Surrounded by the crashing waves of the Atlantic, the Aran Islands are a living monument to Ireland of the past. Remaining unchanged for centuries, the three islands that make up Aran are a prime example of Irish heritage and culture and a must-see for anyone visiting the country. When visitors arrive by boat from the mainland, they are immediately struck by its stark beauty and history. Here is a brief history of these intriguing islands.
The islands sit on the mouth of the Galway Bay with the smallest of the three sitting closest to the mainland. They all offer a stark backdrop of grey cliffs rising out of the ocean. The largest of the islands has a resident population of about 840 people and cars are rare but horse drawn carriages are a popular way to get around. The smallest island offers some incredible historic sites of interest, including a monastic site, a shipwreck and a lighthouse.
The islands were untouched by humans for many thousands of years, giving rise to its unique ecosystem. Early celtic settlers would have fished and farmed, building large stone forts at strategic points on the islands. Later, when Christianity travelled to Ireland, the islands were a perfect location for clerics to retreat and train for a life of service.
Now, the islands are primarily a tourist attraction and home to some of the most fascinating archeological sites. Stone walls delineating land ownership and livestock farming are still in evidence from prehistoric times. Perched precariously on the edge of cliff faces are huts used by early Christian monks for contemplation. At one point in history, there were 12 monasteries on one island alone. The most important ancient site is Dun Aonghusa, a sprawling fort on Inis Mor’s highest cliff point. There is evidence that humans have occupied this area for over 2,500 years.
Due to the unique isolation of the islands, for centuries the residents only spoke Gaelic. Today, they speak a mixture of Gaelic and English. From the 1600s onwards, the main occupation of islanders was farming. The wool from livestock was used to make interesting and unique clothing for the residents and one such garment has become world famous. Worn by the fishermen of the islands for warmth and its water repelling qualities, Aran sweaters were traditionally made on the islands with thick, untreated wool. They developed unique and attractive woven patterns that we still love today. For Womens Aran Sweaters, visit Shamrock Gift
Another unique tradition belonging to the Aran Islands is that of the currach. As the oceans around them were so perilous, the residents constructed their own type of boats. The specially constructed boats were a canoe shaped wooden frame with animal skins stretched over them. The boats had a sail and some locals still use these currachs to this day. In fact, currach racing is a popular summer pastime on the islands.