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The Aran Islands

 

Over the centuries, these barren limestone islands, located about 30 miles offshore in Galway Bay, have been transformed into beautiful but isolated farmland communities. There are three islands – Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer. The presence of Iron Age Forts on two of the islands indicates that humans lived here from around 3000 B.C.

In the 1800’s, the population was decimated by famine and emigration. Early in the following century, novelists revived interest in the Arans, and American film director Robert O’Flaherty filmed the classic documentary, Man of Aran, on Inishmore. The film is actually shown here, at the heritage centre, daily during the summer months. The island people live here by choice, and choose to live a unique lifestyle that preserves the traditional Irish culture. Many of the inhabitants speak the Irish language. They live a life of simple tastes in food, clothing and household furnishings, although modern conveniences are available.

Inishmore is the largest of the Arans, and the nearest to the coast of Connemara. Aran Heritage Center is here, in the village of Kilronan. Its exhibits provide background about the history and culture of the people, the harshness and isolation of the landscape, and the early churches and Iron Age Forts. One of the finest prehistoric monuments in Europe is Dun Aengus, dating back to 2000 B.C. and perched at the top of a 300-foot cliff. The fort consists of three circles, and features spectacular seaside views. Its purpose is not clear; some say military, others contend that it was built for a ceremonial or religious use. Inishmaan is the middle island. It contains Conor Fort, similar to Dun Aengus, and a chamber tomb known as the Bed of Diarmuid and Grianne from 2000 B.C. The Aran lifestyle is very visible here, and you are likely to see residents dressed in homespun suits and traditional long skirts and shawls.

Inisheer is the smallest island, and has a long, sandy beach on its eastern side. Its single village is filled with students of the Gaeltact, an Irish language school. The most isolated and tranquil of the Arans, it is crisscrossed by walking paths through fields bursting with a variety of wildflowers in summer. The Church of St. Kevin is near the shore, and this early Christian house of worship gets buried with sand every winter by the storms. Each year, the locals dig it out and celebrate St. Kevin’s Day on June 14th.

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