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2006-06-14 Bike trip on Inis Mór beats Oman experience

At times, when I visit a place for the first time, I sense some higher power, a Creator - God perhaps - is smiling down upon the proceedings. Apart from an overnighter to Inis Oírr, to perform as an abusive husband in a Janacek opera, I had never been to the Aran Islands.

 

We checked in at Connemaras Inverin airport - no immigration, no passport control, no duty-free, and free parking. Can you put your bag on the scales please?, the friendly Aer Arann man asked, now stand up on the scales yourself. I dont like this game anymore, I whimpered. Seemingly, it was for weight distribution on the flight. The plane was full, and after the smoothest, most scenic eight-minute flight ever, the eight passengers were dispatched safely on the largest of the Aran Islands. After a brief walk to our welcoming B&B Ard Éinne, we set off on rented bikes (a snip, at ¬10 a day), to make the most of the scorching June Bank Holiday weather. My bike had eighteen gears, about seventeen more than I needed.

 

Once connected to the mainland, the islands have an identical karstic landscape to the Burren, with little surface water, resembling a vast landscaped limestone rockery, with stone terraces, and those trademark stone-walls. Splashes of sea-pinks, vibrant yellow trefoils, and royal purple orchids spring out from fissures in the rock. Larks ascending, in the clear air, twitter like radio waves, protecting their young from on high. A lone plaintive cuckoo calls from behind a stone-wall. Boulders, deposited by glaciers, litter the landscape, like Natures follies.

 

In 26° heat, we cycled past picturesque Killeany pier into Kilronan (Cill Rónáin) for our morning Americano and carrot cake (for energy, you understand). We sat on the wall outside the Spar shop, and mused on how Aran has moved into the 21st century, while retaining many of the aspects of the country we once were.

 

l most like Ireland in miniature, Irish is still the first language, and dotted across the 14km-long island lie reminders from Prehistoric & Medieval history, Celtic & monastic occupation, Norman & Cromwellian invasion, famine, eviction, and celebrated literary homesteads. Cycling along the coast road, via idyllic Kilmurvy Beach, we arrived at an informative Interpretive Centre, and like a pilgrimage, made our way up the stony path to Arans proud showpiece, the imposingly splendid semicircular walled enclosure of Dún Aonghasa, half-open to the sea and the elements. Aenghus was the son of a Firbolg (doesnt that mean Stomach Men?). As I lay, prostrate on the cliff-edge, peering down the 400ft fall to the temperamental Atlantic, I wondered why this remote location had been chosen as the site for one of Europes premier historic landmarks, and prayed that the Stomach-Men were not a race of somnambulists.

 

We climbed the steep ascent to Dún Eochla (another impressive fort : Arans highest point), then freewheeled all the way back to Kilronan for dinner. The food at Pier Head House was, quite honestly, as good, or better, than any Irish restaurant. Three days previosuly I had been working in 50° heat in Oman, protected by sunblock. After a full day of cycling and walking on Inis Mór, I resembled an overweight Friendly Match. We ate al fresco, and despite stinging neck and legs, after a pint of chilled cider, melt-in-the-mouth fishcakes, halibut in a Pesto sundried-tomato crust, Lime and Ginger Crème Brûlée, and a bottle of Chablis, the pain was dulled somewhat, even though the homeward cycle has perhaps led to multiple points on my cycling license. The following morning we took a lengthy cliff-walk, past the somewhat disappointing Túr Mairtín, to see Arans puffing-holes (blow-holes), though with no wind, and calm seas, those holes werent a-puffin!

 

The slanting, sculpted, carved coastline was testament to the erosive power of the mighty Atlantic. Guillemots and gulls called from their precarious ledges. Another cliff-top walk led us to the grandeur of Dún Dúcathair (the Black Fort), for me the most impressive. Aran was at one time a renowned seat of learning and religion. St Enda brought Christianity here, and scholars travelled from across Christendom to Aran of the Saints. Near the fort of Dún Eoghanachta, lies the intriguing monastic site of Na Seacht dTeampaill.

 

 

I feel privileged to have savoured highlights from this treasure-trove of archaeological, antiquarian and ecclesiastical interest, and to have viewed it at its very best.