An Inishmaan Stroll

Inishmaan(Inis Meain) is the least visited of the three Aran Islands and has the smallest population, 160 residents, who speak Irish/ Gaelic.

Join me on a stroll of the villages on the island of Inishmaan, walking from west to east.
Your starting point is Synge’s Chair (Cathaoir Synge) on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Gregory’s Sound (Sunda Ghriora), the channel between Inishmaan and Inishmore (Inis Mor). This was John Millington Synge’s (1871 – 1909) favourite location on the island. It has superb views of the south-east corner of Inishmore and the big seas rolling in from North America. The chair is a drystone wind shelter and was a shipwreck watch before Synge’s time.

You follow a shattered limestone path, cross a stile and step onto a narrow tarred road with high stone walls.

Keep an eye out for yellow Lady’s Bedstraw, purple Field Scabious, white Queen Anne’s Lace and tiny Irish Eyebright as you walk. Many Burren flowers are to be observed.

Soon you reach a sign for the Beehive Hut (An Clochan), built in the traditional style with corbelled stonework. The roof capstone is missing so you can view the interior from above. The beehive hut is likely to date to the Early Irish Monastic Church and was possibly a hermitage in the 6th. century. Islanders say it may have been lodgings for pilgrims long ago and so they assert, with tongue in cheek, that it’s Inishmaan’s earliest B&B !

Butterflies such as the Painted Lady and the Peacock emerge as the sun breaks through the clouds.

On returning to the road, the water tanks, constructed in 1982, which supply the island with water, can be observed below.

You continue on your journey and come to “An Dun” Restaurant and B&B. Just across the road you climb a path with a series of stiles that leads upwards to Conor’s Fort (Dun Chonchuir), the island’s most impressive monument, a chieftain’s homestead, that may date to AD100. Some renovations were carried out in 1880. The stone walls are 6m. high and 5m. wide in places. You will not resist the temptation to ascend the steps to the top of the walls to take in the breathtaking views especially to the north-west of the island towards the New Pier.

You retrace your steps back to the road and quickly arrive at Synge’s House (Teach Synge), a 300 years old whitewashed thatched cottage, where J.M. Synge, the Anglo-Irish author and playwright, and key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, stayed, every summer from 1898 to 1902. He took the themes of the plays “Riders to the Sea” , “The Playboy of the Western World” and more, from stories he heard on the Aran Islands including Inishmaan.

Shortly you arrive at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Eaglais Naomh Muire gan Smal), Inishmaan’s Parish Church, built in 1938, using stone from a 15th. century church across the road. A baptismal font and holy water stoup from the medieval church can be seen as you enter. All the beautiful interior timber work was done by hand.
The altar was constructed by James Pearse, father of Padraig and Willie Pearse, who were executed in Kilmainham Gaol, for their participation in the 1916 Rising. Prepare to be astonished to discover that the church has magnificent stained glass windows from the studio of Harry Clarke. These include Enda & Brecan of Inishmore, Caomhan of Inisheer, John the Baptist, Madonna & Child and an amazing representation of Mary Magdalene.

Close by is the Church of the Seven Sons of the King (Teampall na Seacht Mac Ri). Very little remains of this early church.
By the south door is the Grave & Cross of Cinndeirg (Atharla Chinndeirge), the holy woman of the red hair, whose Pattern Day was celebrated in the past on August 15th. Her holy well (Tobar Chinndeirge) is in the nearby field. The sacred site used to be a popular place of pilgrimage for all of Connacht.

Your stroll nearly completed, you pass Fearbhai’s Fort (Dun Fearbhai), a smaller but similar fort to Conor’s Fort, leave the road, to follow a grassy path downhill, that leads to the Church of the Canons or the Church of Saint Gregory (Cill Cheannanach). This is the most important Christian site on Inishmaan. The little church with the traditional east window and west door is attributed to the 8th. or 9th. century. The church is surrounded by grave slabs.

Your journey on Inishmaan has ended.

There may be time for a cooling swim at the Old Pier or a coffee in the nearby cafe before you catch the ferry back to Doolin.

Surrender to what is,
Let go of what was,
Have faith in what will be.
                    – Sonia Ricotti

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