August 6 2011 Trip: Day 4 Ireland — The Aran Islands (aka The Most Beautiful Place on Earth) Part 1

I know, after a title like that, these island fellows better be good! Trust me, they won’t disappoint. There are so many photos involved in this entry, I decided to make it a THREE-parter!

After two days of relatively hard riding for our beginning cyclists, we were excited to get them on a boat and dump them somewhere compact and flat with few vehicles. Before starting our trip, we had consulted with Jon V. from Bike Forums, who had done most of this trip with a tour company many years before. He pointed out that the ferry from Doolin to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, doesn’t always run. “What’s your back-up plan?” he asked me.

Uh. Well… see… um. Oh… Here it is!

Now, the blue line is Plan A: Day 4 take a ferry from Doolin to Inishmore and tool around the island as much or as little as we want. Day 5 is a ferry from Inishmore to Rossaveel, then a reasonable ride of about 35 miles from Rossaveel to Cashel. All well and good.

But the red line is Plan B: Ride from Doolin to Galway, which is over 40 miles on busy roads. Then on Day 5, ride from Galway to Cashel, which is nearly double the mileage we had intended.

So you can see why we were happy the ferry was running. I mean, it’s good to have a Plan B, but it’s even better when you get to stick to Plan A, isn’t it?

The kids waited patiently for our ferry, which was called, no kidding, “The Happy Hooker.” The jokes just make themselves, don’t they?

Our bikes were loaded both onto the upper and lower decks, which was quite an arrangement. I will say that taking the panniers on and off these bikes was an ordeal, so we were glad to only have to do it for the ferries.

The Happy Hooker visited all of the Aran Islands: Inisheer, which is the smallest of the three; Inishmaan, which is the middle-sized island; and then Inishmore, the biggest of the three. This led to a great deal of seasickness for some of our kids, as the swells were very noticeable. Dolphins followed in the wake of some of the ferries, but not ours, unfortunately. The views were fascinating. Those who could, enjoyed them!

The smaller islands are quite bleak and flat, without trees.

That was either Inisheer or Inishmaan. “Can you imagine living there?” my Co-Worker said. “I wouldn’t be able to stand it.” I found myself agreeing with him at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t agree. I have always liked flat, open spaces, and find the sea romantic, even in terrible weather (as long as I’m not actually on it). Though I’m not sure how I’d feel about the social isolation, the topography of the Aran Islands appeals deeply to a part of me that feels like I’ve lived other lives in wild, unknown places.

I would assume everyone has a part of themselves that feels that way, but truthfully, I realize this probably isn’t familiar to lots of people. Over the years, many things about the way I think and feel that seem natural to me have proved to be very foreign to those around me, even those who love me. So does everyone have other lives lived in wild, unknown places? I hope so. It just seems like everyone should.

The other island:

Inishmaan had an artificial harbor created with strange giant puzzle-shaped concrete blocks. I’m not sure they did much to add to the beauty of the island, but I was fascinated by them anyway. I particularly like the way they echo the clouds in this picture.

Once we’d arrived at Inishmore, we rode up the street to our hostel. Now, I have stayed at hostels since I was in college. Back in the olde days, hostels were grubby, disgusting holes filled with aging long-haired hippies and drunken, unwashed college students backpacking around Europe for a year with $300 and four pairs of socks. For the most part, the hostels I have stayed in recently have been a real improvement over the hostels of my youth. They are generally clean, often have en-suite facilities and though spartan, are nice places to stay.

I cannot say the same about the hostel where we stayed on Inishmore. I was right back in my college days. The rooms were clean on the surface, but a layer of filth lay just beyond the reach of a sloppily applied mop. The windows leaked, the toilets were disgusting and the showers had grubby bathmats put out that I carefully lifted between my thumb and forefinger to move away from my feet. The only thing on Earth that would compel me to step on those mats was if everything around them were boiling hot lava.

The view from my window may have been the only good thing about my room. My bed made me itch just looking at it.

And once again, the jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

Back when I lived in Ireland (see previous post), my would-be mother-in-law (ain’t that a mouthful!) had many irrational reasons for disliking me. One of them was that I liked cats. “Cats are dirty old creatures, now,” she would say. “I wouldn’t have one in my house.” The best part about this ridiculous statement was how it was said: with a very thick Irish country accent. “Cats are dare-tee ol’ cray-tures, naw. I wouldnna have one in ma house.” For years, whenever she was particularly cruel to me for no reason, my then-fiance would turn to me and mouth: “Dare-tee ol’ cats!” which would make both of us crack up.

Language is one of my delights, obviously, as an English teacher. Before we came, Jon V. warned us about the word “feck,” thinking we might not understand it’s usage (I did, though it was a novelty for the Co-Worker). In Irish, “feck” both does, and doesn’t, mean the same thing as its counterpart in English (this is a family blog, so use your imagination). It does not refer to a sexual act, but is rather a mild expletive used in any other situation where one might employ its stronger brother. My Co-Worker and I were really looking forward to hearing old ladies say “feck.” Unfortunately, not one Irish person we met ever used the word. Not one.

So we did it for them! Everything became a situation where “feck” or “fecking” or “fecker” might be appropriate. Everything. “Where’s my fecking passport?” “What the feck was that?” “Inishmore is fecking beautiful!” Of course, we kept this as a mostly-private joke between the two of us. I’m not sure how appropriate it is for teachers to say “feck” in front of students. I’m serious: I honestly don’t know! But all I had to do to crack my Co-Worker up was ride up to him and whisper something about “fecking Irish drivers, what the feck?” or the “fecking Irish rain.”

Even better was to use both “dare-tee” and “fecking” in the same sentence: “That’s the dare-tee-est fecking toilet I’ve ever seen!” Or: “This is one fecking dare-tee hostel, isn’t it?” Hilarity!

As soon as we could, we headed out to lunch with the kids. Our goal was to then ditch them. Inishmore is small, relatively unpopulated and has very few cars. The only way off the island is by ferry. What better place to set loose seven teenagers for a few hours? Especially seven very well-behaved teenagers who mostly just want to buy souvenirs and watch YouTube videos on their phones.

My Co-Worker and I left them in downtown Inishmore, which has a total of about three blocks, and headed out on our bikes to see some of the ancient stone forts scattered around the island. Our first stop was Dun Eochla, which is an Iron Age stone circle fort. I would like to tell you more about it, including what the circular structure is that I photographed from the top, but for once, the internet has failed me. There just isn’t that much out there about this site, which is a real shame, as I thought it was quite beautiful. We had no idea, for instance, that we shouldn’t climb on it. In retrospect, this seems obvious, but at the time we just scrambled right up, as there was nothing saying we shouldn’t. Fortunately, we were careful and didn’t harm anything, but I do wonder why the Irish government, back when they were a little more flush with cash, didn’t do more to preserve their heritage on these islands. Anyway…

Climbing up the walking path to the site, we passed this guy hanging out in his own scenic little paddock with a view of the ocean beyond. “That’s one short horse,” my Co-Worker noted. “He better eat quickly.”

The entrance to the fort is through an abandoned light house, crumbling away to nothing and covered with graffiti.

The interior of the lighthouse:

We met up briefly with three of the boys here, but they were already done when we arrived, as they were on the sort of hell-bent-for-leather bike tour of the island that only teenage boys with way too much energy would find enticing.

Scrambling through the outer rings of stones, we were surrounded by cleverly-constructed stone fences that have stood for centuries with only minor repairs.

Wild flowers were in bloom everywhere, providing an infusion of color to the green pastures and gray walls.

We threaded the maze of the outer defenses, and were soon in the fort itself.

The walls of the fort are about 10 feet high, and circular. There’s a small round structure in the center, but historians disagree about what it is/was. The fort was “restored” in the 19th century, so it’s either a reconstructed stone hut, or a repository for extra stones. This reminds me of the old jokes about someone reassembling their car, only to find strange spare parts lying around when they are done. “Where the feck did these go? Ah well, just pile ’em in a circle and call ’em a fecking hut.”

Stone stairs are cut into the walls, allowing visitors (especially clueless ones like us) to scramble right up onto the top and walk around the walls.

The views from the top are unbelievable. Like jokes that write themselves, some things don’t need much in the way of captions.

Literally the entire island lay at our feet.

Many old places give me the sudden feeling that history has sprung up around me, eerie and yet full as a hologram. Perhaps Dun Eochla is simply too old, or too complete, or perhaps I was too blown away by the beauty of the views, but I didn’t need this sensation. I can imagine what it was like to live here almost two thousand years ago, because imagination isn’t really necessary: life here is relatively unchanged. Okay, no one lives in stone huts, and we did have WiFi, but otherwise… oh, you know what I mean. Some beauty transcends time period.

Part Two… Dun Aonghasa, the stone fort built on the edge of a sheer 300 foot cliff, where my Co-Worker and I were inspired to talk seriously about death!

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8 Responses to August 6 2011 Trip: Day 4 Ireland — The Aran Islands (aka The Most Beautiful Place on Earth) Part 1

  1. Auchen says:

    Before I could go to visit Ireland, I’d first have to find someone to watch my dare-tee fecking cats! 🙂

  2. rideblog says:

    Indeed, Auchen, I hear ya! My dare-tee fecking cat has spent the whole day sleeping next to me, happy to have me home.

  3. gl. says:

    gack. hostels like that are why i now pack a pair of flipflops anywhere there will be a shared shower.

  4. rideblog says:

    Gretchin, I had a pair… but as our Support Van Parent didn’t come to the islands with us (he was taking a young lady to the airport), I didn’t actually have them on the one night I needed them. No worries, though. The next night’s stay more than made up for the hostel.

  5. Fecking beautiful, I’m jealous!
    Unlike remote Irish Islands, the North Shore of Massachusetts has very poor wifi connections, so reading these posts and trying to load pictures is agonising – but worth it!

  6. rideblog says:

    Thanks, V. At least you don’t have fecking dare-tee teenagers listening to Euro pop in the only room with the WiFi… your trip looks gorgeous too! I’m envious of the long rides with your sweetheart.

  7. monk says:

    Somewhere along the High Trestle Trail, I introduced my nephew to his first (and as far as I know, his only) Irish word. Funny how one word can liven up trail-talk so easily. Thanks for another outstanding (and very amusing) post!

  8. rideblog says:

    Monk, “feck” may be the best word in the English language for showing one’s bottled-up emotions. Not quite a dirty word, but… expressive. Thanks for the praise!

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