Another of my most-anticipated days in Ireland was a visit to one of the Aran Islands.  I was a little disappointed to learn when I arrived in the Doolin area that attempting to go out to the largest island, Inishmore (of Lieutenant of Inishmore fame) was a bit ambitious for a day trip from the part of Ireland where we were staying.  But one of my guidebooks recommended a “combo tour,” a ferry ride from Doolin to Inisheer and then a cruise past the famous Cliffs of Moher.  I called ahead and got a spot.

In some ways, the day was a parallel to the Skellig Michael trip, a more touristy, less life-threatening boat trip which let me see monastery ruins and cliff-dwelling birds.  At least that’s how it seemed at first.  Stay tuned.

The so-called ferry was really just a large boat—no cars or anything allowed.  We gave our tickets and took the 40-minute ride to the island.  I really didn’t know what I would find there.  As the passengers walked off the dock, islanders descended with offers of “the best map of Inisheer” for one euro (looked like a Xerox copy to me) and horse drawn carriage rides, and trailers-pulled-by-tractors rides, and bicycle rentals.  It was starting to rain, so I just pulled on my rain jacket and started walking.  And of course, before me was one of my beloved national loop walk tour signs with little arrows.  So I set off following the arrows from site to site.

One of the most amazing things about Ireland is that within an area say the size of the main campus of Woodberry, there are often dozens of interesting things to see that span historical periods from pre-history, through early Christian and medieval times, to more recent events.  This was certainly true of Inisheer.  The first stop on the tour was a grouping of stones that marked an ancient burial site where cremated remains had been found, covered by pottery containers.  A few steps away, and there was a little cemetery.  In the middle of it, in a sunken pit where it must be excavated yearly from the sand dunes, giving a few feet of clearance on all sides, was an early Christian church built by the brother of St. Kevin.  He was the creator of the monastery at Glendalough that we saw on our first day in Ireland.  Though the church here on Inisheer was tiny, it featured some of the same architectural details as the more elaborate structures at Glendalough.  Just uphill were medieval castle ruins, and then a bit farther on a dilapidated 19th century watchtower overlooks it all.

What I loved most about Inisheer were the stone walls that formed an organically patterned lace across the landscape.  A resident I greeted as I walked down the tiny pathway between the walled fields said they were built “ages and ages ago.”  And they are still used.  Each is attached to another field by a gate, so a few cows can be moved from one area to the next.  Sometimes, the field will have a ruined structure inside.  That meant that grass around the ruins of Cill Gobnait , another 11th century church, was covered in cow pies.  But surely if the animals were never let inside, the lush vegetation resulting from the constant rain would overtake the structure completely.

I loved walking among the maze of the fields, following the occasional arrow, feeling all alone.  I loved taking pictures of those stone walls with their beauty combining the natural and the handmade.  And I was happy to plunk down some American cash in a gift shop where I bought a few souvenirs, including a patchwork pillow cover made on the island from discarded Irish tweed and Aran jumpers.  Once that shopping trip was over, I went to a little pub for a cup of coffee.

Though the trip over had been through calm waters, I am never sure about eating a big meal before getting on a boat.  Luckily, I made the right choice!  About three hours after arriving, we boarded our ferry for its cruise past the Cliffs of Moher.  A Dutch couple I had chatted with encouraged me to ride in the front of the boat, saying it hadn’t been too windy on the way over.  Thinking that position might be better for taking pictures of the cliffs, I claimed a spot near the bow, plopped my backpack on the deck, and got my camera out.  At first the splashiness of the water reminded me of the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls, but that comparison flagged presently.  Great waves of water were coming up over the deck, hitting me and my bag full on.  I held onto the railing tightly and decided there was nothing for it but to enjoy the ride and be glad I was still wearing my rainjacket.  Even if I had thought to find a drier spot on board, I’m not sure I could have moved around the boat anymore the way it was pitching from side to side.

The cliffs were a less impressive version of Little Skellig with some of the same bird species.  But with the rough seas, it was not really possible to frame a photo or observe the birds much.  Soon, though, we returned to Doolin.  The captain followed me off the boat and asked me how I’d done.  I said, “Is that a typical ride?”  He told me “the wind came up in the last two hours.”   I didn’t tell  him I felt like I had swum the several miles between Inisheer and the mainland—not only because I was soaking wet, but also because it takes a lot of energy and core strength to keep your balance on a surface that is shifting 45 degrees in both directions.

I used my jacket to dry off my camera first thing when I got to the car—it seems to have suffered no ill effects so far—and headed up the road, still too woozy for a meal.  After a few kilometers of driving, I stopped in at the Stonecutters Kitchen and ordered my favorite Irish lunch (a grilled chicken, cheddar, and pesto sandwich) and got to know the family at the next table, who had been at the front of the ferry with me.  They were a dad and two teenagers from Wisconsin, and talking to them made me miss my girls—they would have really hit it off with these kids.  We discussed Broadway shows and colleges.

So that was my maritime adventure on Inisheer.  I am completely over any thought of taking another boat trip.  I do not wish to tempt the gods of seasickness any further.  I am keeping my feet on land for awhile.

Photos are HERE.

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