Thursday, May 31, 2007

Day 6, "Ireland" seminar trip

[These are the daily posts located at Google Maps. Posting one-a-day in the aftermath.]

Rossaveal, on the south coast of Connemara between Glinsk in the west and Spiddal in the east, is one of a series of small Gaeltachtai (Irish-speaking villages) dotted along the seashore. Spiddal was the home base of the legendary Irish band De Danann, who were formed in sessions at a pub there; it also has an excellent crafts co-op featuring work by artists from all over the West. Rossaveal is notable primarily as the departure point for the ferry to Aran.

[Later: Beautiful, exciting, but rather choppy crossing to Kilronan on Inishmore. A much brighter day than some we’ve known, when the waves were just as bad but the sheeting rain was driven horizontally into our faces, but you could tell there had been storms outside Galway Bay: the long, deep Atlantic rollers had been driven far inland, all the way around the northeast coast of the island and southward, and as we crossed them east-to-west we could definitely feel them.

Kilronan Hostel is an old hotel, probably from the 1930s/40s when the plays of John Millington Synge and the film Man of Aran had made Inishmore something of an exotic tourists’ location, that faces out to Kilronan Harbor, and beyond that to Inishmaan, Inisheer, and finally to the coast of Clare. Previously we had stayed at another hostel inland, and it is very nice this year to be staying in the town, a few steps away from the Supermac (McDonald’s/Dairy Queen-style fast feed), the Spar (supermarket and “off-license”), and the Aran Sweater Mill, whose stock our people immediately raided upon arrival. Our people are housed in two dormitory-style rooms in a separate house beside the hotel, with the kitchen and dining area immediately below—very handy that!

The Aran Islands Inishmore (Inis mor: “The Big Island”; Inis maan; ; and Inis sheer ) occupy a very large role in Irish folkloric mythology. Original Gaeltachtai, they have been occupied since Stone-Age times. These Neolithic settlers began the very elaborate system of stonework and walls which cover the island, and of planting crops in gardens built from a mixture of sand and seaweed gleaned on the shore. Aran was a very important inspiration on the great Irish playwright John Millington Synge, who wrote both ethnographies and plays based upon island life. His descriptions in The Aran Islands (ethnography) and Playboy of the Western World (drama) provoked enormous conflict in c1900 Dublin, but are a much truer and more evocative picture of pre-colonial Irish seagoing life. They were also the principle inspiration for Robert Flaherty’s heavily-romanticized but nevertheless evocative “documentary” film Man of Aran.

[Later: very nice walk up to Dun Eochla (“The Hill of Eochla/Olaf”—possibly a Nordic saint), a derelict lighthouse and Bronze Age stone for located at about the highest point of Inishmore. It’s a very dramatic landscape, with thin turf over limestone—the limestone that continues all the way across the floor of south Galway Bay and then rears up into the massive limestone heap of the Burren, which we crossed on our first day, and which terminates with the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. On Monday, we had stood at the Cliffs, and I had pointed north and west to Inisheer, Inishmaan, and Inishmore, saying “come Saturday we’ll be out there looking back”—and so we were.

On Aran and in contrast to heavily-scheduled “bus days,” the trip is always and exclusively “free days”—that is, there are no specific group events, in order to provide everyone a chance to decompress and get off on their own. However, Angela and I will usually plan one or two specific activities each day, in which any may participate if they wish. So on Saturday around 4pm (“Aran”-time, that is—so perhaps about 4:30), we set off up the Kilmurvee road west from town heading for Dun Eochla.

Later today, we plan another such activity, heading west across the island toward Dun Aengus.

Dun Aengus is one of the largest and most dramatic Bronze Age fortresses in Ireland’s West. Built upon a high eminence on the southwest coast of Inishmore, the fortress rises in successive concentric rings of stone cheavaux de fries (long and sharp spikes of stone stuck into the ground and intended to impede attackers) to a remarkably well-preserved concentric dry-stone wall—or it would be a concentric circle, except that the walls terminate with the precipitous cliff-edge. It’s thus an eminently defensible place, from the top of which, on a clear day, one can see southeast to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, east into Galway Bay, northeast to Connemara’s Twelve Pins and, most dramatically, directly west into the setting sun..

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