Destinations, Ireland

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry

September 23, 2012
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We have new neighbors, and they moo.  

Considering that I’m a city girl at heart, I surprisingly have a sense that I could get used to this.  The greenness of the hills out the window is simply amazing.  There’s also something pretty funny about having a conversation be punctuated from time to time by a lowing moooo in the background.  Who knows, it might get old after a while, and I might also feel differently if we were downwind.  As it is, I can’t smell the cows, just see and hear them.  All the romanticized benefits without any of the olfactory downsides!

First breakfast at the restaurant downstairs was lovely: muesli (cue immense excitement), homemade brown bread with golden Irish butter (yes, the butter is better here), creamed oatmeal with honey, and melt-in-your-mouth locally smoked salmon with a fluffy mound of scrambled eggs.

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry | Destinations Ireland

Smoked salmon and eggs, drizzled with basil oil

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry | Destinations Ireland

Creamed oatmeal with honey and raisins

Gazing out at the patchwork of farmland and animals, we discussed what to do with the day.  Aran Islands? Cliffs of Moher?  Exploring the town? I’d originally slated today for a visit to the nearby islands.  However, it was already pretty grey outside: rain coming down in intermittent sheets and long grasses bent over from the blustery wind.  The island ferries don’t run if the wind and waves are too strong, and the weather outside didn’t look too promising.

Last night, we’d overheard one of the guests at the B&B talking about her harrowing ride with her bride-to-be friend on one of the cliff cruises.  The boat had been going from side to side, rocking back and forth so much they thought they were going to fly off into the water.

You also sometimes hear about getting stranded.  If the weather turns suddenly foul while you’re on the islands, you may not get a return boat ride until things calm down.  (There are B&Bs which are no doubt more than happy to accommodate; getting stranded on an island just tends to throw a bit of a wrench into travel plans.)

That settled it.  With the weather looking the way it did, we were fairly well convinced that we’d be skipping the Aran islands and spending the day in Doolin (probably with a trek to the cliffs or elsewhere – Doolin town is only about one street, after all, so not a ton to occupy the whole day).

In spite of this, we didn’t want to miss out if we’d gotten it wrong.  So, we figured getting a local’s opinion would be good and asked our host.

“Would you recommend going to the Aran Islands today?  Is the weather all right for it?”Her response, surprisingly: “On a clear day like today? Definitely!”

We looked outside.  The rain was blowing sideways. 

“…Are you sure?” 

“Absolutely!”

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry | Destinations Ireland

Not gonna lie, even Seattleites don’t call this “clear weather”.

Right, then.  We remained skeptical, but decided to defer to her judgment.  Surely the ferries wouldn’t run if the weather was too inclement.  Our host was kind enough to call the ferry for us and secured spots on the (only) morning one.  Just in the nick of time, too – it was leaving in 15 minutes.

Time to run!  We sprinted upstairs, grabbed our jackets and bags (and a pack of gum and floss – no time to brush!) and jetted out.  In spite of getting a little lost on the way to the ferry (unmarked forks in the road can add a certain… factor of delay), we arrived with some time to spare. 

There are three Aran Islands: Inisheer (Irish: Inis Oírr), Inishmore (Inis Mór), and Inishmaan (Inis Meáin). Inishmore is the largest island, but isn’t the most accessible from Doolin.  Arguably the best way to get to Inishmore is from the village of Rossaveal, located northwest of Galway in the Connemara region.  From Doolin, it’s somewhat inefficient of a destination: about an hour and a half by ferry.  We thought it better to stick to the closer islands and visit Inishmore when we return to Galway (remember what I said about already planning our return trip?  Yeah, that itinerary’s filling up fast.)

People have different reasons for preferring one island over another.  Some say that because Inishmore is largest, it has more to do and is thus more interesting; however, for this reason it can also be more touristy.  For those who want to get away from the bustling crowds during high season, the smaller islands can be preferable.  We’d like to experience all of them at some point, but for now it was clearly a matter of proximity and convenience. 

Thus, we’d be going to the smallest island (also closest to Doolin): Inisheer. It’s possible to walk or bike Inisheer in a day.  We weren’t sure what we’d be doing there other than a vague notion around visiting ruins, but that was part of all the fun and exploration.  What we did know was this: all are supposed to be beautiful, somewhere between Connemara’s vast vert landscapes and the desolation of the Burren.

The islands are also Gaeltacht, which, as you might remember the post on Connemara, is an area which still predominantly speaks what some call Gaelic.  When you’re speaking to these people, however, they refer to the language not as “Gaelic” or “Traditional Irish”, but just as “Irish”. This is the language of Ireland – theirs and their ancestors’ before them – with nothing “traditional” about it.  Thus, I’ve also been trying to call the language Irish, as it seems most appropriate.

Once on the ferry, we made our way down into the hold, which was rather dank and grim.  Small portholes cast scant light across the pockmarked floor and the sparse, bolted-down utilitarian seating.  Clearly this was, at least at one point, intended more for cargo rather than as a people carrier.

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry | Destinations Ireland

Portholes in the hold. Hmm. Not so much on the natural light factor.

Seeing as how neither of us is squeamish about boat travel, we climbed back up to the top deck to get a better view.  Up there was much better; the briny air whipped my hair across my face, and, squinting against the spray kicked up from the waves and wind, I could see ruins atop a tiny nearby island. 

Ireland Day 7, Part 1: Doolin to Inisheer via ferry | Destinations Ireland

And we’re off!

The top deck had four or five benches, one in front of the other starting nearly at the front of the prow, also bolted down.  They resembled slatted park benches but were lumpy and rubberized from repeated coats with drippy black lacquer, an attempt to ward off the inevitably caustic effects of time at sea.

We sat down and were soon off.  A few people joked nervously about the surprising lack of any safety instruction (there were a couple lifesavers in sight, but rafts? Life vests? Ejection seats? Not so much.  Ready, set, adventure time!)

It was soon proved as to whom among those above-decks had the mettle to remain there.  The water was choppy (we would later find out that here and closer to the Cliffs of Moher, people come from all over to surf on one of largest waves in the world.  Surfers in Ireland  – who knew?) Up against one wave we’d crash, up and over, and then down, down, until your stomach dropped out, and then swooping up again to the next crest. Jason and I (and all the people left above) were having a blast.  For us, there was no sense of danger to it, just exhilaration.  It was like an amusement park ride, but seatbelts and safety instructions be damned.*

Our boat plowed through the water, cresting and dipping, and we stood atop it, gripping the bench in front of us, perhaps a bit white-knuckled at times, but whooping with each lift and drop as the icy wind snapped our hoods back and forth behind us like sails.  Then, suddenly, as if at a crossroads, we broke through into calmer waters.  Clouds gave way to misty light beams and then full on sunshine as we neared the island.  The wind tamed to a breeze. Our host was right; it was a perfect, clear day after all.


* Joking aside, it’s important to note that these skippers have been doing this for a long time, and they are familiar with the weather here – it’s a multi-generational family-owned and operated company.  I defer to their judgment of what is or is not dangerous.  We chose to accept that if the weather had been too bad, the ferries wouldn’t have left the docks at all.  It ended up being really fun and we didn’t feel it was unsafe.

Whatever helps you sleep at night, though, right? Seeing as how we’d already driven the wilds of Connemara with a compromised tire, perhaps our judgment is a teensy bit skewed.  In any case, for others, it was perhaps less fun (we overheard one person above joke: “Oh, Carol’s totally fine – she’s having a blast.  It’s Linda who’s down below having a panic attack!”  Poor Linda.)

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