Ireland end to end: The Aran Islands

WE eventually found some great music last night in Doolin, County Clare. This tiny village (actually there are three tiny villages making upmwhat is popularily known as Doolin) is well known as a centre for traditional music and we were looking forwrad to hearing some of it.

We had a superb meal in McGanns pub, then went back to the Rainbow Hostel for a while before heading out again about 9.30pm, the bewitching hour for musicians turning up at the various bars.

Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves swamped by German and American tourists, bussed in from Lisdoonvarna where, apparently, there is no live music on a Wednesday night. It appears the owners of McGanns and McDermott’s pubs in Doolin actually put on the transport to bring more people to their tiny pubs.

It was crazy. You couldn’t see the musicians for people standing in  front of them taking cellphone photos and you couldn’t hear the music for the loud and incessant chatter. The musicians seemed nonplussed. I guess they’re used to it.

We weren’t though, so we walked along the road a bit to another pub where a ballad singer was crooning popular folk songs. He was quite good, but we were hoping for something a little more lively. We were about to call it a night and face defeat in the very home of Irish traditional music when the barmen told us to hang around for a while.

“Jimmy finishes in a few minutes,” he told us, “then the trad musicians take over.”

Sure as his word within a few minutes the bould Jimmy had vacated the hot chair and three young musicians took his place playing bouzouki, melodeon and, to my utter delight, uillean pipes.

What followed was a magical session of rollicking jigs and reels, airs and laments, a wonderful exhibition of traditional musicianship. Hamish and I eventually had to drag ourselves away, knackered after another long cycling day and in my case, too much Guinness. Hamish was gurgling-full of coca cola!

This morning dawned wet and windy and cold, but we didn’t have to cycle anywhere, other than a couple of kilometres down to the ferry. Frank the Ferryman met us and announced, with a grin, that we would be travelling to Innismore on board the MV Happy Hooker! He went on to inform us that a hooker was a type of Galway trawler…

It was a surprisingly busy crossing – the ferry was full of Italian photographers. And it was a rough crossing, buffeted and battered by a strong northerly wind. People around us gradually turned grey and we knew it was only a matter of time before someone threw up.

It was an American lady. She ran for the toilet but someone was in it, so she then had to run for the open area in the stern. The problem was the boat was rolling around rather savagely and it was difficult tom stand never mind run, but she made it before puking overboard.

It was good to reach Innismore and find our B/B right on the quayside. We dumped our bags, had a bowl of seafood chowder and took to our bikes. We headed for Dun Aengus.

We were both keen to visit this two thousand year old, late bronze age fort and we weren’t disappointed. Three partly circular walls protect an inner area which was thought to be a ritual religious site. No-one seems to be sure who built the defensive fort – it may have been the Firbolgs from Europe, but it is certainly an impressive setting. The semi circular walls end abruptly at the edge of vertical cliffs and it says a lot for the Irish health and safety people that they have avoided building protective fences along the cliff edge. Having said that, it’s wise to keep well away from the abyss, especially when there is a mischevious wind blowing as there was today.

We both liked the atmosphere of Innismore. Partly Hebridean but rougher, the hundreds of kilometres of drystane walls that form an enormous web over the island don’t take anything away from a sense of raw wildness, a place shaped and scoured by ceaseless winds and Atlantic gales.

Much of the hinterland is a vast limestone pavement, with wild flowers growing in the spaces in between the rocks. Trees are few, and stagger over at an incredible angle, shaped by the forces of raw nature.

I was surprised at how many people are still living here, wrestling euros from visitors where once they wrestled a living from the hard earth. There are even three secondary schools in the islands, one on each of the three largest islands, so the future may not be too bad for the Aran islands. There is certainly a much greater sense of prosperity than on any of the Scottish Hebridean islands.

Time now for a wee wander before dinner, then maybe a Guinness, then an early night. Tomorrow we catch an early ferry to Rossaveen in Country Galway, before another 50 mile bike ride to Westport in Country Mayo, one of my favourite towns in Ireland, home of the great Matt Molloys bar. We’ll certainly catch some good music there.

1 thought on “Ireland end to end: The Aran Islands

  1. If you are in Clifton try King’s Bar in the main square and ask for Terry Sweeney the owner. Tell him you know Dermot from Glasgow and you may even get a free drink!
    Love the articles…very descriptice

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