Friday, July 16, 2010

Aran Islands, Ireland

The rugged and barren landscapes of the Aran Islands, dotted with thatched roof stone cottages, Early Christian churches and ancient stone forts offer one of the best glimpses of the traditional Irish way of life. The everyday language of the Islanders is Gaelic, and their songs and stories illustrate and preserve much of Ireland’s folklore and culture.

Three islands: Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, make up the legendary Aran Islands off the west coast of Galway. The rugged landscape made it tough for the islanders. However, they adapted themselves to the raw climatic conditions, developing a survival system of total self-sufficiency. Their methods included mixing layers of sand and seaweed on top of rocks to create fertile soil, a technique used to grow potatoes and other vegetables. The same seaweed method also provided grazing grass within stone-wall enclosures for cattle and sheep, which in turn provided wool and yarn to make hand-knitted goods for which they are famous for. The islanders also constructed unique boats made of laths and tarred canvas for fishing.

Many Irish saints had some connection with Aran: St. Brendan was blessed for his voyage there; Jarlath of Tuam, Finnian of Clonard, and St. Columba called it the "Sun of the West." Writers and artists alike have also been inspired by the landscape. Playwright JM Synge commemorates the island’s sturdy fisherfolk is “Riders to the Sea” and “The Aran Islands”. The life of this traditional Irish community has also been portrayed in the film “Man of Aran”.

Whether exploring the depths of the traditional Irish life, intrigued by early Christian structures, studying ancient stone fortresses or just looking for a bit of inspiration by the beautiful landscape; the Aran Islands are the perfect way to compliment your Irish vacation.

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