We set out to catch a ferry by the Atlantic Ocean to get to the Aran Islands. We went to the main island called Inishmore. As one tour guide joked, next stop, Boston! Weather wise, this was probably one of the most beautiful days we had.
When we arrived, we were told that the first thing we should do is check out the Aran Sweater Market. They sold sweaters that were made from sheep's wool. Cody and I each got a sweater, which I'll point out as we go along.
From there, we had the option of joining a bike tour for 10 pounds. We weren't really interested in pedalling around the island so we started walking. Suddenly, a driver of a small tour bus pulled up beside us and asked us if we wanted to join the tour. At first we weren't sure if this was something we wanted to do, but he came out and offered us a tour for the same amount it would have been to rent a bike. So we jumped on it.
I was actually very thankful that things worked out the way they did. Our guide lived on the island, and was able to give us information about the place that we would not have learned otherwise. We stopped at a little viewing site hoping to see some seals, however they must have have been elsewhere that day. From there we went to a spot called the Seven Churches.
It's not very certain as to where the name of 'seven churches' originates from. However there is a brief history here that gives some ideas of where it might have originated: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/seven-churches
The Aran Islands became renown for its education. And so the Romans would actually send students to the Aran Islands in order to be educated.
This may be why the site is referred to as the 'Seven Churches', as there are seven Romans that were buried here. They share this cemetery with modern locals as well as the old ruins.
Our tour guide shared that because the island is so rocky, they can only bury their dead so far down. Unfortunately when the seas come up each year it shifts the rock formations, it disturbs the ground they have to rebury the dead.
Speaking of rocks... there's a lot of them on this island. The houses are built directly on the bedrock. Homes, fences, and as you can see above, watering systems are based on what they can build with all these rocks. The rocks were cleared to make room for homes and pasture land. In order to create top soil, early settlers brought up sand and seaweed from the sea in order to start vegetation on the island.
Below: A faraway photo of the Church of Saint Benan. This church dates back to the 7th century and was said to have been the original church settlement. Saint Benan was also said to have been a disciple of St. Patrick.
From there, we were dropped off at another little village and advised to stop for lunch and check out Dun Aonghasa - the oldest stone fort in Western Europe. Findings suggest that this place has been dwelled in since 1500 BC!
For more information on this fort, I would suggest taking a quick read here: https://www.aranislands.ie/dun-aonghasa-inis-mor-island
Why was this pile of rocks so important to maintain and keep up through the centuries? Why was so much effort made to habitat this island and have a military presence here? Our guide says that the reason is because this was essentially the back door to England. So during war times with the Spanish and the French, this was made an outpost to warn the mainlanders if there were any approaching enemy ships.
Next stop... Boston! lol
Below: Cody got down on his belly and leaned over the edge to capture this one... it's a bit of drop...
After our hike, we were STARVING! And had the best bowl of Beef and Guinness stew that we had ever had. Meanwhile, on this date, it was snowing back home.
After lunch was over, our driver took us for a bit more of a tour. He was able to point out to us where the old blacksmith used to live. The three different villages on the island (the island itself only has a population of 900 people lol) and other interesting points.
One being, that their schools teach in Irish Gaelic. The only class that is taught in English is English. During the summer, folks from the mainland will often send their children to Inishmore in order to have them learn Gaelic.
To the left, you'll notice that this building gives a good example of a thatched roof which was typically used back in the day.
Our guide took us to the south side of the island where he explained that there isn't any predators on the island. So when a few of the locals 'let out' their rabbits... they overpopulated the island. There were hundreds running around the southern part. We were told that they are considered a pest, and that some of the locals snare them for a source of meat.
We were then dropped off at 'The Bar', the only bar on the island so it seems aptly named. We waited for our ferry and then headed back to Galway for supper and an early night in.
Now that my love of ancient, medieval history had been satisfied the day before. We were about to learn some more modern day history.
On the map to the left, you can very clearly see the stone walls of Londonderry/Derry.
For a quick history behind why the city got two names, I would suggest reading the information on this site:
Londonderry Derry has been a site of civil unrest for a long time. During Queen Elizabeth I's reign, she 'planted' loyal Protestant English families to Northern Ireland. Of course, this didn't sit well Nationalist Catholic Irish families.
Of course the wall was constructed to protect the Protestant families.
We met up with our walking tour guide, who right off the hop declared himself 'Chirish' and possible the only Buddhist in Londonderry Derry.
With Starbucks in hand, we headed on our tour.
Above: As we exited the walled in part of the city, this sign greeted us. Derry is what the city was originally called and what Nationalist Irish folks call the city to this day.
Below: There is graffiti all over the city that still speaks to the tension between the two communities.
Above: The Bloody Sunday memorial site.
We passed through the 'Butcher's Gate' to enter into the walled part of the city.
As you can see in the photo below, sentiments are still strong among the Loyalists.
Below: Our guide (who photobombed the bottom left corner of this image haha) took us for a city hall tour. This room boasts several stained glass windows and this organ which is said to have thousands of pipes. This room was once heavily damaged by a bomb set by the IRA during the Troubles. Most of the organ was salvaged but the windows all had to be replaced.
We had a few minutes until our bus left for our next destination, so we took a quick stroll on the Peace Bridge.
There is a lot of history that has happened here over the centuries and I know I haven't done the story justice. If you have the time and are interested in learning more about the history here, I would strongly suggest it!
From here, we headed to our hotel room to get settled in and have some supper. Then finished the night off with some ten pin bowling. It wasn't a party till the fire alarms started going off in the middle of the night! lol
From here, we head to the Giant's Causeway!
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Till next time, friends!