early possibly 8th –9th century church dedicated to St Colmán Mac Duach who founded one of the most important monastic sites of Connacht, Cill Mac Duach( Kilmacduagh), Co. Galway. The massive stone masonry is characteristic of this early period as is the door way with inclined jambs. A stone on the outer northern wall has a carving of an animal with a long body small head and bushy tail. It is thought locally to be a horse. A tall cross-inscribed pillar stands west of the church.
Teampall na Naomh( The church of the Saints) is located behind the visitors centre at Dún Aonghasa. Nothing is known of this church which is simple and rectangular in shape.
Na Seacht dTeampaill( the Seven Churches)
Situated in the west of Inis Mór at the village of Eoghanacht the seven churches or Dísert Bhreacáin as it is also known was for centuries one of the biggest monastic foundations and centres of pilgrimage along the west coast of Ireland. Breacan is believed to have come here in the earliest period from Kilbrecan near Quin in County Clare. Tradition on the island has it that his foundation rivalled St Enda’s foundation in the east of the island. Indeed the two saints are held to have eventually agreed to divide the island between them. Although termed ‘ the seven churches’ there are in fact only two churches with a number of domestic buildings. The title seven is possibly an allusion to the pilgrimage circuit of Rome which incorporated seven churches.
Teampall Bhreacáin( St Brecan’s Church) is a large multi period church c. 8th-13thTeampall an Phoill ‘ (the Church of the Hollow) is a 15th century church smaller and simpler in style. The remains of a number of penitential beds and fragments of decorated crosses are also to be found on site most notably Leaba Bhreacáin and leaba an Spioraid Naoimh. There are also a number of interesting cross inscribed stones and graves in the south east corner of the site. One of these has the words ‘ V11 ROMANI’ The Seven Romans written on it and another has Tomas AP( Thomas the Apostle). There used be two Holy Wells -now enclosed-Tobar an Spioraid Naoimh and Tobar Bhreacáin on site. century. It contains fine massive masonary with an impressive arch, nave and chancel. An inscribed stone in the west gable reads ‘ OR AR 11 CANOIN’ ‘ Pray for the Two Canons’.
This is a stone altar with an early inscribed cross on it along the shore between Cill Rónáin and Cill Éinne. It is not sign posted and one would need to ask directions. It seems to have been erected on an old mound possibly a Megalithic site. The traditional pilgrimage or turas is made at this site each year on St Colm Cille’s feats day- June 9th. Seven stones are picked by each pilgrim from the stone vat on the altar and seven rounds are made sunwise( turas deiseal) of the grassy knoll. The water from the nearby overhanging cliff is collected and believed to hold curative powers.
Clochán na Carraige
This is the island’s best example of an old dry stone house. It is signposted in a field to the north along the road from Cill Mhuirbhigh to Sruthán village. Dating from the early Christian period it is rectangle in shape( about 6m by 2. 1/2m). It has two opposing doorways in the traditional manner and a small window to the south west. The corbelled or beehive roof is a fine example of its kind.
The Irish word Dún means fort and the islands are famous for their stone forts. These are thought to date from the late Bronze age( 1100BC) through to the Iron age (300BC-500AD). There are a number of forts found on the three islands. They are part of a complex of such structures found along the west coast of Ireland from Donegal in the north to Kerry in the south. Over the past decade a number of these forts including Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór have been excavated as part of ‘ The Western Stone Forts Project’. What the function of these forts was is unclear. Some suggest as well as being habitation sites they may also have been used for ritual purposes.
Bronze and Iron Age Stone Forts on Inis Mór.
There are four main stone forts on Inis Mór at Dún Dubh Chathair, Dún Eochla, Dún Aonghasa and Dún Eoghanachta. The only one where an excavation has been carried out is Dún Aonghasa. There are also minor forts found on the island. These forts date from the Bronze Age(1500BC-500BC) and Iron Age( 500BC-500AD)
The Irish word Dún means fort and the islands are famous for their stone forts. These are thought to date from the late Bronze age( 1100BC) through to the Iron age (300BC-500AD). There are a number of forts found on the three islands. They are part of a complex of such structures found along the west coast of Ireland from Donegal in the north to Kerry in the south. Over the past decade a number of these forts including Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór have been excavated as part of ‘The Western Stone Forts Project’. What the function of these forts was is unclear. Some suggest as well as being habitation sites they may also have been used for ritual purposes.
Dún Aonghasa is situated on the cliff side or south side of Inismór. It is a semi circular stone fort over looking the Atlantic. It is deemed to be one of the best examples of its kind in Europe. Archaeologists, scholars and tourists come here from all over the world and it is likely to be given the official status of a world heritage site in the near future. A 14 acre site the fort consists of three terraced walls surrounding an inner enclosure containing a platform on the edge of a three hundred foot high cliff. The views from it are breathtakingly spectacular. Excavations carried out in the 1990s indicated that people had been living at the hill top from c.1500 BC with the first walls and dwelling houses being erected c. 1100 BC. A remarkable network of defensive stones known as a Chevaux de Frise( c.700bc) surrounds the whole structure. Late Bronze Age objects such as rings, tools, beads and foodstuffs found on site are now in the National Museum Dublin. Some scholars suggest that the platform overlooking the vast Atlantic ocean may have had ritual significance. There is a first class interpretive centre attached to the site at Cill Mhuirbhigh, (Kilmurvey Village). It is protected and managed by the Office of Public Works. Entrance Adults €2.00 Students€1.00, Seniors €1.25 and Families€5.50. Guided tours are available free of charge on request.
Dún Dúchathair ( the Black fort)
This fort is situated on the cliffs at Cill Éinne, (Killeany )Inis Mór. Some visitors enjoy the solitude of it in contrast with the busyness of Dún Aonghasa. The fort consists of a terraced wall surrounding the remains of some early dwelling houses known as Clocháns( stone houses). Excavations have not been out carried yet so exact dates cannot be given but it is thought to be possibly contemporary with Dún Aonghasa. It is understood that the name the Black Fort comes from the dark coloured limestone which is characteristic of this particular area on the island.
This fort is found in the middle of the island south of the village of Eochaill from which it gets its name. Eochaill meaning Yew wood. The fort is circular and consists of two terraced walls. Exact dates are not known but it is thought to be somewhat later than Dún Aonghasa possibly late Iron Age. It is easily accessed from the main road. Nearby are the remains of an early nineteenth century Light House which while on the highest point of the island was too badly placed to ever have been of any effective use. Privately owned it has been converted into a small folk park.
This fort is found in the western head of the island in the townland of Eoghanacht south of the village of Sruthán. It consists of a circular single two terraced wall of an impressive height. There are the remains of several Clocháin(stone houses) inside. The fort takes its name from the Eoghanacht tribe of Munster who were associated with the island in Medieval times. Exact dates are not known but it is probably Iron Age.
Minor Forts on Inis Mór
There are also other minor forts some identified and some not on Inis Mór. The walker may enjoy discovering them as he surveys the landscape. A good map such as that of cartographer Tim Robinson is an essential reference.
The second main phase of occupation on the islands is what is referred to as the Bronze Age civilisation. This dates from about 1500 BC to 500BC. It so called because of the bronze objects made by these people. Cnoc Raithní in Inis Oírr is an example of a bronze age burial mound in which various bronze objects were found( cf. Monuments of Inis Oírr). Bronze age objects were also found at Dún Aonghasa one of the great stone forts of the islands. The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age and the arrival of the Celts. The Iron Age is so called because the people used Iron. The Celts were especially famous in Europe for their smithcraft. Some of the forts are also thought to be iron age.