About two years ago myself and my friends from school decided to start taking group holidays around Ireland each year. The first year was Cape Clear off of Cork and last year was the Aran Islands. The reason for the islands started as a way of getting back to the wild and off the beaten track. But mainly it was due to there usually being no Gardaí on the islands so the pubs stay open till all hours.
So you would think that it being our second time doing the whole island thing that we would have the packing down to a tee. Well, what greeted me in the carpark in Doolin was ... Well, it was a shit load of luggage. I was happy out that morning with my one back pack and a bag for my wetsuit. But when I saw what the rest of the lads had brought I could only cry with laughter. There were about two suitcases per person. Jesus, what are we like I thought?
My giddy mood was fuelled further when we boarded the ferry and discovered it was called 'The Happy Hooker'. I mean come on, you couldn’t write this stuff. The ferry we took stopped off on the two smaller islands (Inis Oirr and Inis Meain) before making its way onto the big island (Inis Mór), where we would be staying for the few days. Upon landing on Inis Mór, we quickly realised that we would definitely be needing bicycles if we were to see the whole island with any ease. Now there was one slight problem with this. One of the girls didn’t know, and when I say didn’t know, I mean Amy had never in her life ridden a bicycle. There really was only one option really ... rent her a child's mountain bike. It actually turned out to be a stroke of genius as later that day myself and Ivan were able to teach Amy how to ride a bike in 15 minutes due to the stability of the bike.
So with tents up and a brief, unscheduled meeting with the campsite owner, there was only one thing for it. A surprise Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party, of course.
The next day, while the rest were still in bed, I made my way to the nearby beach for an early morning walk. It was a beautiful morning and I was able to get some great shots of the cormorants fishing off the low rock faces. By the time I made my way back, the rest of the gang had woken. After a quick, makeshift breakfast we all headed off on the bikes to explore the island. We kept it at a handy pace as we were in no rush. There was a surprising amount of things to see despite the small size of the island. Trish, the archaeologist of the group, was able to give us the run down on all the church ruins and monuments we came across. It's always great when you get your own personal free tour guide. Our first stop was the Seven Churches followed by lunch on top of a ditch and then Dún Aonghasa.
It's not commonly known but one of my favourite films is 'The Matchmaker'. That’s right and I'm not ashamed of it either. The film is set in the west of Ireland and the Aran Islands. So logically I was all delighted to relive some of my favourite moments. Alas, my friends did not share my enthusiasm. Despite the lack of film re-enactments, Dún Aonghasa was pretty impressive. Being perched on both the edge of high cliffs and the highest point on the island allowed for some stunning views. Something we took full advantage of. Just before we left we asked the security guard to take a group photo of us. As he handed me back my camera he stopped, looked at me and asked, "Are ye the group from the pub last night?" Ah nice to see we were already leaving an impression on the locals.
Our campsite was no more than a field and two toilets but it was all you need.
Aran has more than one ace up its sleeve though. In recent years it has become world famous for something a little more left field. In 2012 the Red Bull cliff diving series came to the island. Since then it has become one of the must go places for many cliff jumpers from all over the world, all eager to try out the famous rectangular shape of this natural blow hole.
Clearly this was going to be something I wanted to try. Unfortunately though, things did not go in my favour. Not only did I lose the race to Ivan and Dee to find the place, but when we got there it wasn’t possible to dive. Despite the relatively calm waters, Poll na Peist was un-swimmable due to the low tide. The low tide makes it impossible to climb out of once you jumped in. I was pretty devastated as it was one of the main things I wanted to do on the island but there was nothing I could do. The picture, by the way, does it no justice. You have got to go see it for yourself to appreciate the sheer size of the thing.
On our way back from Poll na Peist we were greeted by one of the most unusual sites I have even seen. Randomly on top of one of the small cliff tops was a lone cow drinking out of the rock pools. How it got there must have been quite a feat as the walkway way really uneven and a good distance from the nearest fields. Still, she was a friendly old girl and was happy enough for us to take her photo and give her rubs.
An early morning walk was called upon again the next day to cure the head from the previous night. This time however, I was joined by Trish in an equally tired but restless mood. The itinerary for the day was all laid out when we got back. It was much the same as the previous day, cycling and sites. The Black Fort and the island museum were the main places we hit that day. The Black Fort is lesser known than Dún Aonghasa but is still worth a visit, especially if you are a big child like us because you are able to crawl into a tunnel under the main fort wall.
Now, I would like to say that we went the full hog each day and made all our food even dinner but I would be lying to you if I did. But sure, you've got to treat yourself every now and then. So as we set off for our "campsite cooked" dinner, we had no intention of going overly crazy as we had been out late the two previous nights. Alas, as it is us we didn't stick to this very long. After a brilliant meal in the American Bar we began chatting to one of the barmen. He was a Galway student over for the summer for work. It wasn’t long before the cards were pulled out and drinks were had. Now for the life of me I can't remember the name of the barman so we'll call him Bob. As the pub began to empty Bob joined us in our drinking games and come closing time he waved on the other barman and he gave us a lock in. At god-knows-what hour o'clock, as we were leaving, we invited Bob back to the campsite. Without hesitation Bob reached behind the bar, grabbed a load of cans and followed us out.
Our heads the next morning were terrible. Not as terrible however as the night Trish and Emma had. At some point during the night's rain there tent gave up the ghost and began to leak. They spent from 6.30 till 8.oo, when I woke up, stuck in the toilets for shelter. My laughter was not taken kindle but I couldn’t help myself. As the rest awoke it became clear we were all in the same sorry state. A hangover cure was in order and none better than a swim in the sea. Not the choice for everyone we split into two groups. We would go swimming while the others went for a horse and kart ride round the island. The morning was clear giving a tropical blue hue to the water. Which was nice as it gave us the feeling it would be warm right up to the point when we got in the water and discovered it was fucking freezing.
When we met up for lunch we shared our stories from the morning over a nice hot meal. Our mind then turned to the more pressing situation of packing up our camping gear. The final day of our trip had come and we did not want to leave, but as the old saying goes that all good things come to an end.
And sure no holiday would be complete without the obligatory group photo.
Below are some extra pictures from the trip. Please excuse the selfie I took. It was during our Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party and I was Dinah..
ar an rothar
endurance cyclist, adventurer and usually hungry