Friday, October 26, 2001

Off to the Island

Off to the Island

We were willing to try this again. The rain was again hammering the earth and the wind was strong enough to blow us off balance. We were not going to miss the bus again today, so we stood out by the road. Buses passed us by and Ron went into the house to check with Patty again. We were soaked regardless of the umbrellas, since the wind was blowing the rain in all directions. As Patty was calling the bus company, the bus showed up for us, late, but they showed. The hostess on the bus told us they would not charge us for the bus ride as an apology for forgetting us yesterday. We thought that was decent of them.

It was quite a long ride to get to the ferry dock in Rossaveal. The traffic was bad due to an accident. They needed the jaws of death to open the remains of the car open like a canopener. Ron looked at me and I at him. He said “We are not renting a car.” While at the same moment I was saying “See, probably an American driver”.

Many of the homes we passed had these incredible stonewalls. None of them were cemented, but stacked with only physics holding them up. Most of these stone barriers were of irregular shapes. Some enclosed the local homes and others were only enclosing grassy areas with cow or horse grazing.

The ferry ride was an adventure. One of the crew told those of us sitting in the front that due to rough waters, this would be a grueling ride and those of us sitting in the front would feel it the most. We had our opportunity to move at that point. We did not. It was a bouncy ride and we were able to see walls of water on both sides of the boat and we fly into the air and splat back down into the water. An hour and twenty minutes later, we were at Aran Island. All along the dock were tour buses or rather tour vans that were hawking their ability to show us the island. We walked past them, thanking them and stating that we wanted to walk. That was until we went to the tourist center and found out that some of the sights were two hours by foot each way. We would never make it back in time for the boat back. The island was freezing cold and very windy. The rain came and went, but when it did rain, it poured. So we did what we have learned to do in situations such as this. We went for tea. The sugar packets have Irish philosophical sayings on them in English and in Gaelic. Here are a couple of samples.

Far away hills are green - “Is glas iad conic I bfad uainn”

The man with boots does not have to worry about where he puts his feet -

“Is cuma le fear na ca’ gcuireann se’ a chos”

Silence is golden - “Is binn be’al ina thost”

What is strange is wonderful – “ An rud is annamh is tontach”

And my personal favorite: Though little it is tasty – “Bionn blas ar an mbeaga’n”

The most prudent course of action was to take a tour to maximize our time. This island is only nine miles by two miles, so it is not that large, but our time was limited. As we walked out of the restaurant, there was a tour van sitting there. I went to ask the cost, five pounds per person, a bargain. That is how we met Tom (pronounced Tum). Tom was ruddy skinned, but with a complexion like cream. He is in his fifties and has lived on the island all his life. His family history goes back two generations before him. He knew the island so well that he was able to drive while his head was turned to tell us the tour information and not even be close to scaring the wits out of us.

There were two other Americans that were going to share the tour. As serendipity would have it they are from New Jersey. Artie was a construction worker on the World Trade Center when it was being built. He now commutes to New York for work every day. We never found out what Kathy does, but she was in Egypt last year for a Past Life Regression Conference.

Tom drove us over the north island, which has a population of nine hundred. The two smaller islands have a population of three hundred each. Tom was agreeable to stop whenever we wanted to snap a picture. Tom explained that only Gaelic is spoken on the island except for with the tourists.

The island is covered in limestone rock. I have never seen so much rock. The way that they solved this problem was to dig up rock, break it in pieces and make fences with it. The entire island that is utilized is broken up into small rock fenced off areas. They use these for boundary lines and in the areas where there is not a house; they use the area for sheep, cows, and horses to graze. We did not find out if they had to dismantle a section in order to get the animal in and then reassemble it, but that is the assumption since it would be so difficult lifting a bull over the fence. Tom explained that the fenced off areas are small and numerous because they did not want to have to cart the rock far away. Therefore, there are thousands of these little fenced off areas. This is the island where the movie “The Secret Life of Rowan Inish” was filmed as well as “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne. They love John Wayne here. Duh?

On the island there are three churches and each smaller island has one church each. There is one priest who has his own plane and flies from island to island. The priest is also a mechanic. He alternates the mass times and serves at all of them. Oliver Cromwell destroyed some of the oldest churches back in the 17th century.

There are seven schools on the big island. One school that we passed has seventy students and seven teachers. How is that for a great ratio? Everything is taught in Gaelic.

The best part of the island tour was the ancient fort, Dun Aonghasa. Tom was not able to drive us up to it since there is no road. It cost a pound to enter the grounds, then it is a long hike over tons and tons of stone to reach the fort. There is little information as to why a fort was needed in the first place. The fort was built somewhere between 4,000 and 2,000 B.C. The signs are different wherever you look. One sign states 4,000 and the other 2,000, but they both agree that is was B.C. There has been little archeological evidence to be able to date it more specifically or to gather more information as to what the purpose was. The fort is built in a horseshoe shape with the open end on a huge cliff, almost three hundred feet above sea level, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Of course it is all built from stones that are piled on each other. We were warned not to go too close to the cliff, due to the heavy winds. There is a story about a bachelor party that was held up there and one of the party goers who had too much to drink, was blown off to his death. Of course, not being deterred, Ron had to crawl out to take a video. With his Guardian Angel out on a stress leave (this being an example why), I had two choices. I could walk away and think about how much longer I could stay in Europe since one can live cheaper than two or choice two which was stand there and nag him to get away from the cliff. Since he has been such company and has not frayed my nerves, I stayed and nagged. Later, he admitted it was a foolhardy thing to do.

Behind the walls of the fort are another set of walls as a fortification wall. There were tunnels through the walls for quick escapes and for getting messages around the wall without being exposed. Beyond the second wall are yet more carved spikes of limestone (cheveaux de fries) that are set into the ground in dense clusters. Supposedly, this was for keeping enemies from riding horses in an attack, but there is no evidence that horses were ever on the island until they were brought from the mainland. Little is known about the people that built this fort. It was a formable hike up, but it was well worth it. Coming down the rain started which made the limestone rock very slippery.

Many of you may be familiar with the Aran Island, because they are famous for the Irish hand knit fisherman’s sweaters. Since farming is so poor on this island and the few crops they can grow are potatoes, turnips, and other winter vegetables, they are dependent on the sea to make their living. Every family has a knitted crest for their sweaters that are developed by the women. When a wife has a son, she creates a distinctive pattern square for his sweater. With the second son, the first son’s square is knit into it along with another distinctive pattern for the second son, and so on. If a sailor is lost at sea, the patterns on the sweaters are sometimes used for identification purposes. Naturally, the sweaters are all wool, which is why we did not purchase any, not to mention room in the suitcases.

Tom brought us to a little café on the island for lunch and Artie and Kathy were good lunch company. Ron and Artie had bowls of vegetable soup that they said were delicious, but Kathy and I only had tea. We were glad to have walked to the fort before lunch. We needed the warm up after the walk back in the wind and rain. When Tom picked us up again, we had a few more minor things to see and then back to where we started for some store browsing before we went back to the boat.

With the wind at our backs, the boat ride was not as tumultuous as it was going. However, when we arrived at the dock, the bus was not there. It took over an hour for the bus to show up. So much for this company. Our other tours are booked with another company.

Back in town, we went to a pub that has authentic Irish music and listened while we drank a pint. I am missing out on the great tastes of this endless variety of beers. A little snack was all we could handle before going back home again and YES, I am going to whine about not having taste buds. I thought by now they would return and they haven’t. Irish cuisine is nothing to worry about missing, but I do want to taste the beers at least, for heavens sake. There has not been a thing in any of the bakeries that compares to what we saw in Scotland or Wales. God knows a scone is not worth the energy of chewing even if you have hypersensitive taste buds, but without them it is like chewing on gravel.

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