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Ed Boitano: Aran Islands
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The Aran Islands
Ireland's Living History

by Ed Boitano

n Robert Flaherty's brilliant 1934 documentary film, Man of Aran, we see an Irish man smashing limestone rocks to bits, while his wife gathers seaweed from the shore below the island's steep windswept cliffs. Meanwhile, their young son scavenges for precious particles of dirt that have collected between the rocks blown from the mainland. These three ingredients will be used to create the soil in order to grow potatoes - the family's main source of subsistence. This is the Aran Islands; a landscape made almost entirely of solid limestone rock. It is a landscape that is so inhospitable that this poor Irish family must manufacture their very own soil in order to survive. When Flaherty first heard of these stoic Irish people, he knew that their lives fit his theme of cultures fighting for their existence against extreme conditions, and that someday he would make a film about them. When I first viewed his masterful documentary, I knew that I too would someday set foot on the islands. Twenty-years later I finally did.

Man of Aran

THE ARAN ISLANDS TODAY

Nestled on the western coast of Ireland, the Aran Islands consist of three separate islands: Inishmore, Inishmann and Inishere. Located approximately seven miles from the mainland, about 30 miles from Galway City, the islands are easily accessible by ferry from Rossaveal and the musical town of Doolin in County Clare. Today, locals no longer create their own soil and reliable electricity has finally come to the Aran, but the islanders --- the most rugged-looking people that I have ever encountered --- are a hospitable group who are proud to share their history and culture with you. Tourism is now their largest form of income, and visitors come from all over the globe to experience this unique world of primitive forts, medieval churches and dramatic scenery.

INISHMORE (Inis Mór)

With a population of 831, Inishmore is the largest island. If you have just a day, this is the island you must see. Its principal village is Kilronan where you'll find tour guides, horsedrawn carriages and bicycle rentals waiting as soon as you get off your ferry. Before you depart on your tours, stop by Ionad Arainn, an excellent visitor's center, which provides a good introduction and guided tour taking you back more than two thousand years in the life and times of the Aran Islands. The center demonstrates the art of currach making --- a traditional island boat made by stretching a fabric over a sparse skeleton of thin laths, then covered in tar. The currach has been used on the islands for thousands of years and is designed to battle the rough seas that face the open Atlantic Ocean. Flaherty was fascinated to find that the Aran fishermen would not learn to swim, since they knew they could never survive any sea that swamped a currach, and would sink without a struggle like a stone. His filming of the dramatic shark-hunt - whose liver the islanders would boil to make lantern oil --- was a centerpiece of his staged documentary.

Stone fortress

Dun Aonghus Fort (Dun Aonghasa)

For me, the great stone fortress of Dun Aonghus is the most impressive site on all of the islands. Nestled on the edge of a cliff that falls 300 ft straight down into the ocean, it is enclosed by three massive stonewalls, with tall blocks of dagger-like limestone set vertically outside the walls to deter attackers. To this day, no one is quite sure of the origins of this mysterious stone fort.

INISHMANN (Inis Meáin)

With a population of 187 persons, the medium island of Inishmann is the least tourist-oriented of the Aran Island. Highlights include the ancient Kilcanonagh Church and the oval stone fort of Dun Chonchubhair.

INISHERE (Inis Óirr)

Despite being the smallest of the three islands with a population of 300 people, there is still plenty to do on Inishere. Ancient monuments worth seeing include the ruins of Saint Kevin's Church and O'Brien's Castle, a 15th century tower house that stands within a stone fort. Inishere is the most rock-like of all the islands.

ancient ruins

WHAT TO BUY

Known around the world as a 'fisherman sweater,' the islands are the home of the Aran Island Sweater. The sweater is usually made with undyed cream-colored "bainnin" sheep's wool, and is even occasionally made with unwashed wool that still contains natural sheep lanolin, making it water-repellent. There is debate about when island residents first started making the sweaters, but the popular story is that each family had a sweater with a unique design, so that if a fisherman in the family drowned and was found later on the beach, the body could be identified. A local told me that this was a romanticed myth, but as John Ford once said, when the legend becomes fact, always print the legend. The same textured knitting patterns are often used to make socks, hats, vests and even skirts and make wonderful gifts. Make sure that you ask the seller if the sweater was made on the island, for factory-made ones from Galway are starting to be sold at some of the shops.

WHERE TO STAY

Both Inishmore and Inishere offer a wide range of accommodations from guesthouses and b&bs to hostels and campgrounds.

house

HOW TO GET THERE

Aer Lingus has direct flights from LAX to Dublin and Shannon airports. Rent a car, but remember that not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but almost all cars are manuals - so make sure you request an automatic if not you're not comfortable shifting with your left hand. AerLingus.com or (800) 474 7424.

For further information on travel to the Aran Islands, contact www.aranislands.ie

Let Ed know what you think about his traveling adventure.
* * * * *

Feedback for "Spokane, Pullman and the Palouse"

Loved the Spokane article – my mom was born there and my grandparents are interred there. Haven't been back in decades.

--- Nancy, Hawaii

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Feedback for "Norway's Fjords"

Hi Ed. I was just reading your great story about traveling through the Norwegian countryside and the voyage along the coast - sounds amazing. I’ve been to Oslo, but definitely would like to return to Norway one day to explore exactly what you wrote about.

Cheers,

--- Sasha H.

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Feedback for "In Search of Movie Locations In the Land of Aloha"

Mahalo for your article on Hawaii film locations. You should check out our new "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book" at: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/

--- Ed Rampell (Co-Author), Los Angeles, CA

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Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

--- Christian Louboutin, U.K.

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Cool site.

--- Donna Namaste', San Francisco, CA

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Great work as always.

--- S. Wyatt, Seattle, WA

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Hr. (Danish for sir) Ed,

Thanks so much for your article on Copenhagen, DK...loved it! Very well done actually I used to live in Christianshavn (just next to Christania) and Danish is my second language.

You really did a quite grand job and pulled me ALL of the way into your analogy and experience from my other home.

Just one detail that I thought might have been included.....the bakeries & cheese shops in the mornings in nearly every 5 or so blocks as they waft the incredible hypnotizing aromas of those amazing Danish specialties.

I most especially and absolutely love the fact that you included the "hyggeligt" element...wonderful!!

Another aspect of the Danish language that I have found interesting is that we only cuss to devil rather than the more typically religious icons and that love (elsker) is only very rarely used.

All-in-all you have me totally on your team and I will always look forward to your future writing.

Med venlig hilsen...(with kind regards).

--- Breeze

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Hi Ed,

Thank you for your article on the Cherokee Nation. I really appreciate the historical perspective and recognition of their contribution to American culture.

--- Nora Weber, British Columbia

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Another cool issue. You da' man. One question: Is that Mark Lindsay on the front page?

--- Brent, Seattle, WA

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This would be a fascinating place to visit. There is so much history within our reach that we don't often acknowledge in more than a token way. I am wondering if any individual or group has ever gone on a vision quest, or perhaps a memorial march, by retracing the path of the Trail of Tears? This would be a painful journey, for most, I imagine.

--- Sandra, Seattle, WA

Osiyo! From Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism: What a great description of Kauai! The pictures are awesome and I loved reading your travel report! Keep pushin' on!

--- Lisa Long, Tulsa, OK

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I'm getting hungry again just reading your article! It's hot today and I could really use a shave ice right now.

Hope you're having a great day!

--- Melissa, Honolulu, HI

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Thanks so much for sharing! Wow. The beauty even from the few pictures here and your descriptions is breathtaking... I can't even imagine being there for real! The food looks and sounds exquisite, I'm not sure my kind of exquisite, but I do like to be adventurous on occasion :).Quite the story there.

--- Emily, Boise, ID

Great pictures!

--- Anna Harrison, Palmdale, CA

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Tough job, Ed! Thanks for sharing.

--- Brenda Hughes, Richland, WA

Ed, Tim from the team of Jack and Tim - Star Clipper. Great trip. Always enjoy your postings.

--- Tim & Jack, Washington DC

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Hi Ed,

I really enjoyed your story on the Empress of the North. I was an Assistant Cruise Director aboard her in 2004, and you gave me a treasured walk down memory lane with her.You might know this, but if not .... you can cruise the Columbia again late this summer and early fall. The Empress' sister boat, the Queen of the West, was purchased by American Cruise lines and will offer a Columbia River itinerary which almost mirrors the one my Empress used to travel. Just thought you'd like to know.

--- Paul Penta, 2004 Assistant Cruise Director, Empress of the North, Copperas Cove, TX

Ed, you are by far the most interesting of all the Boitanos. Your coverage is extensive and captivating. It's a real treat to read your blogs. Your article on the Baltic Sea Nations is no exception. But don't get me wrong, the other Boitanos have their own charm and perspective. Thanks for all your articles. I can see it's a work of art. I just now noticed your Dog Quotes --- what a great collection! Keep up the good work. Keep on sharing your travels! This is better than the more popular travelogues.

--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hi Ed,

How's life? Hope all's well in sunny Cal.

Having just received the latest issue of the Traveling Boy newsletter I popped back over to your site to take a look around and came across this article which I had not previously read: www.travelingboy.com/archive-travel-ed-baltic.html

Loved it! First of all, this is a part of the world that I absolutely adore so reading about it is always a pleasure. Secondly, I'm happy to see you crossing things off your Buck with such gusto! Myself, I have already been to Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen, and Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Moscow are all on my Buck. After reading through the article I reminded once again why!

One of my favourite lines in the piece is:

"Granted, eight to twenty-fours in world-class cities like Helsinki and Tallinn hardly does them justice, but a sketch is always better than a blank canvas."

So very true. I'll take a sketch over a blank canvas any day! Besides, sketches often lead to full-blown paintings anyway.

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this story. Hope there are many more fun adventures awaiting you soon!

Cheers,

--- Ashley, Toronto

Thanks for a great trip, Ed - such a comfortable way to travel, particularly to several cities i knew very little about. I've had only one sea voyage - crossed to G.B. on the United States in the early 60s - no balconies, etc. on that ship, as she was prepared to be stripped down to carry troops in event of WWIII, but still luxurious in her own way.

Bumped into a documentary recently on PBS re the old lady who is now docked in Philadelphia, I believe with peeling paint on her sides and funnels and of course the interior stripped and auctioned off of everything...periodic moves to rehabilitate her, but so costly people back off. She was the largest and fastest - still is. Her record was 3 days crossing - we did it in a little over 5 (cruise speed I guess!). They showed regular passengers like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who happened to be on board when I was, as well as gazillions of stars who traveled on her. Charles Boyer was the only one on my crossing - we were alone in the library one time, but I didn't say anything. He looked immersed in his pursuit of a book. The Windsors were tiny little people, as was M. Boyer (and this comment from a 5'2" observer!). How's that for an ancient history lesson? Anyhow seeing the ship like she is now made me almost teary - surprised myself somehow.

--- Brenda Hughes, Richland, WA

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I loved this article!! Kept me in rapt attention, felt like I explored part of the world myself ;) nice way to start my day, sounds altogether amazing and unforgettable!

--- Emily, Boise, ID

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Great writing!! Reading, education and fabulous locations! All around WOWS!

--- E Dava, Burbank, CA

What a wonderful assortment of travel destinations. I have always been drawn to islands, and as a Pacific Northwesterner, dream from time to time about settling in the San Juans someday (like a lot of us here visualize for ourselves). Hopefully, travel will occur before this particular dream comes to pass. I enjoy reading about the connections you have with the places you write about. I will visit that fishing village in Norway, someday, just because of the photograph. Who wouldn't, after seeing it. Thanks, Ed

--- Sandee, Seattle, WA

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Another great edition!

--- CG, Central California Coast

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Hi Ed,

I sailed into Sooke on my way to port Ludlow from Portland, Oregon in my sailboat few years back. It was interesting port. The entry is snake like channel with local fisherman's local markers only to guide you into the port.

--- Larry, Portland, OR

Wow. I want to go to Vietnam! It's beautiful! Those are amazing pictures!

--- Archie, Pasadena, CA

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Kudos to Mark Twain. He knows how to honor a dog, and kudos to Cedric for all he was and still is and kudos to you for another edition of www.traveling boy.com. Peace and Love,

--- Joel, Pasadena, CA

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Ed, I really enjoy your traveling adventures. Your stories are so well written and the photographs are amazing. Thank you for letting us in on your adventures. You bring the adventure to those of us who aren't able to go. Thank you.

--- Cheryl, Pismo Beach, CA

Amazing story and pictures. To think that 40 years ago we were all terrified at the prospect of going there... what a difference a few decades makes. Fantastic article!

--- Roger, Puyallup, WA

Thanks for your expert insight, Jeremy. Have you ever lived in New York? Don't tell me you are one of those tourists or former transplants. It's a very different experience when one lives here. Unlike Los Angeles, there really is a sense of community. New Yorkers love and care about their city... and, yes, their neighbors too.

--- Lisa - New York, NY

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NY sucks. It's now nothing more than a Disneyland version of its former glory. It city filled with tourists and transplants, and no longer the center of the universe. The WEST is the best. Everyone is moivng to the Coast. Even NY fashion designers check out the LA street scene before launching their new designs. Plus no one in NY knows real pizza. Take a trip to Naples sometime and try the real thing.

--- Jeremy - Los Angeles, CA

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The economic boom is what drove all the changes in New York. The mayors were in the right place at the right time, and to their credit, handled things well. It's easier to clean up the city and cut crime when you have more money to spend. The economic outlook for New York is bleak now with unemployment going up. Bloomberg already is short money and will be cutting services across the board. If things don't turn around, people may not be as friendly in a few years.The idea that New Yorkers are not nice is just a myth; people in L.A. are much more distant and shut-off.

--- Michael, Native New Yorker

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I think that overall, Manhattan has become friendlier in the last few years, not sure why but don't think Giuliani or Dinkins can take credit. There was definitely a surge of NYC solidarity following 9/11, and Giuliani was extremely popular during that period. When he supported Bush so strongly in the election that followed, his popularity plummeted, though. Bloomberg has definitely done a good job with making a lot of bike lanes, blocking off large areas of what was previously street and putting tables and chairs for pedestrian use. Not sure how this economic downturn will affect local attitudes, though....

--- Sue, New York

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This is the best. Keep them coming.--- Paul Ash

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Ed, thanks for putting the Holland button on your site.

By the way, your images really work! I opened the newsletter and was immediately tempted to click on an article. Love it. And also love the fact I can click on images in the articles to enlarge them. The short headline on the image makes me curious. Well done.

--- Bianca Helderman

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Thanks Ed, for this delightful view of this wondrous city! The first time I traveled with a husband to NYC years ago, it was for an Orchestral Conductor's conference. We lived in Newfoundland at that time, so you can imagine my shock of coming from isolation to the big apple!My heart began beating as I looked out of my hotel window at the figures of humans below, scurrying like ants, I was up so high. It wasn't the height, rather, the invisible buzz, that urgently beckoned me to go outside! But when I reached the sidewalk, the rush of pedestrians made me wonder "where's the party?" Friendly? Yes! I lived in NYC for 5 years with a later husband and loved every minute! Being an artist, I could not relax enough to paint, so I took up acting and worked with "Children In Need" a charity, instead and partook of everything NY had to offer from opera and Off Broadway plays and such to ballet and wholistic healings....a city full of everything one could imagine! I truly love NYC and years later am grateful to live in a quieter area of California so I may relax and paint and do my healing work...going back only to visit my delightful haunts. There is nothing like NYC!.

--- Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

Ed,

Great issue. Well done. They keep getting better! --- Grace Conlee Micetich, San Diego, CA

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I loved all of the traveling news! It’s good to know you are still out there in the world. --- Judy Vincent

Ed,

Thanks for getting me back on the Traveling Boy newsletter mailing list- I have missed it!

I do believe we need contributions of the ‘road less traveled’ in the US for those of us whose feet never leave the ground… Ahhhh… the Badlands... Two Medicine in Glacier… the Lava tubes in central Oregon… my next destination wish: Monument Valley.

--- Lorrie Sjoquist

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The photos and descriptions of this trip are wonderful. I love the idea of the slowed down pace of the train. Kind of a throwback to the "good old days." --- Larry Lombard, Puyallup, WA

I think you outdid yourself with the "Two Cities" article. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew so little about these two cities. I learned so much. Your article was jampacked with very interesting trivia. Surprised the Jazz greats and Walt Disney came from practically the same area. And those pictures --- especially the WWI museum --- what an incredible shot --- almost like out of somebody's Satyricon dream. Bravo!

--- Rod, Glendale, CA

What a great article! --- Michelle, Torrance, California

Ed,

The photos are spectacular. I can envision many a romantic novel inspired by these majestic sceneries. Makes me want to do a little more research on Norway. John Lenon must have been one of the converts when he wrote "Norwegian Woods."
--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena CA

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Peter,

Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to write. Indeed, Norway was paradise on earth, and I dream of returning again and again. You had a funny line about John Lennon being so inspired by the beauty of Norway that he composed the song, "Norwegian Wood." If I'm not mistaken, his reference to "Norwegian Wood" is just that: an inexpensive pine wood from Norway that was becoming popular in the UK. I did read somewhere, though, that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was inspired by Norwegian fjord trek.

Thanks again… and please keep writing.

Ed

Ed,

Reading Peter's implication that "Norwegian Wood" was based on a trip that John Lennon took to Norway led me to do some research.

According to Paul McCartney at a press conference in Los Angeles: 'Peter Asher [brother of McCartney's then-girlfriend Jane Asher] had just done his room out in wood, and a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine, really, just cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, is it, "Cheap Pine"? It was a little parody, really, on those kind of girls who, when you'd get back to their flat, there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view, but not from John's. It was based on an affair he had. She made him sleep in the bath and then, finally, in the last verse, I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as a revenge. She led him on and said, "You'd better sleep in the bath." And in our world, that meant the guy having some sort of revenge, so it meant burning the place down....'

Of course, just cause it's on the 'net doesn't mean it's true.

--- Jeff M, Tacoma, WA

Weird piece on Copenhagen (Cosy in Copenhaggen). Do you think now that Keefer’s in the slammer in Glendale for DWI he’s experiencing any hygge? I bet some of those jailbirds would like to see how touch he is.

--- Adam S., Glendale CA

I loved your intro and the way you set up the article. It immediately set the tone of an action-paced adventure. I imagined Annette as a spy in a trenchcoat feeding you top secret information. I'm surprised you didn't get lost. Do they speak English over there? Are the street signs in English? Does a GPS work over there?

I never heard of "hygge" but, like you, I think I've felt that sensation everytime the cold wind blows here in South Pasadena, CA. When I sit beside a warm fire, sipping my hot chocolate, I will remember this article. Thanks!

--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA



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