The Aran Islands are one of the few sites in Ireland that have stayed largely unaltered over the course of centuries. They are located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of county Galway and are surrounded by the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean. These three little islands are a symbol of nearly everything having to do with Irish ancestry, culture, and tradition. In addition, they have their own distinctive practices and ways of living as well. Every summer, boatloads of tourists and day-trippers travel to get a taste of unspoiled Ireland, and they are immediately taken by the stark beauty of the landscape they find there. The Aran Islands are a fantastic destination for a day trip from the mainland or, if you really want to get away from it all, for a weekend stay on the islands themselves, regardless of whether you are a traveler from the other side of the ocean or from another part of Ireland. Regardless of what you decide to do, you will always find the history of the location to be fascinating.
Where are the Aran Islands Located?
The three Aran Islands may be found at the mouth of Galway Bay, about 45 kilometers (km) from the city of Galway. They arrange themselves in a nice little diagonal line, with the biggest island located the furthest from the mainland and the smallest island located the closest to it. They are called Inis Mor (meaning “great island”), Inis Meain (meaning “middle island”), and Inis Oirr (meaning “east island”), and they are about 8 kilometers, 4 kilometers, and 2 kilometers from the coast to coast, respectively. Their names are quite unoriginal. All are distinguished by desolate karst scenery, including gray rocky plains that rise abruptly out of the water, green fields that are separated by stone walls, and whitewashed houses with thatched roofs. There is a close connection between the geology of the islands and that of The Burren in county Clare, which was created around 350 million years ago. The climate is similar to that of the rest of Ireland in that it is rainy and windy, although temperatures are seldom extreme either way. Agriculture was formerly the most important sector on the islands, but in modern times, tourism has surpassed it as the primary economic driver. In point of fact, the islands are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The islands can only be reached by boat, and there are almost any automobiles on the islands; instead, the most prevalent modes of transportation are bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and minibusses used for guided excursions. Any vehicle is required to maintain a speed that does not exceed 50 kilometers per hour.
The biggest human settlement may be found on Inis Mor, which is home to a vibrant community of 840 permanent people and also receives the highest number of tourists each year. Kilronan is the primary settlement in the area, and it is here that a number of bed and breakfasts and other services can be found. With just 160 people calling Inis Meain home, it is true that this island has the lowest population, despite the fact that it is not the smallest island. It is home to a number of significant archaeological sites that are comparable to those found on Inis Mor. The population of the smallest island, Inis Oirr, is just approximately 300 people, yet it still manages to pack in a number of fascinating attractions, such as a historic monastery complex, a lighthouse, and a shipwreck! In addition to this, Caomhan of Inisheer is considered to be the town’s patron saint, and a church in the area is dedicated to him.
An Overview of the Aran Islands History
The Aran Islands have been devoid of human habitation for many thousand years, which has allowed the islands’ one-of-a-kind nature to develop without being disrupted. There is not much information available concerning the earliest people to settle on the islands, but it is possible that they came here in quest of rich land to cultivate or a source of fish to subsist off of. To our good fortune, the terrain was well suited for both of these uses; the sections of the land that were tallest and most rocky faced the ocean, protecting the low-lying areas that contained rich soil. In addition, the islands would have been mostly covered with woods, which the inhabitants cleared for use as fuel and materials for construction. Unfortunately, as a result of this, the soil was left without an anchor to help it remain in place, and as a result, fast erosion ensued. Since that time, in-depth examination of the soil has shown that the early islanders’ response to the issue was to incorporate seaweed, sand, and animal excrement into the soil, and then meticulously tend to it in order to guarantee that their food supply would not disappear. After exhausting their supply of wood, the islanders began transporting peat from the mainland to use as a substitute fire source.
The fact that these early Celtic islanders built monumental stone forts at the islands’ most strategic points despite being cut off from the mainland demonstrates that they recognized the importance of defending their territory from incursions by people from other areas. Their primary occupations consisted of fishing and farming. Later, when Christianity was introduced to Ireland, its influence quickly extended to the islands as well. After the construction of many churches and monastic sites, these locations took on the role of a kind of retreat for clerics in training; some of them remained there for years at a time while they prepared for their vocation as religious leaders, and others remained there permanently. For the next many centuries, life continued on in its tranquil and unchanging manner until the late 17th century, when Oliver Cromwell and his army appeared on the scene. After making landfall on Inis Mor, they immediately set about pillaging the forts and churches there before constructing their very own fortress at Castle Arkin. However, they did not remain there for very long since they found the terrain and the absence of contemporary civilization to be unpleasant. After then, a trickle of individuals continued to settle on the islands, eventually reaching a high of around 2,500 people until the Famine devastated the primary staple crop. Those islanders who had managed to live on the islands did so nearly entirely by subsisting on fish, and life was generally challenging for a number of decades until the government started providing monies for the islands’ economic growth. In the 21st century, the island is primarily a tourist attraction, and its inhabitants are proud to maintain their traditions and history while simultaneously participating in contemporary Irish society.
Monuments located on the Aran Islands
The Aran Islands are home to a number of Ireland’s most significant and ancient archaeological monuments. To begin, there is a network of stone walls going back to ancient times that runs over all three islands and totals 1600 kilometers in length. This would have been used for the purpose of containing animals and, in certain instances, may have been used to demarcate the borders of the territory. Clochans, also known as beehive huts, dates back to the early Christian era and may be seen perched on the brink of cliffs. Monks would utilize these structures for contemplation and thinking. Enda of Aran, a warrior king from Ulster, is credited with constructing the very first monastery on Inis Mor. At one point in time, there were up to a dozen monasteries erected on Inis Mor alone.
The most important archaeological site is Dun Aonghusa, which dominates the landscape of Inis Mor by perching on the edge of the island’s tallest rock and providing breathtaking vistas of the mainland below. This huge fort comprises 14 acres and is separated into outer, middle, and inner enclosures by curving walls that run right up to the cliff face. Excavation has uncovered considerable evidence of human activity going back more than 2,500 years. The fort is organized into three distinct sections. Additionally, closely spaced pillars served as a defense mechanism for the central enclosure. On the other side of the island, there is an ancient fort known as the Black Fort. It is believed that this fort served as the principal bastion prior to the construction of Dun Aonghusa. Both Teaghlach Einne, also known as St. Enda’s house, and Na Seacht dTeampaill, also known as the Seven Churches, are located on Inis Mor. Teaghlach Einne is a small church and graveyard that dates back 1500 years and is still used as the island’s main burial ground. Na Seacht dTeampaill is an ancient monastic site that remains the finest example of such a settlement.
The two smaller islands also have their fair share of attractions, particularly the Fort of Conchobar on Inis Meain, which is located on the larger of the two islands. This stronghold, which is in the form of an oval and located at a high height, provides breathtaking views of the mainland as well as all three of the surrounding islands. John Millington Synge, a famous Irish author, paid Inis Meain a visit in 1898 and immediately fell in love with the island. He proceeded to spend the next four summers in a beautiful little home on the island. It was thought that he got his inspiration for some of his best works, such as “The Playboy of the Western World” and “Riders to the Sea,” from the islands. The cottage where he stayed has undergone extensive renovations and is now available to the general public. It is known as “Cathoair Synge,” which literally translates to “Synge’s Chair,” and it is situated on the island with a view of both Inis Mor and the Atlantic Ocean.
Culture and customs unique to the Aran Island
Because of their remote location off the coast of an island at the very edge of Europe, the Aran Islands are naturally detached from the rest of the world. As a result, they have preserved distinctive and one-of-a-kind traditions of the Aran Islands and ways of life over the course of several centuries, in addition to the traditional culture and heritage of Ireland. The native language of the islands was Gaelic for many centuries, and this area is still considered to be part of the Gaeltacht today. The people who live there now are all bilingual speakers who are able to communicate in English and Irish fluently. When they are chatting with one another, they use Irish, but when they are talking with outsiders, they use English. Senior citizens who had lived on the islands their whole lives were unable (or, in some instances, unwilling) to acquire even a single word of English until the very end of the 20th century.
The principal employment of the indigenous people who lived on Aran Island beginning in the 17th century was farming. The wool and yarn from the cattle were used to manufacture clothes for the locals, who adopted a particular style of attire; handwoven trousers, skirts, coats, sweaters, shawls, hats, and even shoes were some of the items that were made by hand. In accordance with tradition, the ladies donned red skirts with black shawls. Pampooties were a kind of moccasin worn by men, coupled with the flat hats that are still often seen in rural regions. Men also wore colorful woven belts. The majority of people living on the islands currently dress in a contemporary style, although traditional garb is still sometimes worn for important events.
The use of the currach was yet another major custom that was only practiced in the Aran Islands. In bygone eras, the ocean was an inherent part of existence, and traveling across it was often fraught with danger. Currachs are the indigenous people’s unique boats that they created and constructed in order to navigate the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a timber frame in the form of a canoe with animal skins spread over it, and a distinctive habit of the islands was to utilize a sail, which was not popular among currach users elsewhere in Ireland. The currach itself is in the shape of a canoe. Some fisherman on the islands continue to make full-time use of currachs, and currach racing is also a popular pastime during the summer and other times of the year when the weather is quite calm.
The Aran Sweater is perhaps the most well-known product associated with living on the Aran Islands. They were knitted from sheep’s wool and fishermen and farmers on the island wore them due to the inherent heat retention and water resistance capabilities of the wool. Aran sweaters are easily recognizable not just due to the thick and sometimes untreated wool that is used, but also due to the one-of-a-kind textured patterns that are utilized in knitting. Typically, the back and front of the sweater would be a reflection of one another, and the patterns would be interlaced in columns all the way down the length of the garment. If you believe the rumors, each family has its very own distinctive pattern, which has been handed down through the years and has significant meanings associated with various possible combinations of stitches of the Aran sweater. Regardless, knitting an Aran sweater requires a tremendous amount of talent, with some jumpers requiring up to 60 days and 100,000 stitches to finish an Aran sweater.
The following is a list of some of the most prevalent patterns, along with their purported meanings of Aran Sweater stitches:
- The cable stitch conjures up images of ropes used by fishermen and stands as a metaphor for a successful day at sea.
- The diamond stitch is ideal for the smaller fields found on the islands and for a full day of labor in the field.
- The honeycomb stitch is said to improve one’s chances of making a successful catch at sea and one’s overall fortune.
- The Tree of Life stitch illustrates the progression through life or a certain path through one’s lifetime
Although there is no evidence to support this claim, there is a widespread myth that men who perished at sea were identified by the distinctive stitches that were worked into Aran sweaters. This was apparently not an extremely uncommon event in the past. Regardless of the significance or motivation behind these elaborate sweaters, they continue to enjoy a high level of popularity in modern times. Although they are now exported to a variety of countries, local island women are the ones who are responsible for knitting Aran sweaters.
Aran Jewelry Collection is a Symbol of Irish heritage.
The Aran sweater inspired the Aran Jewelry Collection as a symbol of Irish heritage and traditional Irish customs. Our Aran Irish jewelry collection is inspired by the Aran sweater weaving traditions and spinning tales connecting families for generations. Browse Aran Jewelry designs Inspired by the Aran Sweater & Islands.
The Aran Knit takes its name from the set of islands where it originated many generations ago, off the West coast of Ireland. The Aran Islands are at the mouth of Galway Bayin the Atlantic Sea. The home of fishermen and farmers the Aran Sweater was from a seafaring heritage, passed down from generation to generation, and is an important symbol of Irish family heritage.