AS A DAY TRIPPER TO THE ARAN ISLAND OF INIS MOR (Inishmore) on a bright and sunny day in September, it’s easy to see all that is right and good in a place. And that’s the gratification of travel to beautiful and exotic places like the rocky west coast of Ireland.
Heading directly to Galway from the airport after landing in Dublin, a comfortable ride on GoBus lands you completely across the country in a little more than three hours. I like Galway because it packs a lot of Irish hospitality in a very manageable, walkable city. Plenty of housing options, restaurants, pubs, views and a great jumping off point for seeing highlights of Ireland.
THREE ARAN ISLANDS STRETCH TIP TO TIP OFF THE COAST OF GALWAY–Inis Mór (big island), Inis Meáin (middle island) and Inis Oírr (east island). Regular 45-minute ferry passages, and a few 10-minute flights if you’re in a hurry, carry you to Inishmore. With convenient and cheap daylong bicycle rentals and friendly pony-and-trap guides, it’s relatively easy to get to Inishmore and tour completely on your own.
Another good option is one of the day tours. I pass along the advice I took myself. Michael Faherty is a seventh-generation islander and tour guide and sure bet for a great day trip. His grandfather was a pony-and-trap guide years earlier and his parents still live on Inishmore. Michael is based in Galway and makes the island visit regularly (as well as other tours around the mainland). He picks you up in his Galway-based bus, gets you to the ferry (passengers only) and drives his island-based bus to continue the tour. Inishmore is about 12 square miles, so seeing it all is a casual pace for the day.
A 20-MINUTE TREK UP TO THE HILL FORT Dún Aenghusa (Dun Aengus) provides impressive views of the island landscape below, segmented by miles of stack-rock walls, the 300-foot-high cliffs, ocean, mainland and history. The massive stone fortress served as a safe haven against invaders for the residents living simply off the land 2,000 years ago.
INISHMORE IS DOTTED WITH VILLAGE COMMUNITIES or townlands, to be more Irish accurate. These quaint communities have only a handful of homes and a shop or two. At the foot of Dun Aengus is the townland of Kilmurvey with a few shops featuring the island’s famous knitwear and picturesque cottage restaurant, Teach Nan Phaidi. Americans take particular pleasure in Irish cooking, because what we consider comfort food surely has Irish origins. A bowl of Guinness beef stew, brown bread, butter, a pint and chocolate cake was a highlight meal of all that I enjoyed in Ireland. And it was not based simply on being hungry from a hike up to the hill fort.
THE SITE OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES and cemetery on Inishmore underscores the long history and far reach of the Catholic Church. Here lived saints and scholars in the 7th and 8th centuries and drew pilgrims then as it does by tour van today. You can wander about the ancient graves of saints and modern day graves of Inishmore’s long-lived and hardy citizens.
What makes Michael Faherty a good guide to Inishmore is more than his topical knowledge of places on the map and his skill driving a small bus on lanes built for bikes and walking. It is his clear pride in home. He points out the recycling center and new goat cheese creamery on the island. He honks his horn and waves at a buddy building a new home along the tour path. He points out his childhood school house and goes home to eat with his mom while his guests take a lunch break.
Many young people from the Aran Islands are lured across the waters to live in Galway and Dublin, any place with traffic and crowds and a faster pace. They seek escape from, what they consider in youth, sentences to a stony, tree-sparse, isolated land and too-quiet lives. But, some eventually return to build their homes, rear their families in proud communities, greet and feed the string of tourists and embrace the peaceful quiet they longed to leave.
Some people find it in a day trip and some people take a little longer to see all that is right and good in a place.