An Inisheer Stroll
Life doesn’t always allow us to ramble the roads of Inisheer in person when we feel the urge but today join me as I take you on a guided tour of Inisheer.
Inisheer has 270 all year round residents, who speak Irish as their everyday language. During the tourist season(March-October) the population may increase considerably with the influx of tourists, holidaymakers and students.When you add weekend day trippers, during peak season (June-August) there may be 1400 people of all ages on the island at times.
Your starting point is Cnoc Raithni (Hill of Bracken), the earliest monument on Inisheer (BC1500-1000). The mound is a Bronze Age burial site, with an early Christian cemetery on the upper level, with the remains of 24 monks lying in an east-west orientation.
From there, you turn away from the east of the island and ignore the way marked trail, named the Inisheer Way. You are going to cut in on the trail at Baile an Lorgain, passing Ostan Inis Oirr (Inisheer Hotel), Tigh Ruairi (Rory’s Pub), An Teach Tae (The Tea House) and many houses to reach the place where you get back on the trail.
Pick up the trail and walk southwards along Bothar Bhaile an Lurgain, leaving the hustle and bustle of the commercial district behind. On both sides are small fields divided by dry stone walls, which are the most appealing feature of Inisheer, due to the variety of styles of construction and their exceptional height. Notice to the saffron lichens which speckle the walls, indicating clean, healthy, fresh air.
You may come upon an islander working on their potato patch/garden. Every family sows potatoes to ensure that they have their own supply for the coming winter months. Potato cultivation has traditionally been used to produce meadows on the bare limestone paving. Tonnes of seaweed and sand are transported from the seashore to provide a base for the seed potatoes to grow. After a number of years the potato patches are transformed into grassland for the family’s cows.
As you saunter along, keep an eye out for the wide variety of Burren flora, including Mediterranean and Alpine flowers – bloody crane’s bill, harebell, oxeye daisy, rue-leaved and Irish saxifrage, milkwort, common butterwort, herb robert- to name but a few, not forgetting the various orchids that thrive there. Some Burren flowers are absent from Inisheer, most notably the mountain aven, symbol of the Burren National Park.
Take time to inhale the amazing scent of the burnet rose and taste the nectar of the honeysuckle. Enjoy the colourful butterflies fluttering gracefully from flower to flower.
Watch out for the beautiful limestone paving, on the left, with a multitude of features of a karst landscape; proof, if needed that Inisheer is more Clare than Galway !
Soon turn right and follow a narrow track, that brings you to Tobar Einne, Enda’s (of Inis Mor) Holy Well. His Pattern Day is still celebrated by the islanders on March 21st. every year. In the 6th. century many men and women came to Enda, on Inis Mor, to learn the ascetic way of life, which was central to early Irish monasticism. Take time to rest at the holy well, the only one on Inisheer, and which never dries out, not even during the drought of summer 2018.
Instead of continuing along the waymarked trail, which continues on to the seashore and Sunda Salach , the “ Foul Sound” (the narrow stretch of sea) between Inisheer and Inishmaan, retrace your steps and turn left on to a narrow road, Bothar an Bhaile Thios. You may encounter a farmer moving his cattle, as few as 5 cows with their spring calves into a fresh pasture. Watch in wonder as he drives the small herd in through a gap in the dry stone wall, and when the beasts are safely inside, he commences to rebuild the wall, closing the gap. No gate required.
Ronan, the last baby born on Inisheer (the babies are all delivered in the Maternity Unit in University College Hospital Galway since) tells that due to lack of fodder, the calves are sold in the autumn. The cows are kept outdoors all year round, something like the Winterage Scheme on the Burren, which was introduced by the Burrenbeo Trust.
Ronan reveals that the only wild animal on Inisheer is the rabbit. Alas ! No fox, badger, red squirrel, hare or stoat. However, as you stroll, listen for the wren, robin, thrush, blackbird and meadow pipit. You may hear the curlew’s cry or the cuckoo’s call.
You pass Aras Einne, the island’s cultural, craft and community hub and arrive at the 10th. century chapel of Gobnait, who had a cell here c.6th. century. Rest awhile at this sacred site with its many interesting features. Inisheer was not her fate so Gobnait moved back to the mainland. A place where 9 white deer were grazing was her destiny. That’s Ballyvourney, West Cork, where she founded her monastic site. Her cult survives to this day, as evidenced by hundreds of pilgrims who attend her Pattern Day on February 11th. every year. The local craft brewery is named “9 Deer”. Now you know why !
Walk on. The road leads to An Bhaile Thiar. The pier is close at hand. You have come to the end of your short, magical, marvellous stroll.
“The first time you you see a place, take it all in, as you will never see it like this again” -John O’Donohue