At the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland, lie three islands that have influenced the world far more than their diminutive size would suggest. These islands – the Aran Islands – have around 1,200 residents, who speak both Gaelic and English. The islands are Inishmore (Inis Mór Island), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin Island), and Inisheer (Inis Oírr Island). The Aran Islands are often called the Islands of Saints and Scholars.
Geologically, the islands feature storm beaches – littered with enormous boulders cast up there by giant waves, and karst limestone (in fact, the Aran Islands are some of the best examples of the Glacio-Karst landscape in the world). You can see the use of these stones in everything on the islands – it’s perfect for building! Because the island has an extremely temperate micro-climate, visitors will see arctic, Mediterranean, and alpine plants all at the same time.
Visitors will also find ancient constructions, from Bronze and Iron-age forts to beehive huts and the first true Irish monastery.
However, the island also boasts a great literary and artistic tradition. Several famous Irish poets were born here, and many great writers and artists (Lady Gregory, Sean Keating, John Millington Synge, W.B. Yeats, Padraig O’ Siochain) spent time on the islands. Along that artistic vein are the local textiles – Aran sweaters, wool, and knitting are all well-known throughout the world. Perhaps the culture of the Aran Islands could be summed up in these words: self-sufficient, isolated, traditional, spiritual, and community.
- Read this lovely article about the Aran Islands by travel writer Rick Steves. Then, watch this video about the islands. Why do you think these isolated, unspoiled islands continue to draw people through the ages?
- Break into three groups, and have each group discuss the things to see on the three islands –Inisheer, Inishmore, and Inishmaan. Come together as a class, and have each group share what there is to see and do on these small islands – and what they would choose to do themselves. Why did they pick these things?
- The Aran Islands have several stone forts. Read of these stone forts, and then discuss what you think the answer to the riddle of the forts might be.