It Was a Very Good Christmas

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Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of the three Aran Islands is about 3km (1.8miles) long and 2km (1.2miles) wide and has an approximate population of 250 people. Our travel to Inis Oírr involved a grand time vaulting the raucous troughs of the wild Atlantic. Many passengers crawled toward the tweendeck to sit in silent, stiff huddles; hands covering mouths. Our taking motion sickness prevention beforehand was a wise decision. 😉 Upon departing from the Doolin Pier, we sat topside enjoying the salt spray and wild 30-minute bronco ride. As the captain stated, “A good splash of holy water so be sure to bless yourself.”

Doolin Ferry fare from March to November: Free/Age 0-5, €10/Age 5-15, €18/Student & Seniors, €20/Adults. One can also sail from Galway Bay and there is a small airstrip.

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Guided tours & Caisleán Uí Bhríain (O’Brien’s Castle) in distance

One of the first things you’ll see is 14th century Caisleán Uí Bhríain (O’Brien’s Castle),  located on one of the island’s highest points. Different clans battled to rule this castle, a prestigious key to controlling medieval shipping routes of Galway Bay.

Townsfolk line up at the dock to offer for-pay guided island tours by pony cart, tractor and wagon, or in our case, a beat up van. Stíofán (SHTEE fawn), a truly friendly and happy Inis Oírr fellow translated much of his island’s Gaelic for us, stating that the islanders only speak English for the tourists.  We hadn’t much time, so we bargained a €60 tour for seven people.

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Friendly Stíofán of Inis Oirr

The ever-present miles of low mortar-less limestone walls were extracted from the soil as a common medieval building material of forts, castles, monasteries and fencing.  Today, the fields need to be cleared of stone in order to farm the land or raise livestock.

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Cnoc Raithní, an unassuming prehistoric stone mound that confirms occupation during the Bronze Age lies just ahead of the pier.  An 1885 storm uncovered the mound and ancient burial ground with remains dating to 1500BCE.

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Cnoc Raithní Mound

To the left of the pier is a campground area bordering beaches with very blue and clear water. A few steps past the campground is Teampall Chaomhán, a 10th century church located in the St. Caomhán (Patron Saint of Inisheer) graveyard. The church was nearly buried by drifting sands pushed by the Atlantic winds, but is now kept excavated.  Still used as the island’s main burial site, the grave of St. Caomhán  is located to the northeast of the church amidst Celtic crosses.

Teampall Chaomhán
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St. Caomhán Grave

Stíofán regaled us with island history, the sad demise of the fishing trade (“The fish are all gone now”), the exodus of the island’s youth (“But they come back to raise their bairn”), and tales of his youth. He fondly recalled a wonderful Christmas of biscuits, cookies, yarn and modern day toilets – salvage from the MV Plassy which washed ashore on the eastern side of Inis Oírr onto Finnis Rock and then two weeks later, pushed above the high tide mark by a hurricane in 1960. The Plassy is a 45-minute walk from the pier. Beware! The shoreline is very rocky and slippery.

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MV Plassy

Waiting for the ferry back to County Claire, the pier offers entertainment.

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As of Summer 2017, accommodations ranged from the Lathair Campála (campsites), to B&Bs, to the Radharc Na Mara (Seaview hostel) and island hotel. By far, Inis Oírr was one of my favorite places to visit. The people are unassuming and very welcoming, food and drink reasonable and you can visit the sites at no cost. 

Have a good week – – Joanne

4 thoughts on “It Was a Very Good Christmas

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