115. A Gaelic Day

A Gaelic Day: Before Sloan came to Ireland I met up with two high school teachers from the Midwest, Jay from Detroit and Laurie from Chicago, and we spent 3 fun days exploring Dublin together. We got along so well we decided to skip town and head to Galway for the weekend. Once there we took a day to explore the largest of the Aran Islands, Inishmore. The islands are one of the last vestiges of the traditional way of life with predominantly Irish speaking communities who until just a few decades ago still lived without electricity. I had a great day and if I’d known better I would have spent the whole weekend there. We opted to see the island on foot and spent about 6 hours walking the length of the island in variably cold, warm, hot and drizzling weather. We took a long and steep hike up a hillside to have our lunch on a pristine 850 year-old Celtic ring fort (above). Old Celtic ruins are not that hard to come by in Ireland but ruins of this quality and with this much privacy (no ticket counter) are exceptionally rare. It was fantastic fun pretending to be Celts defending our land from the Viking invaders while eating my weird nutella, banana and cheese on baguette lunch. We walked along the ocean and marveled at the coast and the seemingly random labyrinth of stonewalls fencing in just about every inch of the island. All of Inishmore used to be covered completely in stone and the walls were constructed to make room for fertile land for agriculture and sheep and cattle grazing. They are an architectural and visual marvel. With just a few hours before the last ferry back to Galway we hailed down a taxi to take us the final few kilometers to Dun Aengus, the mac-daddy of tourist destinations on the island. A pre-Christian Celtic fort dating back to the Iron Age about 1,000 B.C perched on a pristine cliffside 300 feet above the ocean thrashing below. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was absolutely breathtaking and it was the first time I caught sight of Ireland’s dramatic cliffs edges and coastline (inset).

Our taxi driver, a tweed-wearing native named Eamonn, was waiting for us when we scaled down the rocky trail to the parking lot. We assumed he would take us straight to the ferry, it did leave in less than an hour, but he had other plans. He knew we had only walked the main drag of his beloved island and he wasn’t going to let us leave without first seeing as many of the other sights as he could show us. At one point he picked up a teenage kid and drove him home along the way. He and this kid spoke only Irish to each other and when the kid got out, Eamonn explained to us that the boy was a mainland student living with his family for 6 weeks to learn the traditional ways of Irish island life which included absolutely no English. This was a program I’d heard of before and it is one of the few successful efforts to reach out to the youth in Ireland and entrust in them the gift of keeping the old life alive. He then took us to the smallest stone church in Ireland and the seal colony along the bay and showed us the house where the long since forgotten movie “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed. A legitimate claim to fame for remote and tiny Inishmore back in the 50’s and 60’s but surprisingly still hyped by local merchants selling t-shirts and post cards. My Midwest friends were getting antsy that maybe this crazy old man would make us miss our ferry but I wasn’t worried. He was probably related to the ferry captain and could get us another ride if he had to anyway. Just as the anxiety hit a fever pitch we arrived at the ferry 2 minutes before it pulled away but not before I got to make Eamonn blush and giggle by asking for him, the best taxi driver turned guide I’ve had in Ireland, to pose for a picture.

 

  1. furey says:

    that’s a great shot of the cliffs…good story.

  2. nancy says:

    I love The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford. Beautiful, sappy, moving, chilling look at gender wars mitigated by cultural expectations and curiosity. And with the glorious Maureen O’Hara…