The Aran Islands
The three Aran Islands first termed as “the Islands of Saints & Scholars” are important elements of Celtic culture for their geological formation, historical monuments and their linguistic and cultural heritage. Inis Mór Island (Big Island), Inis Meáin Island (Middle island) and Inis Oírr Island (East island) are situated in a north westerly, south easterly direction at the mouth of Galway Bay, Ireland. The Irish (Gaelic) language is still spoken here and in the twenty first century all native born islanders are bilingual in both Irish and English.
Flora, Fauna & Geology
The Aran Islands in general are typified and charactorized as an extention of the Burren and this you will find a similar repitoire of natural plants which draws peoples attention. The uniqueness of this cannot be underestimated. The plant life around these parts of Ireland combines plantlife from the Mediterranean, Arctic, Alpine and Temperate varieties. These plants grow together in one cosy ecosystem. This is remarkable and nowhere else in the world is this evident. Between May and September every year, the otherwise barren landscape of Inis Oirr is abundant with colour as these small plants begin to emerge between the grykes of the karst limestone areas and along the dry-stone walls of the island. The usual Irish native flora of harebells, scabious, red clover, oxeye dasies and saxifrage are common as well as the ‘out of place’ Arctic ‘dryas octopetala’ and Alpine ‘gentiana verna’ and ‘Minuartia verna’.
The islands strike one immediately as being like a desert of rock. They are in fact a continuation of the ‘ boireann’ (burren) limestone rock in Co Clare to which they were once joined millions of years ago. There is scarcely any shelter, no mountainside or woodland, the people live open and exposed to the changing weather which traverses the islands from the Atlantic. What pasture there is has been for the most part man made. Traditionally seaweed, sand and whatever little soil can be garnered from between the rocks is mixed to create and fertilise a field. Miles of stonewalls encircle the fields and appear as intricately built lace on the landscape. On the northern side the islands are low-lying and sheltered facing Conamara and Galway Bay while to the south they rise to a height of some three hundred feet (100metres) in parts beyond which lies the vast Atlantic Ocean.
The Stone Walls & Limestone formations
The vastness of the unique rocky landscape of Inis Mor, and it’s uusual formations are an extremely beautiful sight. This is especially since the Aran Islands are essentially an extension of the Burren in County Clare. The cracked surface of the landscape marks resembles a grid and is termed formally as glints and grykes.
The karst limestone landscape of the Aran Islands and The Burren was formed by a Glacier during the Ice-Age which cleared the land of any plant and soil material leaving the bare rock exposed. The grykes between the clints were formed by water cutting through the softer parts of the rock. This process is still ongoing and in many parts of the Burren is dissolving the rock completely.
The stone walls of Inis Mor and the Aran Islands in general are really are of the most impressive and peculiar sights on Inis Mor. The miles and miles of stone walls define the farmers fields on the Aran Islands. They usually end up being one of decriptive features of a tourists description of their trip. The criss-cross of stone walls collectively add up to thousands of miles. The best place to gain a real perspective on the extent of the stone walls is by walking/cycling to the southern end of the island where you see nothing BUT stone walls.