Aran Islands

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The Aran Islands (Irish : Oileáin Árann—pronunciation: [əˈlʲɑːnʲ ˈɑːɾən] ) or The Arans (na hÁrainneacha [nə ˈhɑːɾənʲəxə] ) are a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland, with a total area of about 46 km2 (18 sq mi). They constitute the barony of Aran in County Galway, Ireland.

Irish language Goidelic language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic language of the Celtic and Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

Galway Bay bay

Galway Bay is a large bay on the west coast of Ireland, between County Galway in the province of Connacht to the north and the Burren in County Clare in the province of Munster to the south. Galway city is located on the northeast side of the bay. The bay is about 50 kilometres (31 mi) long and from 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to 30 kilometres (19 mi) in breadth. The Aran Islands are to the west across the entrance and there are numerous small islands within the bay.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.


From west to east the islands are: Inishmore (Árainn Mhór/Inis Mór [1] [ˈɑːɾənʲ woːɾ] or [ˈɪnʲɪʃ moːɾ] ), the largest; Inishmaan (Inis Meáin/Inis Meadhóin [ˈɪnʲɪʃ mʲɑːnʲ] ), the second-largest; and Inisheer (Inis Thiar/Inis Oírr/Inis Oirthir [ˈɪnʲɪʃ hiəɾ / iːɾʲ / ˈɛɾʲhɪɾʲ] ), the smallest.

Inishmore island on the west coast of Ireland

Inis Mór is the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay in Ireland and has an area of 31 km2 (12 sq mi). Inis Mór has a population of about 840, making it the largest of the Aran Islands in terms of population and largest island off the Irish coast with no bridge or causeway to the mainland. The island is famous for its strong Irish culture, loyalty to the Irish language, and a wealth of Pre-Christian and Christian ancient sites including Dún Aonghasa, described as "the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe" by George Petrie.

Inishmaan island on the west coast of Ireland

Inishmaan is the middle of the three main Aran Islands in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. It is part of County Galway in the province of Connacht. Inishmaan has a population of about 160, making it the smallest of the Aran Islands in terms of population. It is one of the most important strongholds of traditional Irish culture. The island is predominantly Irish-speaking and part of the Gaeltacht, though all inhabitants have knowledge of English.

Inisheer island on the westcoast of Ireland

Inis Oírr / Inisheer, the island's official name, Inis Oirthir, meaning "east island", and traditionally Inis Thiar, meaning "rear island". It is the smallest and most eastern of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay, Ireland. With about 260 permanent residents, it is more populous than Inishmaan but less than Inishmore. Caomhán of Inis Oírr is the island's patron saint. There are five primary settlements on Inis Oírr, including Baile Thiar, Baile an tSéipéil (Chapeltown), Baile an Chaisleáin, Baile an Fhormna and Baile an Lorgain.

The 1,200 inhabitants primarily speak Irish, the language used in local placenames. All islanders are also fluent in English. The islands belong to the Gaeltacht.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Gaeltacht primarily Irish-speaking region in Ireland

Gaeltacht is an Irish-language word for any primarily Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, the term Gaeltacht refers individually to any, or collectively to all, of the districts where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular, or language of the home.

Location map of the Aran Islands, County Galway Aran Islands location.svg
Location map of the Aran Islands, County Galway

Location and access

The approaches to the bay between the Aran Islands and the mainland are as follows:

Rossaveal Village in Connacht, Ireland

Rossaveal or Rossaveel is a Gaeltacht village in the Connemara area of County Galway, Ireland. It is the main ferry port for the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. It is about 23 kilometres (14 mi) from Galway city.

Doolin Village in Munster, Ireland

Doolin is a coastal village in County Clare, Ireland, on the Atlantic coast. It borders the spa town of Lisdoonvarna. It is a noted centre of traditional Irish music, which is played nightly in its pubs, making it a popular tourist destination. There are numerous nearby archaeological sites, many dating to the Iron Age and earlier. Doonagore Castle and Ballinalacken Castle are also in the area. The area was officially classified as part of the West Clare Gaeltacht prior to the 1950s, and maintains a connection with Irish-speaking areas - including via its maritime connection with the Aran Islands.

Inverin Village in Connacht, Ireland

Inverin is a Gaeltacht village between Spiddal and Costello in County Galway, Ireland. There are Irish-language summer colleges in the area, most notably Coláiste Lurgan and Coláiste Uí Chadhain. The actual village of Inverin is the area between Ballynahown and Minna.


A view over the karst landscape on Inishmore, from Dun Aonghasa, an ancient stone fort. Dunaonghasa2.jpg
A view over the karst landscape on Inishmore, from Dún Aonghasa, an ancient stone fort.

The islands' geology is mainly karst limestone, related to the Burren in County Clare (to the east), not the granites of Connemara to the north. This is most obvious in the construction of the walls around the fields.

Karst Topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks

Karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. It has also been documented for more weathering-resistant rocks, such as quartzite, given the right conditions. Subterranean drainage may limit surface water, with few to no rivers or lakes. However, in regions where the dissolved bedrock is covered or confined by one or more superimposed non-soluble rock strata, distinctive karst features may occur only at subsurface levels and can be totally missing above ground.

The Burren glaciated karst landscape region or alvar in northwest County Clare, Ireland

The Burren is a region of environmental interest primarily located in northwestern County Clare, Ireland, dominated by glaciated karst landscape. It measures, depending on the definition, between 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi) and 560 square kilometres (220 sq mi). The name is most often applied to the area within the circle made by the villages of Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora, Lisdoonvarna, and Ballyvaughan, and Kinvara in extreme south-western Galway, including the adjacent coastline.

County Clare County in the Republic of Ireland

County Clare is a county in Ireland, in the Mid-West Region and the province of Munster, bordered on the West by the Atlantic Ocean. There is debate whether it should be historically considered a part of Connacht. Clare County Council is the local authority. The county had a population of 118,817 at the 2016 census. The county town and largest settlement is Ennis.

The limestones date from the Viséan age of the Lower Carboniferous, formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago, and compressed into horizontal strata with fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins, and ammonites. Glaciation following the Namurian facilitated greater denudation. The result is that the Aran Islands are one of the finest examples of a Glacio-Karst landscape in the world. The effects of the last glacial period (the Midlandian) are most in evidence, with the islands overrun by ice during this glaciation. The impact of earlier karstification (solutional erosion) has been eliminated by the last glacial period. Any karstification now seen dates from approximately 11,000 years ago and the island karst is thus recent.

The Visean, Viséan or Visian is an age in the ICS geologic timescale or a stage in the stratigraphic column. It is the second stage of the Mississippian, the lower subsystem of the Carboniferous. The Visean lasted from 346.7 to 330.9 Ma. It follows the Tournaisian age/stage and is followed by the Serpukhovian age/stage.

The Carboniferous is a geologic period and system that spans 60 million years from the end of the Devonian Period 358.9 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Permian Period, 298.9 Mya. The name Carboniferous means "coal-bearing" and derives from the Latin words carbō ("coal") and ferō, and was coined by geologists William Conybeare and William Phillips in 1822.

Coral Marine invertebrates of the class Anthozoa

Corals are marine invertebrates within the class Anthozoa of the phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. Corals species include the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.

Solutional processes have widened and deepened the grykes of the limestone pavement. Pre-existing lines of weakness in the rock (vertical joints) contribute to the formation of extensive fissures separated by clints (flat pavement like slabs). The rock karstification facilitates the formation of subterranean drainage.

Huge boulders up to 25 metres (80 ft) above the sea at parts of the west facing cliffs are in some cases an extreme form of storm beach, cast there by giant waves that occur on average once per century, though more are glacial erratics. [2]

Climate and agriculture

The islands have an unusually temperate climate. Average air temperatures range from 15 °C (59 °F) in July to 6 °C (43 °F) in January. The soil temperature does not usually drop below 6 °C (43 °F) (the winter of 2010 recorded a prolonged period of snow, the first in living memory). Since grass will grow once the temperature rises above 6 °C (43 °F), this means that the island (like the neighbouring Burren) has one of the longest growing seasons in Ireland or Britain,[ citation needed ] and supports diverse and rich plant growth. Late May is the sunniest time [3] and also likely the best time to view flowers, with the gentians and avens peaking (but orchid species blooming later).


Historical population
Source: Central Statistics Office. "CNA17: Population by Off Shore Island, Sex and Year". Retrieved 12 October 2016.

Flora and fauna

The islands supports arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. Like the Burren, the Aran islands are renowned for their remarkable assemblage of plants and animals. [4]

The grikes (crevices) provide moist shelter, thus supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier Arctic or alpine plants can be found. But when the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants like the gentian and orchids.

Notable insects present include the butterfly the pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne), brown hairstreak (Thecla betulae), marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) and wood white (Leptidea sinapis); the moths, the burren green (Calamia tridens), Irish annulet (Odontognophos dumetata) and transparent burnet (Zygaena purpuralis); and the hoverfly Doros profuges .

Traditional life and Irish language

A view over Inishmore, from Dun Eochla, with Inishmaan and Cliffs of Moher in the background. View over Inishmore Aran Islands.jpg
A view over Inishmore, from Dún Eochla, with Inishmaan and Cliffs of Moher in the background.

On the cliff tops, ancient forts such as Dún Aonghasa (Dún Aengus) on Inishmór and Dún Chonchúir (Fort of Conchobar) on Inishmaan are some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. A lacework of ancient stone walls across all three islands (1,600 km or 1,000 mi in all) encloses networks of small fields to contain local livestock. Also found are early clocháns (dry-stone beehive huts from the early-Christian period). Enda of Aran founded the first true Irish monastery near Killeany (Cill Éinne or Church of Enda). In time there were a dozen monasteries on Inishmór alone. Many Irish saints had some connection with Aran: St. Brendan was blessed for his voyage there; Jarlath of Tuam, Finnian of Clonard, and St. Columba called it the "Sun of the West". In total, there are 38 national monuments on the Aran Islands.

The islands were first populated in larger numbers probably at the time of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the mid-17th century, when the Catholic population of Ireland had the choice of going "to hell or to Connacht". Many fled to the numerous islands off the west coast of Ireland where they adapted themselves to the raw climatic conditions, developing a survival system of total self-sufficiency. Their methods included mixing layers of sand and seaweed on top of rocks to create fertile soil, a technique used to grow potatoes and other vegetables. [5] The same seaweed method also provided grazing grass within stone-wall enclosures for cattle and sheep, which in turn provided wool and yarn to make handwoven trousers, skirts and jackets, hand-knitted sweaters, shawls, caps, and hide shoes. The islanders also constructed unique boats for fishing, building their thatched cottages from the materials available or trading with the mainland.

The Aran Islands are an official Gaeltacht, which gives full official status to Irish as the medium of all official services including education. An unusually high rate of Irish-language monolingualism was found among senior natives until the end of the 20th century, in large part because of the isolating nature of the traditional trades practised and the natural isolation of the islands in general from mainland Ireland over the course of the Islands' history. Young Islanders can take their leaving examination at 18 on the islands and then most leave for third level education[ citation needed ]. Many blame the decline of Irish-speaking among young members of the island community on English-language television, available since the 1960s; furthermore, many younger islanders leave for the mainland when they come of age.


Year-round ferry passenger services exist. Aran Island Ferries [6] operate a year-round service from Rossaveal in County Galway, connected by a bus service from Galway city. A heavy cargo service operates several times a week from Galway Harbour, and is operated by Lasta Mara. [7]

Aer Arann Islands operates an air service from Inverin to Inishmore Airport which has a connecting bus from Galway city. The airline announced that it would cease all flights in December 2018, [8] but an agreement was reached to continue the service until 30 September 2019. [9]

Ferries are also available to the Aran Islands from Doolin in County Clare (Seasonal 1 April – 31 October).

A road network exists on each of the islands and a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour (31 miles per hour) applies. Cars on the islands are exempt from road-worthiness testing. Most visitors to the island hire bikes as it is the most convenient way to see the islands. [10]

Road in Inishmore. Inishmore.jpg
Road in Inishmore.


Visitors and attractions

Inishmore. Aran Islands Inishmore Ireland.jpg

Visitors come in large numbers, particularly in the summer time. There are several Bronze Age and Iron Age forts and attractions on the islands:


Local artists

One of the major figures of the Irish Renaissance, Liam O'Flaherty, was born in Gort na gCapall, Inishmore, on 28 August 1896. Máirtín Ó Díreáin, one of the most eminent poets in the Irish language, was also from Inishmore. Since the year 2000, Áras Éanna Arts Centre, Inisheer has been welcoming Artists in Residence both local and international to stay and work on the inspirational Aran Islands for periods of one month.

Visiting artists

View of Inishmore coastline. Arran, Ireland.jpg
View of Inishmore coastline.

The islands have had an influence on world literature and arts disproportionate to their size. The unusual cultural and physical history of the islands has made them the object of visits by a variety of writers and travellers who recorded their experiences. Beginning around the late 19th century, many Irish writers travelled to the Aran Islands; Lady Gregory, for example, came to Aran in the late nineteenth century to learn Irish. At the start of the 20th century and throughout his life one of Ireland's leading artists, Seán Keating, spent time every year on the islands translating on to canvas all the qualities that make the inhabitants of these Atlantic Islands so unusual and in many respects remarkable. Elizabeth Rivers moved from London and lived in Aran where she created two books of art and was herself visited by artists such as Basil Rakoczi.

Many wrote of their experiences in a personal vein, alternately casting them as narratives about finding, or failing to find, some essential aspect of Irish culture that had been lost to the more urban regions of Ireland. A second, related kind of visitor were those who attempted to collect and catalogue the stories and folklore of the island, treating it as a kind of societal "time capsule" of an earlier stage of Irish culture. Visitors of this kind differed in their desires to integrate with the island culture, and most were content to be considered observers. The culmination of this mode of interacting with the island might well be Robert J. Flaherty's 1934 classic documentary Man of Aran .

One might consider John Millington Synge's The Aran Islands as a work that straddles these first two modes, it being both a personal account and also an attempt at preserving information about the pre- (or a-) literate Aran culture in literary form. The motivations of these visitors are exemplified by W. B. Yeats' advice to Synge: "Go to the Aran Islands, and find a life that has never been expressed in literature." [12]

In the second half of the twentieth century, up until perhaps the early 1970s, one sees a third kind of visitor to the islands. These visitors came not necessarily because of the uniquely "Irish" nature of the island community, but simply because the accidents of geography and history conspired to produce a society that some found intriguing or even beguiling and that they wished to participate in directly. At no time was there a single "Aran" culture: any description is necessarily incomplete and can be said to apply completely only to parts of the island at certain points in time. However, visitors that came and stayed were mainly attracted to aspects of Aran culture such as:

  1. Isolated from mainstream print and electronic media, and thus reliant primarily on local oral tradition for both entertainment and news.
  2. Rarely visited or understood by outsiders.
  3. Strongly influenced in its traditions and attitudes by the unusually savage weather of Galway Bay.
  4. In many parts characterised by subsistence, or near-subsistence, farming and fishing.
  5. Adapted to the absence of luxuries that many parts of the Western world had enjoyed for decades and in some cases, centuries.

For these reasons, the Aran Islands were "decoupled" from cultural developments that were at the same time radically changing other parts of Ireland and Western Europe. Though visitors of this third kind understood that the culture they encountered was intimately connected to that of Ireland, they were not particularly inclined to interpret their experience as that of "Irishness". Instead, they looked directly towards ways in which their time on the islands put them in touch with more general truths about life and human relations, and they often took pains to live "as an islander", eschewing help from friends and family at home. Indeed, because of the difficult conditions they found—dangerous weather, scarce food—they sometimes had little time to investigate the culture in the more detached manner of earlier visitors. Their writings are often of a more personal nature, being concerned with understanding the author's self as much as the culture around him.

This third mode of being in Aran died out in the late 1970s due in part to the increased tourist traffic and in part to technological improvements made to the island, that relegated the above aspects to history. A literary product of this third kind of visitor is An Aran Keening, [13] by Andrew McNeillie, who spent a year on Aran in 1968. Another, Pádraig Ó Síocháin, a Dublin author and lawyer, learning to speak Gaelic to the fluency of an islander became inextricably linked to the Aran handknitters and their Aran Sweaters, extensively promoting their popularity and sale around the world for nearly forty years.

A fourth kind of visitor to the islands, still prominent today, comes for spiritual reasons often connected to an appreciation for Celtic Christianity or more modern New Age beliefs, the former of which finds sites and landscapes of importance on the islands. Finally, there are many thousands of visitors who come for broadly touristic reasons: to see the ruins, hear Irish spoken (and Irish music played) in the few pubs on the island, and to experience the often awe-inspiring geology of cliffs. Tourists today far outnumber visitors of the four kinds discussed above. Tourists and visitors of the fourth kind, however, are under-represented as creators of literature or art directly connected to the island; there are few ordinary "travelogues" of note, perhaps because of the small size of the islands, and there are no personal accounts written about Aran that are primarily concerned with spirituality. Tim Robinson's Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (1986) and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (1995), and his accompanying detailed map of the islands, are another resource on the Aran Islands. Robinson's work is an exhaustive, but not exhausting, survey of the Aran geography and its influence on Aran culture from the Iron Age up to recent times. Robinson also has written, and continues to write, about the Connemara region that faces the Aran Islands on the Galway mainland.

Island crafts

The wreck of the Plassey sits on the shore of Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. Fishing is a small but important part of the area's economy. Thap aranisland wreck.jpg
The wreck of the Plassey sits on the shore of Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. Fishing is a small but important part of the area's economy.

Aran Island sweater

The islands are the home of the Aran sweater, which gained worldwide appeal during the course of the 20th century. [14] [15]

Many of the sweaters sold in the islands are made elsewhere in Ireland. [16]

Aran currach

The (modern) Aran version of the lightweight boat called the currach (Aran Islands Dialect: kørəx, korəx) is made from canvas stretched over a sparse skeleton of thin laths, then covered in tar. It is designed to withstand the very rough seas that are typical of islands that face the open Atlantic. Indeed, it is said that the Aran fishermen would not learn to swim, since they would certainly not survive any sea that swamped a currach and so it would be better to drown quickly. Despite the undoubted strength of these boats, they are very vulnerable to puncture.

The islanders were always totally self-sufficient. In calmer weather the currachs would go out and spend the night fishing under the Cliffs of Moher, returning after dawn full with fish. Nowadays they are only used inshore, tending lobster-pots. More modern versions are still built for racing at the many local regattas, or "Cruinnithe" up and down the west coast of Ireland during the summer months.

Conventional shoes cannot be worn, so the fishermen wear soft calf-skin moccasins called pampooties, made of goatskin or cowskin.


Some of the limestone sea cliffs have attracted interest from rock-climbers.[ citation needed ]

GAA sports such as Gaelic Football, hurling and Irish Handball are the islands' main sports.

As well as that the annual Red Bull cliff diving world championships are held on Inis mór every year.

See also

Brewer's Odyssey, a novel by Michael Corrigan, features Inishmore's Worm Hole, a natural rectangular pool also known as the Serpent's Lair.


  1. The official Irish name for the large island is Árainn However, the British Ordnance Survey, when surveying the landscape of west Ireland, invented the name Inishmore for the largest island probably to avoid confusion with Aran Island in County Donegal. Inis Mór the commonly Gaelicised form of this new name, has gained widespread acceptance.
  2. Brown, Paul (18 August 2004). "Britain being battered by waves hurling giant rocks". The Guardian . London.
  3. Éireann, Met. "Met Éireann – The Irish Weather Service".
  4. Webb, D. A. (1961–1963). "Noteworthy Plants of the Burren: A Catalogue Raisonné". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section B . Royal Irish Academy. 62: 117–34. ISSN   0035-8983. JSTOR   20494847 via JSTOR.
  5. Borgese, Elisabeth Mann. Seafarm: the story of aquaculture. New York: Harry N. Adams, Inc., p. 105.
  6. "Aran Island Ferries".
  7. "Home".
  8. Siggins, Lorna (6 June 2018). "Aer Arann to quit contract for Aran Islands two years ahead of time". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  10. 家電の定番:掃除機. "家電の定番:掃除機". Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  11. "Inis Mor Bike Hire – Aran Islands Bike Hire -".
  12. John Millington Synge (1906). The Aran Islands. [S.l.]: Maunsel & Roberts.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 February 2002. Retrieved 30 June 2004.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. Corrigan, Vawn (2019). Irish Aran, History, Tradition, Fashion. O'Brien Press.
  15. A Journey Into Ireland's Literary Revival by R. Todd Felton, page 54
  16. Morris, Johnny (18 March 2006). "Grail Trail". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 February 2007..
  17. Talking Tom and Friends (23 December 2014). "Talking Tom and Friends - The Audition (episode 0)". Youtube. Retrieved 5 October 2017.

Coordinates: 53°07′N9°42′W / 53.117°N 9.700°W / 53.117; -9.700

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