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Where in the World?

Posted on 6/16/2020 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Stretching across the green Aran Islands, a network of stone walls enclose fields for the islands’ few residents.

Question: Where in the world are blustery and bare islands covered with a latticework of ancient stonewalls?

Answer: Aran Islands,Ireland

Stark, stony, and raw with beauty, the Aran Islands, located off the coast of western Ireland, have been the home of brave Irishmen for more than three thousand years. Comprised of three rocky islands named Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, they are the last stop between Europe and the Americas.

The Aran Islands emerge from the chilly Atlantic waters 18 miles and a 45-minute ferry ride away from the mouth of Galway Bay. Here, Gaelic-speaking residents have been self-sufficient for thousands of years. Little is known about the first settlers to cross over to the islands, but it’s likely that they came in search of fertile land or bountiful fishing. They found both, and since then, the small population has lived primitively off the land—there wasn’t electricity available on the islands until the 1970s.

Seven ancient stone forts can be found among the three islands which were constructed as far back as the year 1000 BCE. The most notable fort is known as Dun Aengus on Inishmore. It’s considered one of the most impressive of its kind in all of Europe with three ringed walls that practically hang off the edge of a 330-foot drop into the ocean. Not much is known about the fort, except for its use to defend against invaders. As the water laps at the cliff below, the fort has slowly been breaking off and falling into the Atlantic waters.

Another notable feature of the Aran Islands is the network of stone walls that crisscross across the island and enclose small fields to contain livestock. This latticework of stonewalls are typical Irish dry stone walls, built without the use of mortar, and have been in use throughout the thousands of years that residents have lived on the islands. This style of wall has held great significance in Ireland and England for its unique process and was added to a UNESCO list of important cultural heritage.

For visitors, the blustery Aran Islands often feel like a step back in time. From the meandering roads lined with ancient stone walls to the houses made with thatched roofs and the Iron Age fortifications, the Aran Islands are certainly a hidden gem along Ireland’s western coast.

9 More Fascinating Facts about the Aran Islands:

  • The largest of the three islands is Inishmore, a name that means “big island.” It’s a mere nine miles of land with a population of about 840 residents—most of whom have generations of family members who lived on the island.

  • The only developed town among the islands is also located on Inishmore. The town contains a cluster of bed and breakfasts, small shops, pubs, and churches.

  • There are very few cars on the islands, so getting around by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage is much more common.

  • The rocky islands are made up of limestone and don’t have naturally occurring topsoil. After the land was deforested to use for building materials, they started to experience fast erosion. To solve the problem, residents added seaweed and sand to build the soil back up.

  • The smallest island, Inisheer, has a massive shipwreck of a boat that ran into rocks during a storm in the 1960s. The entire crew was rescued by locals, and after the ship’s cargo, whiskey, washed ashore, the locals and crew enjoyed a lively celebration.

  • Once Christianity came to Ireland, it also spread among the islands and several churches and monastic sites were built. These became a retreat of sorts for clerics in training.

  • The most notable monastery is Killeany Monastery, which was built by the Irish Saint, Edna of Aran on Inishmore in the year 490 AD. Many other Irish saints also have a connection with the islands including St. Brendan and St. Columba.

  • Life on the islands was pretty quiet for centuries until the late 1600s when Oliver Cromwell and his forces plundered the churches and forts on Inishmore. After building their own castle, Inishmore was a little too desolate for them, and they abandoned the island.

  • The islands are home to the Aran sweater, a style of white cable knit sweater that originated on the islands and gained worldwide popularity over the course of the 20th century.

Take a ferry ride and explore the Aran Islands during Irish Adventure: Dublin, Belfast & the Northwest Counties.

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