Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Aran Islands

Thinking my camera was OK now, I decided to proceed with my visit to the Aran Islands. This was the right and wrong thing to do. Wrong, because my camera was not OK (as you can tell from the washed out results here); right, because I'd unknowingly left my credit card at the booking office at Rossiveal yesterday, and would have been stuck doing anything without it.

The ferry departure for the largest island, Inis Mór (aka Inishmore), was delayed by 30 minutes for a tourist bus, which had probably been slowed by farm machinery puttering along the single lane road from Galway like a distracted mother goose trailed by a parade of frustrated goslings.

So, by the time we got into Kilronan harbour, there was not enough time left to join a minibus tour of the island before my ferry to Inis Oirr at 2pm. I asked if one of the buses would just take me to the first stop way down the island, handy to some of the main sights, but none were willing to take some easy money for this journey. (The issue wasn't Bondi, just taking less than €10 worth of fare.)

A lady at the Tourist Office suggested we just walk up to the closest hill fort, at the highest point of the island, about 30-40 minutes on foot. This seemed about the right amount of time, but by the time we got their the day had really heated up, and Bondi was suffering on this nearly treeless, shadeless island. Back on the main road, with the tar starting to melt, I tried to get a mini-bus to stop so that I could get Bondi into the water for a rapid and urgent cooldown. 3-4 went past, empty, ignoring us, until a kind lady pulled over and delivered us right to the beach front.

Bondi needed no prompting and plunged straight into the turquoise water and swam out to immerse himself. I followed him, finding the water to be a delightful temperature. We stayed in until it was nearly 2pm. It was around this time that I discovered that the lovely pictures I'd been taking all morning were horribly posterised due to a failure of one or more of the CCDs. I bought a disposable 35mm camera to capture some of the afternoon, and I may be able to post pictures of that at a later date.

Earlier, I'd stopped in at the big Aran Sweater store. The famous sweaters are produced by machine in a factory on the middle island (which I didn't visit) and only a small number are hand-knitted. The store had a huge range, but they seemed to be dearer there "at the source" than on the mainland. The island is becoming dangerously over-commercialised, with leaflets for the local burger joint being handed out before you even get on the ferry, and the local museum cum heritage centre is closed (indefinitely?).

Inis Oirr was a prettier island, which to tell the truth is not saying much. While the islands are part of Co. Galway, they are geophysically much more like the Burren of Co. Clare, with great stretches of broken up limestone paving seemingly only relieved by the stone fences which rib the island.

I'd been told there was a nice restaurant there, but couldn't find any evidence of that and had a pub lunch of smoked haddock, while an assortment of over-imbibed locals sat around mulling over the possibilities of owning a giant dog. Said giant dog was curled up in the middle of the bar on the stone floor, dreaming giant doggy dreams. I'd finished off Round Ireland with a Fridge on the morning ferry, and had started Tomás O'Crohan's The Islandman, the story of his life on the Blasket Islands (near Dingle) from 1856.

At some point the background music in the pub identified itself as a traditional version of the song MacNamara's Band, but then every other piece thereafter sounded a bit like it too...

I attempted another swim, but the waters were much colder than in Kilronan harbour, and Bondi preferred to play with a labrador pup on the beach, or just sit on the sand and let the afternoon pass him by.

Additional photos below from rather crappy disposable camera

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