Today we awoke to a beautiful Sunday morning with very few clouds in the sky and rays of sunshine peeking through: a perfect day for our first trip to the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland, at the mouth of Galway Bay.
There are three Aran Islands, and we decided that our first trip should be to the most tourism-friendly island: Inis Mór. http://www.aranislands.ie/inis_mor_guide.html
Inis Mór is the largest of the three Aran Islands, covering approximately sixteen square miles - situated on the west coast of Galway, about thirty miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.
We drove from Salthill along the coast, just west about 30 minutes or so, to a port area called Ros a Mhil Quay (or "Rossaveal" in English). Ferries depart a few times a day from here; it's best to get the first ferry at 10 a.m. during the summer months, so you can spend the most time on the island. The last ferry back is around 7 p.m., but we booked for the 5 p.m. return - thinking that should give us plenty of time to discover the island.
The ferry ride took about one hour - a very choppy ride past rolling hills peppered with stones and a few bayside cemeteries - you'd never see that in the U.S.
We exited the ferry in the main town of Kilronan and were greeted by horse-drawn carriages and drivers eager to take the tourists on guided tours around the island. Damon and I decided to walk instead; we stopped first at the Aran Islands Sweater Company (the island is known for its wool sweaters made by hand) - I was in awe and shopped around for at least 30 minutes or more while Damon took photos outside. I finally decided on a button-down sweater and a tan wool hat too, and then we set off to hike to a few of the points of interest on the island - The Black Fort and Teampall Bheanain ("teampall" meaning "church"), the smallest church in the world. We hiked out through town, along charming stone walls dividing green pastures into squares of private property, to stunning views of cliffs near the Black Fort and took pictures for probably one hour. The wind was wicked and the drop-off from the cliffs extreme. It was a little scary: one could easily be swept off the side of the cliff by a gust of wind. Then we hiked back down and found the tiny church at the top of a hill. Teampall Bheanain is considered the smallest church in the world and is notable for its orientation - north or south facing instead of east or west facing. Cows were grazing in the pastures on the hillside near the church, all overlooking Killeany Bay with the village of Kilronan in the distance. The pictures we'll share will do more justice than words. (And I enjoyed taking lots of photos of Damon taking photos; this might become a hobby of mine.)
Before we knew it, five hours had past, and our ferry was departing in one hour. Rather than take the later ferry home, we decided we'd make another trip to Inis Mor in the future and either take a guided bus tour or bike tour - that's the only way one can experience the entire island in one day. Here is a cool map of the island: http://www.goaran.com/intermap.htm.
We capped off our day trip with a plate of fish and chips at a restaurant by the pier and then boarded the ferry back to Rossaveal.