Tag Archives: dun aengus

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…

Aran Islands Archaeology: The Mystery of Dun Aengus, Part Two

My trip to the Aran Islands is less than two weeks away, and I am so excited – I can hardly wait. So I’m passing the time by reading and rereading all my books on Aran history, archaeology, and the plays of J.M. Synge. I’ll definitely keep you updated on the highlights of my trip.

I’m looking forward to the cool weather (it’s HOT here in New York), to the relaxed atmosphere (it’s HECTIC in New York), to the natural beauty of the islands, and, of course, to the forts! I’ll definitely be paying another visit to the alluring Dun Aengus.

So back to the history of this great stone fort – what went on there, besides the theories of it being a defensive structure?

If you visit Dun Aengus, one of the most striking features of the fort is the stone platform that sits right at the center of the fort at the cliff’s edge. If you look closely, you can see that this stage was not added to the fort – it seems that the fort was built around it, and that the stone floor was quarried out around the platform. This may mean that the platform was of high importance to the fort, and may have to do with some sort of ritual.

platform at Dun Aengus

Ceremonial Platform at Dun Aengus, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

What kinds of rituals were performed here cannot be known, but there are some theories.

One of the things that was going on in other parts of Ireland during the Bronze Age was the depositing of metals, weapons, and ornaments into wet areas such as rivers, lakes, and bogs. The stage platform at Dun Aengus could have served as a focal point for some ritual throwing of metals into the sea as an offering to the gods, with people clustered around, sitting on the amphitheatre-like walls of the fort. It would certainly have been a spectacular display.


Dun Aengus Inishmore

Amphitheatre-like Walls of Dun Aengus, Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Of course, we’ll never know for sure. The force of the sea would have pulverized any metals that were thrown off the cliff by now, so this speculation is based on evidence found in similar sites inland.

Another aspect of ritual has to do with secular power. If the people at the top of society (those who would have been controlling Dun Aengus) were depositing metals into the water where people couldn’t get to them, it would have kept supplies of metal items low, which would keep them valuable. It would also show their followers, “Hey, I’m so rich I can afford to just dump this stuff off a cliff!” which would have been impressive.

There’s also evidence for metal production at Dun Aengus, with the amount of artifacts found there, including swords, spearheads, etc. Having metal production taking place at Dun Aengus could be a way for the chiefs to control it, and again, build up their power.

Metalwork has long been associated with magic, and smiths with possessing magical powers. So if people were making metal artifacts at Dun Aengus, it not only served an economic function, but may also have added to the perception of the place as a powerful location where metals were magically transformed.

Picture of the road to Dun Aengus Aran Islands

The Road to Dun Aengus. Inis Mor, Aran Islands

For more information, check out The Burren and the Aran Islands by Dr. Carleton Jones, and The Book of Aran.

Hillforts and History.Aran Islands

Get ready for Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Dun Aengus!

Dun Aengus Towering over the Hillside

Dun Aengus Towering over the Hillside

Just kidding. I doubt whether we’ll ever know everything we wish we could know about the Aran forts. There are four forts on Inis Mor, two on Inis Meain, and one on Inis Oirr (that we know of – there may be others, or ruins of others, that are unmarked). Only two have been excavated: Dun Aengus and Dun Eoghnachta, both on Inis Mor. So what we know about the Aran forts we really only know from these two, and from other mainland excavations of similar sites. But we do the best we can to piece together the history with the information we have.

Before the Late Bronze Age (1500-600BC), people most likely lived in several small communities that all held the same status. But in the Late Bronze Age, chiefdoms emerged. Chiefdoms combined the small local groups into a single, unified group under one leader, with farms and homes clustered around the mammoth forts like Dun Aengus.

But there wasn’t just one chiefdom. Oh no. There were many chiefdoms. And between these chiefdoms you had alliances and competitions. It was important to appear as strong as possible so that you could wield the most power to protect your land.

So think about Dun Aengus. What can we learn about the people who built it from looking at it? (Keep in mind that there have been restorations done to the fort over time, but we can operate under the assumption that it’s largely very similar to what it originally looked like).

Dun Aengus is a hillfort, located at the top of a 300 foot high cliff, on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. At first glance this seems like a strange place to build a fort. If you’re attacked from the north, you’re sandwiched between your own walls and the sea.

But Dun Aengus looks out upon what was probably a prehistoric sea-trading route. From this height, the chiefdom at Dun Aengus could keep a lookout for ships passing through, and see whether they were friends or enemies. The fort would also have been visible from the sea, and would signal to the travelers on the boat that this land, this sea-route, belonged to someone, and that someone had a massive fort, and was watching YOU.

The walls of Dun Aengus are extremely thick, and were probably even higher than they are now. There are actually four walls that make up the fort (it’s hard to see the other two, but they’re there). And the massive chevaux-de-frise – the minefield of stones sticking up out of the ground – was meant to impede invaders on their way to the fort.

Remains of Chevaux-de-frise

Remains of Chevaux-de-frise

All of these features required huge amounts of labor, and the labor itself would have been symbolic: that this chief was so well respected and so powerful that he could command a group of people to create such an immense structure. The thickness of a wall can show how many people owe you labor. It wasn’t really necessary in terms of practical military protection. Warfare during the Bronze Age mostly relied on spears, bows and arrows, which wouldn’t make it through a stone wall regardless of the thickness. But the labor and the look of it sent a message: don’t mess with this.

Bricks Fitted Perfectly Together Without Mortar

Bricks Fitted Perfectly Together Without Mortar

And it seems to have worked. There is no archaeological evidence of a battle ever having been fought at Dun Aengus, or any of the Aran forts.

In fact, the sites may not have been used for military purposes at all…

Next post: so what was going on at Dun Aengus?

 

For more information:

The Burren and the Aran Islands, The Book of Aran, and The Discovery Programme

(*Note: I am not an archaeologist, and have not formally studied archaeology. Like most matters of history, what I’ve written is up for interpretation. I’m trying to make sense of all the history for my own enjoyment and engage with Aran history and mythology, so if you have more information, please share!)

 

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