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Three Days on Inisheer

Day One

It was an early start on Wednesday morning to catch the bus back into the Galway. Once in Galway, I caught a coach out to Rossaveal, in the Connemara area of County Galway, and then a ferry across to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.

I arrived at around 11.30am and began to follow the directions I had been given to the AirBnB home in which I was staying. It was very easy to find, although the winding road required me to once again push my big yellow suitcase up the hill. Once I reached the house, I found that no-one was home, but a key had been left for me, so I was able to settle in straight away.

This AirBnB property was also an actual BnB, with the caretaker’s living space downstairs and the accommodation rooms on the second level. After settling into the room, I headed straight out again to find something to eat for lunch.

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View of O’Brien’s Castle from the village

I walked back down to the pier where I had disembarked the ferry. There was a small pub located there called Tigh Ned, however one of the locals informed me that it would not be open until that night. I passed by the South Aran House Restaurant, but it was also closed.

 

A boat up on stumps, a guide to the marine life off Inisheer, and the beach. I found the sign entertaining as it has a picture of a person swimming to scale against the animals, but looks like the person is one of the animals to be seen in the water!

I headed to the Inis Oirr Hotel, which was obviously receiving renovations from the tradesman coming in and out of the building. The front doors were closed, so presuming it was shut too I continued up the hill to the small shop. There was nothing on offer for lunch there, but the lady at the shop suggested I try the hotel. I walked even further up the hill to Tigh Ruairi, which was also closed up.It was the tail end of the off season, and by the looks of things most places shut up shop completely during this time. By this stage I was getting ‘hangry’, and also feeling a little alarmed. Was there anywhere open on this island, or would I be starving for three days?

I approached the Inisheer Hotel again, which the lady at the shop had suggested, and found the closed doors unlocked. I went inside and found two American girls who had caught the ferry over sitting at the bar digging into their lunch. I approached the bar and the friendly lady there gave me a menu, from  which I ordered fish and chips with a  side of salad. The serving was enormous for the price, but I ate it all up as I was legitimately unsure when I would be able to eat again. The longer I sat in the Inis Oirr Hotel the more apparent it became that this was the one and only place open during the off season, and that I would be able to get a meal there that night.

After finishing my lunch I decided to a little exploring of the surrounding area, to get an idea of where some further adventuring could take me over the next two days. There was the walk up to the medieval tower house, and also to the Plassey, a shipreck on the shore of the island. I decided to split the two trips over the two days, and planned to undertake them in the morning then come back to the BnB to write in the afternoon.

Day Two

I started my walk up to the tower house, diverting to the ruins of Caomhan’s Church. These ruins are below ground level, and are estimated to have been built during the 10th century. The church was nearly buried by drifting sands but has now been excavated and is kept clear of sand by the islanders.

Continuing up the hill towards O’Brien’s Castle, I passed by this house with this very cute border collie sitting outside. Upon seeing me, he started off down the road toward the castle, occasionally pausing to look behind him to check I was there.

I then continued up the hill towards O’Brien’s Castle. Unfortunately the grounds weren’t open to walk around and enter the castle, probably because it was still the off season, but I was still able to get a good look at the structure and take some pictures.

O’Brien’s Castle on Inisheer was built in the 14th century. The castle was taken from the O’Briens by the O’Flaherty clan of Connemara in 1582. The castle was occupied by them and others until 1652, when the Aran Islands were surrendered to Cromwellian forces.

Past the castle the road continued south toward the other side of the island. It was now early afternoon, and I decided to keep walking. My K-9 guide kept on ahead of me, occasionally pausing to check I was still coming. As I crossed from one side of the island to the other, I watched civilisation fall away, leaving only the network of stone walls.

 

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The village was built on the northern, protected side of the island, while the southern side was left exposed to the elements blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. A lighthouse came into view, and I could also start to make out the Cliff Of Moher on the mainland.

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Approaching the rocky shoreline, the road I had been following fizzled into a patch of gravel. My faithful tour guide trotted around the area sniffing at this spot and that, as if he had come back to a familiar place.

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I tentatively stepped over the rocks and found a large flat boulder on which to sit and rest my tired legs. Looking out to sea, I spotted what I thought was a dolphin. I had read on the sign by the beach on the other side of the island that there was a dolphin who frequented the waters off Inisheer, but as I studied the movement in the water closely, it seemed that the object was too still to be a dolphin. I ventured further along the rocky foreshore to try to get a look. To my absolute delight, what I was seeing was no one, but two, grey seals. They bobbed just off the shore for a good forty-five minutes, coming a little closer every now and again. I was sure they could see me, and two other spectators who were watching them from further up the beach.

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Being a lover of fairies and Irish folklore, seeing these beautiful sea creatures in their natural habitat had an extra special meaning for me.

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The Selkie are mythological creatures from Irish/Scottish Gaelic & Icelandic folklore, and are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on the land. In 1994, a film was made about the selkies titled The Secret of Roan Inish, based on the book by Rosalie K. Frye.

My heart filled with joy at the possibility of having spotted myself a selkie, I explored the rocky foreshore a little longer before making a start on the walk back to the BnB. By this time the seals had disappeared from sight. My doggie tour guide was also nowhere to be found, so I headed back on the road by myself. As I was walking back toward the village, I found my tour guide dog once again sitting outside his house.

Day Three

On my last day on Inisheer I decided to hire a bike to ride to the Plassey shipwreck. I had hired a bike on my previous visit to the Aran Islands in 2012, and ridden around the entire island of Inishmore, pushing against the strong Atlantic wind. But despite the memory of this hard work, I really wanted to hire a bike again. So I did!

 

I started off heading east, in the direction I had walked the previous day to the ruins of Caomhan’s Church. Passing the graveyard and the small airport, the road wound it’s way to the south east side of the island, on the opposite side of the lighthouse to where I had been the day before watching the seals.

 

On 8 March 1960, while sailing through Galway Bay carrying a cargo of whiskey, stained glass and yarn, the MV Plassey was caught in a severe storm and ran onto Finnis Rock, Inisheer. A group of local Islanders rescued the entire crew from the stricken vessel using a breeches buoy. Several weeks later, a second storm washed the ship off the rock and drove her ashore on the island. The wreck is also visible in the opening credits of the television series Father Ted.

 

Pieces of shrapnel can be found several meters away from the wreck.

I walked a lap around the wreck, and was even able to step inside the hull.

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I even found what I thought to be a fairy dwelling inside, where nature had started to take back the ship!

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Once I had seen all i could see of the Plassey, i hopped back on my bike and headed back towards the village. It hadn’t taken as long as I had expected to get to the wreck, and the owner of the bike rental shop had given me a map and suggested I explore the area of the island closer to where I was staying. I stopped back in at the BnB and removed some of the layers I had put on that morning, including a long-sleeve shirt, tights, jeans, boots and a jacket, beanie and scarf. From all that I changed into a hooded jumper, tank top and exercise tights and a pair of ballet flats. It was certainly a cold place but you could work up a sweat on the bike!

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Upon opening the front door I was surprised by the other residents of the BnB. I jumped back on the bike and headed to the west side of the island, where supposedly there lived a colony of seals. I didn’t see any seals that day, but luckily I had the previous day. It was absolutely stunning day with not a cloud in the sky, and I took some shots of the neighbouring island Inishmaan.

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It had a similar settlement, with it’s village located on the protected side of the island, and the southern side had been left uninhabited. The difference looking from one side to the other was such a contrast.

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Finding no seals and coming to the end of the road on the west side of the island, I turned the bike around and fought the hardest I had fought yet against the wind up the hills back to the BnB. It was now mid afternoon, and I didn’t have to have the bike back until 6pm. I parked the bike up outside the house and went upstairs for a well-deserved nap.

After returning the bike to the shop just before six, I decided to go for a short walk on the beach as the sun was setting. This beach was the first sandy beach I had come across in Ireland, and it was a refreshing change. It could not have been a more picturesque end of my three days on Inisheer.

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