The Aran Islands are three islands, inis mór (big island), Inis Meáin (the Middle one) and Inis Oírr (east island) found just off the west coast of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean. The three beautiful islands have maintained aspects of Irish culture that have elsewhere died out.
Known for their traditionally built stone walls which encase green fields, these beautiful islands make for a unique place to visit. Each of the islands has something unique to offer that sets it apart from its sisters.
Let’s take a look in more detail.
Inis mor is the largest of the three islands and home to some ancient historical ruins. Best known is Dún Aonghasa, or Fort Aonghas, a prehistoric hill fort which stands at the edge of a 100-metre-high cliff. It is thought that the structure dates back to the bronze age and tourists can learn about the ancient monument by visiting the museum located nearby.
One of Ireland’s most prolific Irish language writers, Máirtín ó Direáin, was born and raised on Inis Mór. Much of his work centres on his upbringing on the island and the images in his poems are reminiscent of a quiet rural life only found in remote places.
Nestled between its two sisters, Inis Meain literally translates to “the middle one”. It is also the most overlooked of the islands, with just 170 people calling the island home. It is here that the Aran jumper was born.
These beautiful hand crafted garments were first made by the wives of fishermen who would knit unique cable patterns from undyed white wool. The wool was originally untreated, with the natural lanolin from the sheep making the garments waterproof. The jumpers became world famous in the 1950s and 60s, when they were first exported from the island and appeared in films and fashion magazine Vogue. Today, they are sold all over Ireland and are one of the biggest selling items in tourist shops each year.
The last of the three islands is just three kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide, yet this tiny island is well worth visiting. Its shores are lined with beautiful Sandy beaches, while the rest of the island’s landscape is similar to the Burren of county Clare. Each summer, many Irish teenagers retreat to Inish Oírr for Irish college.
A rite of passage for the Irish teenager, Irish colleges are found in many Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas and their programmes are designed to improve Irish language learner’s level of Irish before their compulsory exams in the subject. Here, they experience life in an all-Irish speaking environment, heading to traditional dances, or Céilí, each night and playing Irish sports after their lessons.
The Aran islands are a must visit to anyone travelling the west of Ireland. Their inhabitants remain connected to the roots of Irish culture. Surrounded by nature, the islanders are hardworking and welcoming people.
Tourism keeps the modern islands alive, with thousands of tourists visiting the island each year. With so much to offer, it’s not hard to see why.
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