Friday, August 13, 2010

Galway. ARAN ISLANDS, County Galway

Aran Islands
Geology, archeology, history, culture.

1. The Aran Islands were formed some 350 million years ago, of a kind of limestone that erodes in patterns, producing a terracing.  Once there were forests, and the erosions accelerated as the root systems died.  See  The islands have long been a center for fishing cultures; and agriculture in carefully tended stone-walled areas. Take a ferry to get there.
Jon Widing at the Aran Islands, Ireland, friending a horse

2. For a sense of the culture that developed here, read The Aran Islands, by John M. Synge, book first published in 1907.

Synge lived with cottagers on the different islands, a project encouraged by William Butler Yeats who had also visited there.  It is a Project Gutenberg book at  Synge had a brief but brilliant literary career, including major works as a playwright,  and he died in 1909. See
Film:  See the 1934 film, "Man of Aran," from your library or video store for the best traditional overview. See; or;  or
Some literature shows a darker side to this west coast, rugged area.
Lunar and vast, to the casual visitor. See playwright Martin McDonagh,  Find a life and letters review in New Yorker 3/6/2006a t p. 40 ff. He presents a "savage world" -- plays include trilogies including 
  • "The Cripple of Inishmaan," 
  • "The Lonesome West," and 
  • "A Skull in Connemara." Compare the amorality and anarchy, miscreants and misfits (terms used in the review) to earlier - and now. Any difference in people anywhere? "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company, New Yorker 3/13/2006 at page 92ff.

Connemara - when you return, see tourist sides at; and at"> Connemara photos, history.
Of particular interest is the number of stories, ballads, poems, ditties,  how the threshing and other survival tasks were done, customs, written down as recalled, the references to the Black Irish (Spanish, even Middle Eastern heritage, an emigration long ago?) and a local of that heritage; the costume of the women, bright red full skirts with petticoats so that the skirt could be pulled over the head for shelter in bad weather.

3.  There is reliance on the steamers from the mainland weekly, managing the curaghs (local fishing craft), see one at; and references to Spanish or other southern cultures in some architectural elements. We know that off-island mariners came, settled, or were wrecked or were washed up on Western Ireland through the centuries.  Now, there are also planes.

4.  Practicalities. Where to get soil when the topography is limestone?  By hand.  Mix sand, seaweed, manure and fish meal.  Presto. Soil. Build walls - a natural with all the stone - to mark boundaries and also baffle the wind.
5.  Migrations, visitors.  Remnants of other visitors: perhaps Norse, although that tradition is stronger on the mainland or islands between Ireland and Scotland, toward Norway.
Skarfaklettar = cormorant cliffs (skarfr, pi. skarfar, gen. pi. skarfa = cormorant. Klettar = cliffs).   That name appears on Arran, but perhaps not on Aran.  
Cormorant: nests on shaley cliffs.

Gaelic for cormorant is close:  Sgarbh.  The Danish for cormorant is Skarv.  The Swedish and Norwegian (both) is Storskarv. Icelandic:  Dilaskarfur.   O, Great Cormorant. Appearing in so many languages in recognizable forms.  History is always with us. But in Irish, Broigheall.  See  Irish Gaelic:  see

.Vikings indeed were here on Aran:  they raided St. Cierans Monastery in the 9th Century (was the sudden Viking violence in response to Charlemagne's forced conversions and slaughter of Saxons in 782? See  For the bus offerings inland on Aran, see See the ruins.

  If the Vikings did not stay to settle here, however, it is unlikely that their names survive. There are cormorants here, however, and the viking name for cormorant was skarfr or some variation. See

6.  Language.  Linguistically, Gaelic has borrowed both words from the Norsemen. Scarf is used for cormorant in Orkney and Shetland also.  But Gaelic is more spoken here than on the mainland, or used to be before the tourism.  

"Irish (Gaelic) and English are the two official languages of Ireland. Irish is a Celtic (Indo-European) language, part of the Goidelic branch of insular Celtic (as are Scottish Gaelic and Manx). Irish evolved from the language brought to the island in the Celtic migrations between the sixth and the second century B.C.E.Despite hundreds of years of Norse and Anglo-Norman migration, by the sixteenth century Irish was the vernacular for almost all of the population of Ireland. The subsequent Tudor and Stuart conquests and plantations (1534–1610), the Cromwellian settlement (1654), the Williamite war (1689–1691), and the enactment of the Penal Laws (1695) began the long process of the subversion of the language."
Fair use quote.  See  Read more: Culture of Ireland - history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family

7.  Sense of the remote. Arrive by ferry, and leave the car behind.  See for directions, schedules.

We see that there is now a restaurant on a nearby, smaller Aran Island, on Inis Mean, and rooms are available.  See article, "Fresh and Wild," by Nicholas Lander, at Financial Times October 22-October 23, 2011 at Life and Arts section p. 7,

But -- yet again -- first see the film, Man of Aran, 1934, at Also at

8.  Commerce.  Aran sweaters:   The people there are famous for their patterned sweaters, but whether or not those identified drowned bodies washing ashore is unclear.  See, now much copied.  Find sample patterns at 
Best purchase: Connemara socks. Wool. All sorts and mixes and colors. All over and at the airports.

9.  Vicissitudes. Our walking was limited by the mad-cow scare (we had to stay on the paths, and could not even go inland) but that left plenty to do on the roads. See

No comments: