When we arrived the country was still recovering from one of the warmest Summers on record, complete with Mediterranean style swelter and water restrictions. We had just fled from close-to-record temperatures in Spain in the final days of July and the first week of August, so we were hoping for cooler temps in Éire. And we were not disappointed in the first days at Gleann Dá Loch, with a good deal of cloud in the skies and maximums around 20ºC.
At the same time there was hardly a drop of rain, so we really couldn’t complain. Although there was quite an assortment of international tourists out and about in the hills, off the beaten track we were often alone.
Even the monastic settlement, tho hardly deserted, was quiet at matins and vespers. Take my word, if you want to see Gleann Dá Loch as it should be seen – and you can only go in Summertime – go early in the morning or later in the evening.
Next we shuttled across the country, picking up Momma on the way, and spent a few days with family in the West. Then we headed out to the Aran Islands off the Clare coast to spend a week on Inis Mór, the largest of the three islands. Despite forbidding weather forecasts in the days previous to the crossing, the boat trip was pretty smooth and the sun was shining.
Árainn is a special place for many reasons, and tho the tourist scene in the Summer months can be pretty heavy – and the islanders’ survival mentality, bred thru centuries of struggle, in its latest avatar of ‘fleece the tourist’ heavier still – the Atlantic island experience remains a compelling one (..taking advantage of early morning and late evening doesn’t do any harm either).
That same first day, as the sun continued to shine, we headed out at midday stopping by Trá Cill Mhuirbigh/Kilmurvey Strand on our way to the the abrupt side of the island..the wild side some might say.
Poll na bPéist/the Worm Hole is a deep, natural, perfectly rectangular pool lying below overhanging cliffs some 20m high. If the name seems strange, think that the Gaelic ‘Péist’ traditionally translated to English as ‘Worm’ can also mean something like ‘serpent’..and indeed Poll na bPéist is more recently rendered as the ‘Serpent’s Lair’. It has been used as a venue for international cliff diving competitions during the last decade.
From Poll na bPéist we kept on along the cliffs, crossing the karstic slabs of limestone and the shallow earth fields, up towards Dún Aonghasa, the 3000-year-old fort that sits on the cliff’s edge and dominates a great part of the island of Árainn. In the past you could easily skirt the outer defensive walls – partially reconstructed in the 19th century – close to the edge of the cliff to gain access to the fort..but now they’ve added a tasteful metal fence right to the edge. You can still skirt it, just a tad more exposed to a 60 meter sheer drop to the ocean. The perils of international mass tourism, i suppose. (There’s room for little ones to crawl underneath.)
We paid only a fleeting visit to the central keep, anxious to keep the kids away from the now 75 meter drop straight to the Atlantic, before wearily heading home. (We would be back..) The long plod back to our accommodation was lightened by magnificent evening tonalities and the views across to the mountains of Conamara from Cill Mhuirbigh.
The following days were misty-drizzly..limiting but not precluding activity. Either snapping up the opportunities to get out in the dry spells..
..to the local strands within short walking distance at Port na Mainistreach, Port Chorrúch or Trá na mBuailte, which provided multiple options to paddle in the shallow water, dig channels in the sand, pick shells, watch seabirds and seals, even sight a small shark(?!)..
Or braving the elements and getting out in the wet to visit another ancient fort, Dún Eochla this time, a ring fort more typical of Celtic defensive constructions and located at the highest point of the island.
More in Part II..