Return to Aran

At long last our summer vacation of 2020 was upon us. This year was supposed to be the year of the French but alas, with covid restrictions that was not to be the case so we found ourselves spending four nights in the Connacht Hotel in Galway. To be honest, we were glad to have that as the hotel was only able to give us 3 nights when we originally inquired about a reservation. We have been to Galway a few times before “en famille” and always like the friendly and slightly off-kilter vibe of the place. However this time around, myself and my wife were determined to do something more memorable than simply Salthill and Eyre Square. So I delved into the memory bank of my youth and came up with the idea for a day-trip to Inis Mor, the largest of the nearby Aran Islands.

My only previous trip to Inis Mor had been as a youngster on a family summer holiday when I was as of yet blissfully unaware of the magical places outside of Ireland, so it seemed very exotic at the time. My wife Niki had been there much more recently doing the Aran Islands half-marathon, although she didn’t remember much of the place because she had been slogging through a grueling 21 kms. As if running 21 kms isn’t difficult enough, she chose to do it over extremely hilly terrain on a notoriously windy outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean. Anyway despite the protestations of our children (Lochlan (9) in particular wasn’t keen on visiting a place where wifi was likely low on the agenda), we booked our return ticket with Aran Island Ferries and set off for an adventure.

The starting off point of Rosaveel was the same as 30 odd years ago.  This had the added significance that it meant we had to drive past Colaiste Chamuis in the Gaeltacht where I spent two stints in my teenage years. As we passed the school, I got a flashbacks to multiple games of gaelic football and in particular to an errant piece of chewing gum which was mysteriously placed on my seat during one of the numerous cheilis. I never found the culprit and certainly my Ionsai na hInse wasn’t up to scratch that evening! Rosaveel doesn’t seem to have changed much but the ferry to Inis Mor has gotten a lot bigger and thankfully swifter. My childhood recollections are of bobbing around on the Atlantic for over an hour before reaching the safe haven of Kilronan (Inis Mor’s only notable village), whereas this time round we powered through the waves and made the crossing in 40 minutes. Now there was still some rocking and rolling but it was of the theme park rather than life or death variety!

Once we had arrived in Kilronan we headed straight for the bike hire shop. Just like my last trip, the best way to get around the island was by pedal power so we got fitted up for our bikes. Ella (3) would be my strapped-in companion for the day, the boys (not for the first time) got competitive over what size bike they could choose, while Niki had to overcome her mistrust of all things 2-wheeled (justifiably it would turn out). After much saddle and helmet adjusting we headed out of town to the sound of Ella repeatedly saying “not too fast Daddy not too fast!”. She needn’t have worried, five minutes later at the summit of the first of many of the islands little hills I was out of puff and thankful that I wasn’t in a group of experienced cyclists. Fortunately the weather was stunning and already we were being treated to breath-taking views of Connemara, the Burren and the magnificent Atlantic. Ella wasn’t so impressed by the views but was overjoyed by the fauna all around her, “look daddy a real donkey / horse / cow / goat” was a happy and common refrain as we made our journey along the island. Our destination (once again like it had been 30 years ago) was the prehistoric fort of Dun Aengus.

So after 7kms of hill climbing and descending which involved yours truly pretending to be Stephen Roche (with my very own cheerleader) battling against my two elder boys (or Delgado and Indurain as I liked to call them) for the polka-dot jersey, we reached the blue ribbon beach of Portmurvy at the base of the hill which led to Dun Aengus. Niki and Oscar had taken a more leisurely approach to the journey and were sufficiently enticed by the white sand and luxuriant blue sea to forego a further 1km hike uphill, Ella was also delighted to be able to spend some mummy-time. So myself, Aaron and Lochlan parked the bikes and headed up the cliff-top perch, for Dun Aengus is situated directly 100 metres above the Atlantic, excellent for defending against raiders, not so good if you have a fear of heights! The views from the summit were once again stunning and it really did feel that you might be able to spot North America on the horizon, or at least Iceland! On the way back to Kilronan we took the much easier low road (not something I can remember doing 30 years ago mum and dad!) which passed along by a seal colony for bonus points. The seals were quite easy to locate as they seemed to be singing to each other in a similar manner to my own crooning to Niki in our courting days!

By the time we returned to Kilronan we had all built up quite an appetite so the food in Ti Joe Wattys was gulped down followed by ice creams in the local Spar (the one and only supermarket on the island). In between we did have our one and only fall of the day as Niki’s dismount left a lot to be desired but luckily she had only a bruised shin, damaged pride and a muddy jumper to show for it. Last but not least we headed to another beach for some relaxation and pebble throwing before powering back across Galway Bay to the mainland.

A wonderful day trip and great to be able to connect my own childhood experience with the next generation. Who knows, maybe they’ll be back again in 30 years time, I hope the experience won’t have changed much in the meantime.

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