Friday, September 24, 2010

Ireland Day Six: Inishmore

("Happy cats or an Ireland free?"  No, no, not that Inishmore.  First thing I learned today:  Inishmore means "big island."  There are multiple Inishmores around Ireland.)

We had a choice today -- the choice was the Aran Islands or ... some stuff on land.  We weren't entirely clear on the pros and cons of each option, but one fact sorta stood out at me on this one:  If I go to the Aran Islands, I won't spend hours in the Land Rover.  

Not that I'm not enjoying the Land Rover, but the idea of a day seeing an island at my own damn pace and not being piled into a tour bus (even one as cool as ours) was pretty much irresistable.

Turns out that only 3 of us actually took this option.  So, we took a ferry over to the Aran Islands -- well, the big one, Inishmore -- and left the other 9 to take an overland route to our destination for the evening (we'd take another ferry and meet them there).

Upon arrival at Inishmore, we learned that there were basically 3 ways of getting around the island:  a tour bus, a pony & trap, or a bicycle.  The other two chose to rent bikes and cycle around the place freely.  I suck at bicycling, which left me with the other two.  And I absolutely refused to cram myself into another tour bus -- especially not with 30 total strangers.  Result:  hired a pony & trap.

Now, it was a bit expensive (compared to the other two alternatives) but the result was that for about $65, I got a private tour of Inishmore.  Learned all about the place from Steve, my driver, who is a 4th generation resident of the place.  And if you want to see a place that time forgot, Inishmore is the place.  They didn't get electricity until 1975.  (Although satellite TV and wireless internet soon followed.)  

This next bit would probably be easier with pictures (you may get a giant photodump tomorrow -- no promises, but we all talked about doing a bunch of photo editing on the Land Rover tomorrow), but, anyway... remember how I talked about the stone cashel ... just stones piled on each other (sans concrete) to make the structure?  Well, this means of construction was used to create low walls pretty much covering the entirety of Inishmore, about a thousand years ago.  Said walls divide the grazeable land into little patches for the animals.  And they're still in use today.  So picture me in the horse trap clippity-clopping down the road, with these stoned-off sections of land on either side as far as they eye can see, and the occasional group of horses or cows doing their thing in their own little areas.  Overlook the fact that the road down which we are clippity-clopping is actually paved, and I can be looking at a sight from pretty much any time in the last millenium.

We also passed houses that were a hundred (or, in the case of the little thatched-roof cottages, several hundred) years old, which also added to the whole can't-quite-place-it-in-time feel of the place.

The highlight of Inishmore is an old stone fort (built right up against a cliff edge) that dates back to ... shit, I really tried to remember this ... Iron Age, I think.  There was a bit of a climb up to it (after which, I am happy to report, my shoes are now again cow poop-free) but the view was spectacular.  Not just the fort and (certainly) the cliffs ... but the walk itself.  I mean, despite the fact that this is the second most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, it wasn't all that crowded today (the tail end of the tourist season).  At one point, walking back down the path, I could see no other living person in any direction -- stone fort behind me, view of a bunch of low stone walls dividing the countryside in front of me, and I'm on a path that is nothing more than grass and some stones.  If I'd been hoping for a bit of solitude, I hadn't expected to find it on the path to a popular tourist attraction, but here it was.

Back to the trap and finished out my journey.  (My driver seemed genuinely surprised when I gave him a tip -- I told him to buy an apple for the horse or something.  He said he'd pick up some carrots for him and I believed him.)  Napped a bit on the ferry back to civilization, and met up with my two biking companions when we disembarked, and met up with the Land Rover shortly therafter.

Made our way to Clifden, Connemara (in County Galway), our stop for the last night of the tour.  We're in a much nicer B&B than the Activity Lodge of last night (did I mention there was a hair dryer in my room -- but one which had a plug for a different kind of outlet than provided?) -- this place is charming, and our host couldn't be sweeter.  Four or five us arranged to have a massive photo sharing session, so we went into the lounge, plugged in four computers, and started exchanging memory cards from our cameras, snagging whatever pix we wanted from each other.  We didn't get it all done before dinner, but it's a good start.

Nearly all of us went into town for dinner (one couple doesn't eat much) and ended up smushing three tables together in a pub so we could all eat together -- we exchanged email addys and took more group photos (this time with Sam).  The pub even had internet access (score!) so we started researching tomorrow's destinations.  We stuck around a bit for the music -- it was our last dinner together in Ireland, and we didn't really want it to end.

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