Tag Archives: archaeology

Off the Beaten Track – Hidden Gems on Inishmore’s Eastern End

Ready for the final installment? Hidden Gems of Inishmore’s Eastern end.

1) The Black Fort – Dun Duchathair. HIKING LEVEL: MEDIUM (but extra caution needed)

The Black Fort at Sunset, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

The Black Fort at Sunset, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

This is, personally, my favorite spot on the island. Definitely off the beaten track. This promontory cliff fort has not been excavated, and I’ve read and heard different things about it. Some say it’s older than Dun Aengus. Some say it’s not. Some say it was at one time circular. Nobody knows for sure. Its name, Duchathair (pronounced doo-CAH-her), mean something like “Black City,” named for the darker color of the limestone on this part of the island. It’s made of one tall, thick stone wall that cuts off a peninsula of land at the neck. There’s a bit of the remains of a chevaux-de-frise around the exterior. Inside are remains of stone huts. There are two fantastic caverns on either side of the peninsula where you can watch and hear the waves hitting the cliffs. The cliffs here aren’t as high as Dun Aengus, so you feel a bit closer to the sea. The views here are magnificent.

Caverns near the Black Fort, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Caverns near the Black Fort, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

HOW TO GET THERE: Walk on the main road, east out of Kilronan, past the beach. You’ll see a road that curves steeply up the hillside to the right. (There’s also a small lake there). Take the road up, and follow the dirt road to the right, which will snake up the hillside. The dirt road turns into a stone path. Once you reach the end of the path and the top of the hillside and can see the cliffs and the ocean, walk east (left), staying close (but not too close!) to the cliffs. You’ll see the fort come into view. The best way to enter the fort is through a small opening on the very far left side of the wall (it’s literally a couple of feet from the cliff, so be extremely cautious). Best to walk back the same way you came, otherwise you might find yourself in a maze of stone-walled fields.

Approaching the Black Fort, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Approaching the Black Fort, Inis mor, Aran Islands

2) Iarairne – Eastern Coastline – HIKING LEVEL – EASY

A truly beautiful location. Here you have rabbit fields, a hidden beach, a view of Gregory’s Sound and Inishmaan, and the waves crashing against the rocks. This is a great place to have a picnic, or to sit and read or a while. Very peaceful.

Rabbit fields in Iarairne, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Rabbit fields in Iarairne, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Iarairne coast on a windy day

Iarairne coast on a windy day

Iarairne coast on a calm day, Inishmaan in the distance

Iarairne coast on a calm day, Inishmaan in the distance

HOW TO GET THERE: Cycle east out of Kilronan, through Killeany, past the graveyard, until you get to a stone wall at the end of the road with a walking sign next to it. To go the beach from here, take the sharp left in the road and continue to cycle until you get to the beach. Or, if you prefer, lock up your bikes here and walk through the rabbit fields until you get to the coast line. If you look around you, you’ll probably see some rabbits hopping around. Be careful not to trip into a rabbit hole!

3) Puffing Holes – HIKING LEVEL – MEDIUM-DIFFICULT, (extra caution needed!)

There are three mapped puffing holes on the south eastern coast of Inis mor. To be totally honest, I was not able to find them on my own. They are very difficult to locate, and at the moment they are not marked. It’s best to go with someone who knows where there are, or who has super navigational skills. They will also only be active on a stormy or very windy day, so if it’s a nice, calm day, you won’t find them if you’re looking for water spraying up into the air!

Puffing Hole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Puffing Hole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Here’s a video I found:

PUFFING HOLE on INISHMORE

To get there: The hike itself isn’t difficult except that it’s not marked well, but once you’re near the puffing holes you need to be very careful.

Once you’ve reached the eastern coastline, walk up the path in the grass up the hillside, until you get to the round tower. Behind the round tower, there will be another grassy path heading down the hillside towards the south. Follow it all the way down, and begin to walk west (to the right). You’ll be stepping over grass and limestone. The first, and largest puffing hole is a large rectangular hole in the stone. Just watch where you’re going! All these puffing holes appear out of nowhere.

Path up the eastern coast, Round Tower in the distance, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Path up the eastern coast, Round Tower in the distance, Inis mor, Aran Islands

The other two puffing holes are very close by, but are more difficult to find.

Here’s how my boyfriend says he was able to find the second one, which is a smaller hole, a rocky sort of pit, in the rocky area closer to the southern coast: “I followed the ring of the coastline until I heard a curious pounding sound coming from the fields. I went closer and closer to what looked like a pit and saw at the bottom a tiny hole that led to the magnificent cavern-like hole.” Maybe not the most reliable to find something, but it worked for him!

The third is to the right of the rectangular puffing hole in a field to the east. Before you enter the field, depending where you enter you may see a sign painted onto a rock that says “danger.” This grassy puffing hole is especially perilous because you don’t really see it until you almost walk into it, so proceed with EXTREME CAUTION. If it is a stormy day, be extra careful, since the rocks and grass around these areas will be slippery.

**If you have better directions to any of the puffing holes, please share!

And after you’ve been hiking all day, you can take a little nap in a field of flowers on your way back!

Flower field, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Flower field, Inis mor, Aran Islands

What are some more hidden gems of Inis mor? Or special places on any of the islands you’d like to share? Leave a comment here, and share your photos on the facebook page.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what other Aran-related topics you’d like to learn more about. – Emily

Off the Beaten Track on Inis Mor – The Middle of the Big Island

I know last week I promised you the gems of the Eastern end of the island, but I didn’t want to leave out all that’s wonderful to see and do in between east and west. So without further ado…

1) Teampall an Ceathrar Alainn, Tobar an Ceathrar Alainn – the Church and the Well of the Four Beauties- HIKING LEVEL – EASY/MEDIUM

Beds of the Saints, Teampall an Ceathrar Alainn, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Beds of the Saints, Teampall an Ceathrar Alainn, Inishmore, Aran Islands

This 15th century church and holy well are dedicated to four saints: Fursey, Brendan, Berchan, and Conal. Outside the church are the beds of the saints, and to the left of the church is the well. The well is a stone-lined hole in the ground behind a wall next to the church field. Holy wells are known for their health-giving properties, but careful! Mythology dictates that you should only approach a holy well if you know the proper rituals for circling the well. In short, pick up seven small stones next to the well, and circle the well clockwise seven times, each time depositing a stone back on the pile. When you leave the final stone, you can touch the water or thank the well. (Just don’t go counterclockwise! This is bad luck). Do some research, go with a friend who knows the ritual, or contact Dara Molloy to guide you in doing the rounds at the holy well. Or just go and take a look, and imagine all the pilgrims of the past who came to Aran to do the rounds at Tobar an Ceathrar Alainn.

Fun fact: this is the well that inspired John Millington Synge to write the play “The Well of the Saints”!

Tobar an Ceathrar Alainn, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Tobar an Ceathrar Alainn, Inishmore, Aran Islands

How to get there: It’s a little tricky, and having someone who knows the way is helpful. The town it’s in, Corruch, is about an hour walk, gently uphill, from Kilronan, just a bit further down the road past Dun Eochla and the lighthouse. Maybe plan a visit to both sites in the same trip. Once you get to Corruch you’ll see a sign on the left-hand side of the road for the church and for a wedge tomb further up. Follow the road that leads up the hillside until you see a white sign with green lettering that says “Teampall / Leaba An Ceathrar Alainn” pointing into a field. Follow the path worn in the grass through a couple of fields until you get to the churchyard.

2) Mainistir House Vegetarian Dinner

Vegetarian Dinner, Mainistir Hostel, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Vegetarian Dinner, Mainistir Hostel, Inishmore, Aran Islands

This may not be a historical site exactly, but dinner here was certainly monumental to me. I’m not a vegetarian but I like to get my vegetables, and Joel at the Mainistir House Hostel cooks up a feast if you’re lucky enough to get in an early booking for the 8pm sharp dinner (check the time when you call, may be seasonal). It’s 15 euro per person, and for that you get an all-you-can-eat buffet of home cooked goodness. The night I ate there it was creamy spinach soup, fried button mushrooms, crispy potatoes, lentils, salad with local greens, some kind of mashed potato or root vegetable that was delicious, homemade pesto, carrots and onions saute, and a whole roasted salmon. And the table settings were festive and colorful. Comes with tea or coffee and dessert, and you can even bring your own bottle of wine from Spar to have with dinner. I was told that the dinner at the hostel is so well loved, even the locals come here to eat.

Dinner, Mainistir House, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Dinner, Mainistir House, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Dessert, Mainistir Hostel, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Dessert, Mainistir Hostel, Inishmore, Aran Islands

From Ireland call 099 61169 to make a reservation for dinner. Mainistir House is a leisurely 20-30 minute walk from Kilronan up the main paved road.

3. Mainistir Chiarain. HIKING LEVEL – EASY

Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

If you’re biking on the coast road to Dun Aengus, you may have seen some church ruins up on a hill, and debated whether to stop and check it out, or keep cycling to Dun Aengus. If you didn’t stop, next time, take a few minutes out of your pilgrimage to the great fort and take a look at this beautiful setting. This monastery was said to have been founded in the 6th century by Ciaran – the Ciaran who established the monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise.

Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

There are a few monuments of note at this particular site. First is the monastery itself which is in very good condition. There are also the remains of a small square building to the north of the church. Some standing stones can be seen on the western side of the churchard, and another one with a hole in it on the eastern side. These stones were said to have healing properties, and were also used for contractual agreements such as land exchanges or marriages, or possibly as sundials. The churchyard is a beautiful field spotted with white and yellow flowers, and the view of the verdant coast is worth the trip alone.

Churchyard at Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Churchyard at Mainistir Chiarain, Inishmore, Aran Islands

To get there, walk 20 minutes from Kilronan, or bike, until you see the monastery on top of a small hill. Follow the road up the hill and walk up the dirt path to the left up to the church. Look for the gaps in the stone walls surrounding the churchyard.

 

4. Northern Beaches and Coastline – HIKING LEVEL – Easy/Medium

If walking or cycling back towards Kilronan from the west, there are a few roads that lead down from the coast road to the coastline itself. Lock up your bike and head down one of the dirt roads until you get to the coast. Depending which road you go down, you may find low cliffs, rocks, beaches, fields of cows or horses grazing. It’s a very peaceful area that not many people go to. You can walk for a while on a worn path in the grass. Just watch out for barbed wire fences at certain points. And snails. Snails galore. Watch where you step an try not to kill an entire family of snails if you can help it!

Sunset, Northern Coast on Bonfire Night. Inishmore, Aran Islands

Sunset over the Northern Coast on Bonfire Night. Inishmore, Aran Islands

Can you think of any other places in the middle of the island that I should have mentioned? Please comment and share!

NEXT week – gems of the eastern end of Inishmore!

 

Off the Beaten Track – Hidden Gems of Inis Mor’s Western End

Yes, Dun Aengus is breathtaking, no question about it, but there’s so much more to see on Inis mor besides visiting the famous fortress.

Here’s a list of hidden gems on the western end of Inis Mor that many people don’t think to visit. Actually, they’re not even that hidden, but they’re more out of the way, or not as clearly signposted.

1. Western Coast, Bungowla (HIKING LEVEL: EASY)

Bungowla Coast, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Bungowla Coast, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Bungowla is the village at the westernmost tip of the island. There’s an old pier there, and it seemed that a rainbow of seaweed was being collected on the pier to dry in the sun. A seal was bobbing along in the water past the pier, poking its head up to say hello. This area is also where the storm sequence in the film Man of Aran was shot.

Rainbow of Seaweed, Bungowla, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Rainbow of Seaweed, Bungowla, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

To get there: cycle if you’re up for it (it’s a long way from Kilronan), or hire a tour van. If you want to go for a tour, I highly recommend Diane. She’s the only woman tour guide on Inis mor, and was very friendly and helpful, and even remembered me from last year, and remembered what sites I had seen and what I hadn’t gotten to see. Her mobile is 087 7566685.

Diane, Tour Guide on Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Diane, Tour Guide on Inis Mor, Aran Islands

2. Clochán na Carraige (HIKING LEVEL: EASY)

Beehive Hut, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Beehive Hut, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

This stone beehive hut just west of the beach of Kilmurvey is really a must-see. It is the best preserved clochán on Aran. The date of this clochán is unknown, but John Waddell in his chapter in The Book of Aran writes that these types of structures may be from the Medieval period or later. The purpose of the hut is unknown, but may have been temporary housing for religious pilgrims. The hut appears oval from the outside, but the inside is rectangular, and very sturdy.

Clochan interior, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Clochan interior, Inis mor, Aran Islands

To get there: Walk 10 minutes west past the beach of Kilmurvey until you come upon a walking sign on the north side of the road. Follow the path down, and through a few fields (the path is pretty clearly marked here), and you’ll find the clochán. It took about 15-20 minutes to walk there after finding the path. You could fit this in with a trip to Dun Aengus, Bungowla, and the Seven Churches, if you have an obliging tour van driver.

3. The Wormhole – Poll na bPéist (HIKING LEVEL: MEDIUM-DIFFICULT)

This one is more out of the way, and I only recommend going if you feel up for a challenging hike, and I probably wouldn’t bring along small children.

The Wormhole, Poll na bPéist, is a striking natural rock formation in the southern coast, just west of Gort na gCapall, the only village on the southern coast of the island. The “péist” is the reptilian seamonster of Gaelic folklore. The large rectangular hole in the coastline shows the power of the sea to wear away the limestone, and also shows quite clearly how limestone itself is made of joints that form at right angles. The water rushes into the Wormhole through an underground cave, or when the tide is high, spills over and fills it up from above (I’ve never seen this in person, though). Here’s a good video of it I found:

Waves Breaking on Poll na bPeist

 

The limestone here is made up of lots of little craters that fill up with bright yellow and green algae. It’s quite alien looking!

Southern coast, near Wormhole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Southern coast, near Wormhole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

To get there: It’s best to go with someone who knows the way, because it’s not well sign-posted as of now, and it’s also useful to have a hiking partner to help you over some difficult terrain. Once you get to Gort na gCapall, walk up the road, heading south. You make a right turn past one of the houses on the right (have someone point out which one), and walk through a dirt/stone path lined by stone walls. There will be some trail markers at this point, but past the trail markers you will have to follow the path worn in the grass through openings in the stone walls. Once you are past the fields, there will be two ledges. STAY ON THE TOP ONE. Keep going west until you have to begin to walk over the more crater-like surface, weaving along past the cliffs. You’ll come to the Wormhole in about 30 minutes. Have a seat and take in the awesome view.

The Wormhole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

The Wormhole, Inis mor, Aran Islands

Do you know of any other hidden gems on Inis mor’s western end? Please comment and share!

Next week: hidden gems on the eastern end of Inis Mor…