Sunday, 21 May 2017

Island 365 - Inishmaan/,Inish Meáin, Aran Islands, County Galway

Inishmaan (Inish Meáin in Irish) is the middle of the Aran Islands, both in location and size and the name means "middle island." It was my favourite, as it is the least touristy of the three.  I travelled by ferry from Rossaveel in County Galway but it is also possible to fly there from Connemara Airport which is to the west of the City of Galway or to catch a ferry from Doolin in County Clare.  I travelled on a ferry with about 100 unruly and excited school boys.  Half of them travelled on to Inisheer but the other older half got off on Inishmaan. However I didn't seem them at all during the day I spent on the island, so I don't know where they went.   I walked round the northern half of the island and met very few other people and the whole island had a tranquil feeling to it.  The weather was warm, calm and sunny, which helped.

I was glad I had had a long chat to a lady on the ferry on the way back from Inisheer/Inishmaan the day before.  She no longer lives on the island but both she and her husband grew up there and still have a house there, which they visit frequently.  She told me a bit about life on the island and also what places I should go and look at.  This was very useful, as signposts are few and far between on Inishmaan.  She also warned me that the tea garden and restaurant would be closed.  The pub looked to be open but I didn't go in. I bought a bar of chocolate in the only shop on the island instead.

When I visited Inishmaan on a sunny day in May 2017 there were lots of wildflowers in full bloom including ox eye daisies, violets, clover, cowslips, primroses, daisies, bird's foot trefoil, dandelions, herb Robert, thrift, buttercups, meadow cranesbill, celandine, honeysuckle, orchids, wild strawberries, scurvy grass, salad burnet, Alexanders and purple vetch.  I saw a number of butterflies, including orange tips, peacocks and speckled woods.  I saw some goldfinches and skylarks and heard a cuckoo.

The main places of interest to visitors are:
  • Teach Synge (Synge's Cottage): the author, playwright, poet and collector of folklore John Millington Synge (1871-1909) stayed there every summer from 1898-1902.  It is sometimes open to visitors but it was closed when I visited.
  • Synge's Chair - this was J.M. Synge's favourite spot on Inishmaan
  • Dún Chonchúir (Conor's Fort): this is an oval stone ring fort. It is said to have been built by Conchúir, brother of Aonghasa (his fort is on Inishmore) and is located on one of the highest points of the island.
  • Cill Cheanainn - ruined 8th or 9th century church on the eastern side of the island.  The graveyard surrounding it was still used until 50 years ago.
  • Teampall na Seacht Mac Rí (Church of the Seven Sons) - the ruins of the church can be seen.  It is the location of the grave of St Kennerg, who was the daughter of the King of Leinster, and it was previously an important pilgrimage site.  There is also a holy well but I didn't see it.
  • Dún Fearbhai: this is a stone fort dating from the 1st-7th centuries.  It is unusual because it is square, rather than oval or round.
  • Séipéil Eoin agus Naomh Muire gan Smál (Church of Mary Immaculate). This church was built in 1939 using stones from the old 15th century church across the road.  It has some stunning stained glass windows.  They were designed by the Harry Clarke Studios.  The altar was designed by the father of Pádraic Pearse, who was leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.
  • Clochán: this is a small beehive hut. 
  • Leaba Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne: this is a prehistoric wedge gallery grave.  I don't know whereabouts on the island it is located, as I didn't come across it.
Cloch an Aifrinn (Mass Rock)
This is located close to the new harbour. In the 19th century the parish priest from Kilronan on Inishmore read mass here on his way to Inisheer.

Stone barn - there were lots of these dotted around the island
Thatched stone barn - most of the barns were not thatched
Limestone Pavement
Synge's Chair
 View from Synge's Chair
Looking south from near Synge's Chair
Cairn - looking north west towards Inishmore
The tiny fields of Inishmaan
Animal water troughs with rainwater catchments
These are a common feature on all 3 Aran Islands.  Despite high rainfall, the thin soil and limestone bedrock mean that water can be in short supply.
Traditional Cottage
Conor's Fort
An Dun Restaurant
Synge's Cottage
Mary Immaculate Catholic Church
Stained glass windows above the altar
Stained Glass Window
Séipéil Eoin agus Naomh Muire gan Smál
 Cairn/Sculpture on the east coast
 Cill Cheanainn
Concrete picnic tables, which won't blow away - on the east coast
Inishmaan Airport
Beautiful Ceann Gainimh Beach on the north east side coast of Inishmaan
Rossaveel Ferry at Inishmaan

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