The Ruins of the Aran Islands

Wednesday, 17th November 2010 by

The three Aran Islands are in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland and are named Inis Mór (Inishmore – Big Island), Inis Meáin (Inishmaan – Middle Island) and Inis Oírr (Inisheer – East Island).

Like The Burren, which we recently featured, the Aran Islands are of karst formation and are covered by thousands of pieces of limestone. To make the land usable, this stone has been gathered and used to create 1600 km of walls and some fantastic forts, churches and castles.

Inis Mór

Inis Mór is the largest of the 3 Islands, but not fully covered by good resolution. It has a permanent population of about 900, and was the location for the 1933 film Man of Aran, depicting the life of the Islanders prior to the 1930′s.

The island’s real name is Árainn na Naomh or Aranmore, but was renamed by the British Ordnance Survey in the mid 1800s, to avoid confusion with Aranmore off the coast of Donegal.

Dun Aonghasa is a massive fort perched on the cliff top that, due to erosion of the cliff, is only a faction of the size that it once was. Built about 2200 years ago, the remaining site encloses 6 hectares (14.82 acres) and its heavily-restored walls are 6m high (18 feet)

There are 3 sets of walls and, outside of those, a layer of chevaux de frise: a defense line of stones laid at different angles to slow attackers. Sadly, this fort is not visible in Google Earth, but can be viewed on Ordnance Survey Ireland’s Website.

Photos by Galway.net, The Heritage Council and Richard Jensen

Another cliff-top fort similar to Dun Aonghasa is Dún Duchathair (Black Fort). Again only parts of the fort remain, its walls are 6m high and 5m thick.

At the highest point of the island is the island’s first lighthouse. Built in 1818, it only operated until 1857 and was replaced by lighthouses at either end of the Aran Islands.

Nearby is Dún Eochla, a 2-walled fort with a hut built inside. Its inner walls are 5m high and 3m thick, and was built between 550AD and 800AD.

Inis Meáin

Inis Meáin, the middle island, has a permanent population of about 160 and has 2 stone forts: Dún Chonchúir (Conors Fort), which was built with an estimated 14,000 tons of stone, and the later-built, square-shaped Dún Fearbhaí which overlooks the harbour.

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr is the eastern and smallest island of the three. It has a permanent population of about 250, but increases to many times this during the tourist season.

O’ Briens Castle was built in the 14th Century was the scene of many battles for dominion of the islands. A signal tower built in 1804-1806 was part of a defense chain along the Irish coast at the time.

Close to the tower is the island’s first school. The story goes that the landlord of the island was forced by law to donate land to provide education on the island and begrudgingly picked the highest point on the island.

And finally, anybody familiar with the TV series Father Ted should recognise the island from the opening sequences of the show, which features the Plassey shipwreck and shots of the island.