There are perks to being a student in Ireland. I get discounts on almost everything fun in Europe. I can get training and learn things you never would anywhere else. Case en pointe: I am taking krav maga lessons (mostly so I can finally beat my brother in a fight when I go home for Christmas). My “adult responsibilities” are reading about current events and having interesting discussions with cool people from all over the world. The occasional gloomy days I have where I don’t feel like leaving my flat are a small price to pay.
The biggest perk, of course, is that I get to travel. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two out of the three Aran Islands. I didn’t even know the islands existed until we took our trip to the Cliffs of Moher. But they quickly became one of my favorite parts of Ireland, and you’re about to see why.
My friend, Sari, and I took a ferry from Ros a Mhuil (Rossaveal), near Galway, to Inis Mor, the largest island. I was excited to try out ferries, but that excitement lasted for approximately the nine seconds of the video below, because it turns out they make me a little green around the gills.
I thought about just hanging around the island forever as a hermit, much like the early Christians who came here to study. Trouble is, it rains too much – more on that in a minute.
The island is very small – about 12 miles in total area. It also seems untouched by time. Only 800 people live here, and they only got electricity in 1975. Meanwhile, I complain if the WiFi in my apartment goes out for 30 seconds.
Another cool thing is that the island is a Gaeltacht, which means that their first language is Gaelige, or Irish. It’s one of the coolest languages I’ve ever heard (and for sure the most incomprehensible). Students from the mainland come to study here in the summer in order to learn the language.
First, we went to Dun Aonghasa, one of three prehistoric stone forts on the island. No one knows what the people on the island were guarding against, but the first construction of the stone walls goes back to 1100 BC. The walls literally encircle the cliff, which we definitely didn’t approach and maybe lean off of.
We also visited Na Seacht dTeampaill (The Seven Churches). There aren’t really seven churches there, but it is a complex which was a center of learning for early Christians after the fall of the Roman Empire. The entire trip was included with our accommodation at Kilronan Hostel, an excellent little place for young travelers, but you can easily walk or bike the island if you’re feeling adventurous.
After our brief tour, and lunch at the adorable Teach Nan Phaidi (most amazing bowl of tomato soup I’ve ever had) we decided to keep exploring. We were in search of some crosses we’d seen earlier that had been erected to sailors lost at sea (I’m nothing if not morbid). What we found instead was an unholy amount of rain.
Just to give you an idea, I had to wring my pants and coat out before I set foot back in our hostel. Luckily, the kind man who ran the establishment offered to dry our clothes for us. I’d like to say that was the last time I was caught in a downpour, but I’d be lying.
On another trip, this time with the student international organization, I had the chance to go to the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr. Though it’s tiny, it has a ton of things to do.
Like Inis Mor, Inis Oirr was a center for Christian monasticism and study in the sixth century. In view of the harbor is a small sunken church from that era, surrounded by a graveyard. The day was clear and pretty warm, and I got to see the island at its best.
The entire island can be walked in about an hour. If you continue to head north, the 19th century lighthouse at the other end dominates the horizon, bordered on one side by a line of rocky beach.
After making my way slowly back through property marked by centuries-old rock walls, I came across little Loch Mor, the island’s freshwater lake. It’s within sight of the beach, so it’s a bit strange, though quiet and peaceful.
Just down from the lake is the oxidized shipwreck of the MV Plassy, a former World War Two trawler which ran aground in 1960 off the coast of the island. I went in for a bit and explored with the other students, which left me with rust flakes in my hair.
In short, my first foray onto islands was both colder and rainier than I expected, but also really amazing. And on that note, it’s back to my studies. Incidentally, if anyone has any knowledge of the impact of globalization in developing countries, hit me up.