After our brief stop at the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to our Galway hostel for the weekend. We had the rest of the night after a group dinner to explore Galway and the rest of the next night as well. The morning following our first night in Galway we hopped back on the bus to take us to a ferry which would bring us over to the Aran Islands
I have never taken a ferry before and was anxious yet excited to see what it was like. We were warned by our program directors that the ride over could be rough for some of us. It didn’t help that the weather was poor and sea was choppy. So, for the forty-five minute or so ride over, we were told to sit outside or in the back of the ferry if we tended to experience motion sickness. Our group of forty-some students and program directors boarded the ferry almost last, leading to few seats left for our large group. I hurried in and found a seat upfront, not wanting to sit outside in the frigid air. Some in our program found seating inside, but many had to sit outside and ended up soaking wet once we arrived.
The ferry ride over for me, luckily, was without any stomach upset and was actually fun. I loved the bouncing of the ferry and the splashing of the waves against the side. Not even halfway through our journey though, scores of people were hunched over trashcans scattered along the floor in various stages of motion sickness. There was a group of girls traveling together that quickly morphed from laughing at every jump in the boat and taking selfies to crying. I felt bad in my seat watching the lone girl without problems checking on her friends and grabbing them plastic bags and water.
Once the ferry reached the port, we grouped up, half soaking wet and frowning, and the other half ready to get started. The island offered three ways of reaching our ultimate target of Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus) and a tour of the island. You can tour and explore the island by way of biking through bike rentals, a bus tour, or a horse carriage. I decided on the bus tour. When we arrived, it was pretty cold with strong wind and I wanted to be out of the elements, hoping it would warm up.
The Aran Islands are three separate islands. Inis Mór (Inishmore), which means the big island, is known for hosting past Red Bull cliff diving competitions and also was a filming location for the 2010 movie, Leap Year. Inis Meáin (Inishmaan), meaning the middle island, features the John Millington Synge cottage. The smallest island, Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the east island, is known for its lighthouse and the shipwreck, Plassey. All the islands offer stunning views of the sea, interesting terrain, and a fun biking and walking atmosphere. We spent our time on Inis Mór.
I shared a bus with one other Pitt student, six other students in our program from other schools, and an older couple. Our bus driver drove us up the one main road on the island to the village at the top. Pictured below are my shots from inside the bus, so you may see some window glare. The bus moved surprisingly fast up the hill with bikers, walkers, and cars moving in either direction. Sometimes a lost cow had to be corralled back to its field by an irritated farmer. That, by the way, was hilarious. Cows take their good old time moving. We did not mind.
Right before the village our bus and a few other cars had to stop as three donkeys had gotten loose from their enclosure and were taking up most of the road. We passed them on their side and continued and heading up to the village. Our driver let us know how long we would have up here before he would drive us back down to the main part of town. As we walked down the road, away from the ice cream shop and knit shops, the donkeys came barreling through, passing right next to us. It was awesome.
After the exhilaration of watching wild and rowdy donkeys doing whatever they pleased, we continued to the final rest area before the trail heading up to the ancient site. After the eventual hike up to the site, I would come back to eat lunch and shop in the knitting and jewelry store.
Finally, with my ticket bought, I started the hike up the trails, walking behind and passing various travelers on the way up. We hadn’t been told too much about Dún Aonghasa other than that it was a prehistoric stone fort built on the island. I was not prepared for the views and experience at the ancient site. Before that sight, came the walk on the craggy ground flanked by the stone walls. The land on the islands are rocky and not the best for farming. In many of my pictures, you can see the rocks and stone breaking out from the ground.
Our tour guide had told us earlier on the way up that these walls were not held together. They were loose stones piled on top of each other. While walking the trail, I rested against the wall up the winding path to adjust camera settings and the rocks started to shift. It was so weird to see these walls all over the island, knowing they were freestanding.
The path steadily took a steeper turn with more rocks and stones slicing through the ground.
At last I made it through the main hike into the mostly flat open field, to see the exposed cliff side at Dún Aonghasa. The views were breathtaking, the height, terrifying. I stayed here for a while, inching myself to the cliffs edge and securing myself for some shots of the cliff faces. After enough time and a substantial increase in my heartrate, I headed the final distance to inside of the fort’s half circle structure.
I don’t need to say much as the views truly do that for me. I photographed the stone walls, the cliffs, and the people exploring the grounds around me before heading back down to the village to take some pictures of the town at the top before the tour back down.
After some time, our tour guide collected us in the square and loaded us back up for a trip down to the harbor. Before the harbor though, he took us to one of the old church sites and current cemetery on the island.
We thanked our bus driver as he concluded the tour and for his many jokes and good humor in taking us around. He stopped a few times on the road when he saw me trying to take pictures of cows and horses, so my shots were better.
While in town before heading out on the ferry, I indulged in my own planned splurge and bought a famous Aran Island sweater, soft as a cloud and so comfortable.
It was another fantastic day in Ireland.