Switching off for a taste of the simple life

FOR AS long as I can remember I have heard stories about the Aran Islands.

Switching off for a  taste of the simple life

I listened with awe as a child when my grandfather talked of watching currachs heading out into the Atlantic Ocean with nothing more than instinct to guide them home to the ragged rock off the Clare coast.

But despite being fascinated by a slice of Ireland steeped in history, folklore and tradition, I never thought to make the short hop to check it out for myself.

So when my eldest son set sail for Irish college in Inis Oirr, the smallest of the islands, it seemed the perfect opportunity to finally see what all the fuss is about.

First impressions

Our trip was booked for the August bank holiday weekend and the little pier in Doolin was thronged with passengers. The sky was blue, the air was thick with the babble of different languages and the notoriously feisty Dusty the dolphin was splashing about in the harbour.

The journey took around half an hour and disembarking, I felt like I had stepped back in time. Ponies and traps were lined up along the road as their drivers and a little stone building seemed to be doing a roaring trade in bicycle hire — but despite the hustle and bustle of the quayside, there was an overall feeling of tranquility, beauty and really something quite special about this tiny island.

The food

Having released our child from his Bean an Tí, we embarked on a tour of the island by foot — the hub of activity seemed to be the shop, hotel, café and pubs in the harbour area and after building up an appetite, we headed for Tigh Ruairí’s for lunch. Luckily we arrived at midday and managed to secure an outside table because within 20 minutes, the place was packed. The menu was good value and offered a wide selection of options incorporating modern brasserie food and the requisite child-friendly varieties.

My only disappointment was the lack of ‘traditional’ Irish fare. I would have liked to have seen something which fitted in more with my nostalgic idea of the Aran Islands, but the food was hot, fresh and tasty, so this was just a small gripe.

The amenities

A trip to Inis Oirr will not appeal to someone who is looking for activity centres, such as swimming pools or bowling alleys, but this is precisely the reason why the place is so heavenly.

The sandy beach is white-gold in colour and is lapped by water so blue and translucent, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the Caribbean. The tiny fields are surrounded by traditional dry-stone walls and laneways with grass growing down the middle. So there is nothing for it but to throw off the shackles of our relentless modern desire for instant entertainment, take a deep calming breath and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

What to do

Curiously, despite the fact that there are little or no hi-tech facilities on the island, there is a huge amount to do and the hours fly by far too quickly. The main beach is a glorious place to sunbathe, swim, build sandcastles or simply while away the day. There are also a number of other beaches which can be discovered whilst exploring the island.

The Plassey is probably the most famous landmark on Inis Oirr. This rusty shipwreck will be a familiar sight to Father Ted fans as it features in the opening scenes of each episode. Languishing on a rocky shore, visitors can get up close to the wreck (some people even climbed on board but I’m not sure of the wisdom of that), have their photo taken and even partake in an ice-cream from the conveniently-located vendor.

Although we knew we would be having lunch in a pub or café, we also brought a flask of tea, a few mugs and some great big slabs of home-made chocolate cake as the ‘Mammy’ in me needed to provide for my son who had been apparently been missing my cooking. So we found a selection of flat-topped rocks on the craggy shore which made an excellent dining table and chairs and tucked in while enjoying the breathtaking view of the Cliffs of Moher.

Next stop was the lighthouse, which is a bit of a trek either along the shoreline or the parallel laneways, but it was worth the hike and the kids were fascinated by its imposing size. For those with small children, there is a great playground close to the village surrounded by park benches so parents weary after all the exploration can watch their little darlings expend even more energy while catching a few rays and soaking up the atmosphere. And for those seeking a little culture, there is a lovely art and heritage centre — Aras Eanna — with a 75-seater theatre/cinema, two art galleries, a café, weavers, basket-makers and quilters workshops.

The bottom line

Ferries to Inis Oirr depart throughout the day from both Doolin in Clare and Ros a Mhil in Galway (30 minutes sailing from Clare and 60 minutes from Galway). Ticket prices start at €15 per adult return depending on location and ferry company — family tickets and online discounts are available. If you don’t fancy the boat, Aer Arann Islands can fly you to Inis Oirr in less than ten minutes for €40 per adult return.

We didn’t stay overnight but the local hotel and Tigh Ruairi are amongst the numerous venues offering bed and breakfast room rates from €38 per person sharing. There is also a campsite offering free pitches and all the necessary facilities right next to the beach and opposite the playground — providing the perfect location for anyone with children who wants to camp out under the stars.

I was completely smitten with Inis Oirr after my day trip and intend to return next year for a couple of days. Throughout our visit, the little harbour was a hive of activity with boatloads of tourists disembarking on a regular basis — and after sampling a little taste of island life, it’s not difficult to see why they are all so keen to visit our little treasure off the west coast.

For more information visit:

* www.inisoirrisland.com

* www.doolinferry.com

* www.doolinferries.com

* www.doolin2aranferries.com

* www.aranislandferries.com

* www.aerarranislands.ie

* www.hotelinisoirr.com

* www.araseanna.ie

* www.tighruairi.com

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