Monday, 9 April 2012

Inis Meain, Aran Islands, 2012

The forecast warned of rain for my proposed day trip to the middle Aran Island of Inis Meain, but one of the staff of the Radisson Blu in Galway city advised me that the island comes into its own during the rain and that I would see for myself just what he meant. The Aer Arann minibus brought me from the city centre to Connemara Airport where I boarded a fully laden Isalnder aircraft which I was told was bound for Inis Mor, the largest of the islands. I argued that I wanted to go to Inis Meain and the staff advised me that the pilot would make a special diversion to drop me there later. I was disappointed to be in the very back seat. In my early 20s I flew light aircraft as a hobby until I was forced to give up on grounds of poor eyesight, and I remain fascinated by aircraft and like to be as near the action as possible. I envied the girl who got the "co-pilot's seat" up front. The wind was slightly lively and gave up a few false lift ups on our take-off from Connemara. Skies were grey and uninteresting. 10 minutes later we touched down on Inis Mor to unload the rest of the human and other cargo, and on board stepped two elderly gentlemen, islanders on their way to Galway. "We're going ilsnad hopping again, Kevin?" they asked the pilot. Take off from Inis Mor is always interesting as the aircraft lifts off at the point where the short runway dips down sharply. I got out at Inis Meain, expecting to be met by local men trying to tout their pony and trap service. But this island, middle in size but smallest by poulation, doesn't just do the touristy thing. There are no craft shops selling local wares, no transport services at all. I was offered a lift by the airstrip staff but I had come to walk the day for a day. I had been to Inis Mor and Inis Oirr, the smallest island, previously, so Inis Meain remained on my island agenda. The first thing that struck me was the sheer amount of grey limestone karts with its clefts and grykes. The area between the airport and the main housing area is flat and grey and unfertile, but interesting. Lots of wild orchids, primrose and other flora thrive in the area between the flat slab rocks and by the roadside. There is an amazing stillness and silence you dont quite get on the other Aran Islands, punctuated only by birdsong and the very odd car. Lichen stained drystone walls demarcate fields of poor soil and fields of no soil at all. The main pier and a silvery white beach lie at the eastern shore. On a warm summers day one could enjoy a nice swim here. In the north-east, near the airstrip, a most unusual beach of silvery-black sand curves in a convex fashion around sand dunes studded with yellow marram grass. I explored the roads around the main village area, traversing the island from east to west in a linear fashion. I saw Synge's thatched cottage, but it was not open this Easter Sunday. Behind another thatched house I met two very friendly and prosperous looking hens who were obviously looking for food, but they allowed me to pet their backs as if they were dogs. I met some friendly islanders too, who greeted me in the Irish language, which is spoken as a fisrt language here and deginitely not just for the tourists. One small shop serves the island and acts as the post office too. A church contains some really beautiful Harry Clarke stained glass windows. Some ancient churches lie in ruins, plus the odd megalithic tomb such as the "grave of Diarmuid and Grainne". Two forts dominate the hilltop area, the bigger being Conor's Fort, and most impressive it is. The walk all the high placed village area affords great views of the grey northern plane, as well as of the two other Aran Isalnds. My feet sore, my throat thirsty, I wandered into the cosy island pub for a Coca Cola. A fire was blazing at the end, and folk bantered away in Irish as a rugby match was playing on the television. When I emerged from the pub it was raining, and I soon saw exactly what the man in the hotel meant. The grey flat slabs of rock took on the appearance of big chunks of ice, refelecting as they did everything which stoodupright behind them... houses, walls, telegraph poles, animals. In places it looked like masses of flooded ponds, but this was all an optical illusion. The wind started stirring up as the rain got worse, but I had seen what I needed to, and was on my way back to the airstrip. I watched as the Islander wobbled its way down to the runway in the unsteady air. A couple of folk disembarked as I stepped on board. Two people were still on board, headed for Inis Oirr. This service was feeling ever more like that of the 14 bus. Three minutes bouncing through the murky air brought us to Inis Oirr where a further exchange of passengers resulted in a full load. The heavier cargo made for a much smoother ride to Connemara Airport. The bus back to Galway city had to make the journey specially for me as there was no one else on board, and the driver and myself enjoyed a really nice chat about all things aviatorial.!2516&parid=root

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