Inis Mór (big island) is the largest of the three islands of Aran, off the coast of Galway and North Clare. The big island, with a population of about 800, gets thousands and thousands of visitors in high season, the smaller island get fewer visitors but are somehow more highly regarded. Inis Mór has, of recent years fallen prey to a bizzare system of day tripping. People come to island off the boats and get on a bus tour that takes them on a whistle stop tour of the main attractions of the island, usually culminating in some kind of traffic jam up near Dun Aonghus. The day trip syndrome means that the island gets fewer and fewer overnight stays, this is a great pity for visitors who never really get to feel the true sense of the place. As someone who has been to Aran several times over the past few years, usually staying at least a few days or at most, a week, I am only a newbie. If you think Inis Oirr is more fun in the evenings, it's because people are staying over and everything is in the one place. Then again visiting a place isn't always only about craic. If you wait on Inis Mór for the last boat to leave you might feel a different feeling, as the island 'drops it's shoulders' and exhales, magic hour sneaks in and cloaks everything in it's warm glow. This is when the good stuff happens, this is the time to go swimming off the pier and walking along the cliffs. Instead of being that tourist jumping out of a bus to take a photo for snapchat of the peaceful beach, go and lie on the beach. Instead of seeing Dun Aonghus, and it is special of course, cycle and walk to the other side of the island to Dun Dubhcathair, the black fort and get a real feel of the wild atlantic and the power of the place. Think about who built the forts, who were they? How did they do this?
Inis Mór is full of spiritual places, pilgrims come here and islanders practice sacred rituals that are secrets unto themselves. For the number of times I've been here, there is always something I've never seen or felt before. Things are different, there are no shops telling you that you need to buy things (other than wooly jumpers). There are great places to eat and drink and sit and pubs to meet the people who actually live on the island. It takes resilience and determination to make a life on these islands work, children will all have to leave to go to college and services are few. People have to pay big money to travel back and forth to the mainland and generally have to make the best of an economy which is controlled by very few. So next time you are planning a visit to the West of Ireland, bring your self and your euro and stay a while, it will do you the world of good and you just might see things differently.
My top ten reasons to visit Inis Mór, in no particular order
- Community – on and island people need each other and their doors are always open, it's almost impossible to get arrested, I know, I've tried.
- The open air, being so exposed, there are few trees, you can see so far around you
- The cliff walk to Dun DubhCathair, or anyway you can get to it. This ancient fort has a powerful vibration that just grounds you, not to mention mind blowing views. Stay a while
- Tigh nan Phadai, who recently won best cafe in Ireland, was a secret until then but this cosy cafe also serves the people of the island with tasty dishes like beef and Guinness stew and carrot cake by an open fire.
- Seaweed harvesting, if you don't know what you're doing the buy some ready dried and packaged from Blas na Mara at the shop opposite Tigh Nan Phadai.
- Walking anywhere, did I already say that?
- Swimming, so many places to swim, Kilmurvey, Killeine, Kilronan, but the best one has to be jumping off the pier with the kids
- Sangria at the Bayview on the harbour. Mary and Byron have taken over this restaurant and make amazing food, but sangria folks, sangria!
- A pint in Joe Watty's pub, prepare yourself for colourful language :)
- A visit to Gabriel's goat farm, a walk to Bun Gabhla, the seven sisters, Dun Eoghanacht, and a wealth of places and things I don't even know about.Gabriel's Goats of Aran Islands Goats Cheese
- Smoke Salmon Salad at Teach nan Phadaí Reasons to stay 1.The water isn't fluoridated (so I believe, and it tastes amazing) 2. Everyone who lives there looks at least ten years younger than they are, 3. If you know the right people, fish, fish and more fish, or you could just fish yourself. 4.No bullshit.