The last time two times I visited Galway, Ireland I did the Cliffs of Moher thing, and while it was one of the better tours I’ve ever done, this time I wanted to do something different. That different ended up being a day trip on January 2, 2017 to the largest of the three Aran Island, Inis Mór.
I didn’t expect anything from Inis Mór other than a nice day in a new place. The research I did was minimal. I knew the basic history, the fact that it was the largest of the three Aran Islands, one of the last Gaelic speaking areas of Ireland, and what the “must see” attractions were: the seal observation point, Dún Aonghasa, and lots of other historical/archaeological landmarks.
Excitement bubbled in my stomach as the Islands appeared before us, jutting out of the Atlantic as Islands tend to do. After we disembarked the ferry, we hustled towards one of the bike rental places. My friend, and travel partner, Catherine swung herself onto her rusted red bike with ease, while I scrambled up mine like a child trying to climb onto their parents bed. Legs straining to reach the petals.
During high school I took cycling classes three to four times a week at our local gym, but it’d been at least 3 years since my last class and as we peddled up and down the hills of Inis Mór’s Eastern coast, I cursed myself for not continuing those classes during college. My thighs scolding me with each pump. In the end, I gave up most hills and walked them, pulling my bike with me like it was a stubborn pony.
The ride down the hills made every bit of soreness in my butt worth it. The salty sea breeze, filled with the scents of fresh seaweed and seal poop, whipping my cheeks red. The stress I felt because of my new job that awaited me back in the U.S. drifting away the more we peddled. Down and up and around we went.
For lunch we ate at Teach Nan Phaidi. A white stone cottage next to Paudy’s Ice Cream, and across from a row of local souvenir shops. Teach Nan Phaidi is the sort of place where you walk in and there’s a crackling fire warming the small seating area, both locals and tourists alike sat at the tables. I half expected my grandmother to walk out of the kitchen with a mug full of warm milk for me, like she used to do when I was younger.
Now, I’ve had a lot of sandwiches in my life. Quite a few in Ireland, and I can say without a doubt that the simple ham sandwich I had at Teach Nan Phaidi is the best sandwich I’ve ever had. I dream about it. The crisp texture of the lettuce, paired with the sweet ham, rich cheddar cheese, and rye bread that could have sustained me for the rest of my life—it was just too good, and after a morning of biking it was just what I needed. Catherine had the Guinness stew and it was amazing too. But, I will dream about that sandwich till the day I die.
After lunch we made the hike up to Dún Aonghasa: one of the many prehistoric stone forts built on the Aran Islands. The path leading up to the fort a combination of a winding dirt pathway, surrounded on both sides by cattle grazing fields, and a steep rock staircase. The staircase leads to the doorstep of the front archway that separated our world from that of Dún Aonghasa, and if you turned around at the top you would see the whole island spread before you.
Stepping through that doorway, a stone arch that has lasted millennia (though most of the fort has been recently renovated), is like walking through a portal to another world, another universe where the myths and legends of Ireland are true. The grass on the other side rolls like waves. The thin, green blades shifting with the wind. Back and forth, beckoning you towards the main attraction of the fort: the cliffs.
At the Cliffs of Moher there are barriers in the main area to keep visitors from getting too close to the edge, and walking down the sides, where there are no barriers, is sometimes too windy to do so safely, but at Dún Aonghasa there are no barriers. Nothing stopping you from stepping off the cliff and plummeting to your death.
We sat down at the edge of the cliff inside of the main wall, and my legs dangled over the ledge. The ocean beat at the walls below us. A chorus of waves cresting along the island. The Atlantic itself spread out for miles and miles and miles. Never ending from our point of view. The horizon a dark blue line at the edge of the world. A thousand years ago, if I’d sat in this same spot I would have gazed at that line, the distinct change from sky to sea, and known that the world ended there. No Americas beyond it. But, since I do know that the world does not end at the horizon it was comforting to think that there was something else; Something beyond what I could perceive.
The bike riding, and seal spotting made the trip to Inis Mór worth it. Dún Aonghasa made the whole trip to Ireland something I’ll never forget. It gave me that sense of peace, and promise for a future– something past what I was experiencing– that I needed. That makes going to my job everyday worth it, because I know one day I’ll make it back, sit at that cliff again and wonder at the horizon.
There’s a special place in my heart for Inis Mór. The next time I go back to Ireland I plan on exploring the other two Island. Maybe even make it to Skellig Michael. There’s so much that the West Coast of Ireland has to offer that I’ve not yet experienced.
If you have a favorite place in Ireland, let me know! I’ve been to a lot of places in Ireland, big and small alike, but I know there are parts of the country I’d never think of visiting.
Thanks for reading!