On all the Aran Islands you will easily be able to spot the tradional fishing and transport boats of the islands. Known as Currachs, these boats have been the mode of water transport for the local islands for centuries and are still used to this day by local fishermen. The currach can be seen in many islands and coastal areas of Western Ireland but the design can vary a little from area to area. Known also as naomhogs, these boats are traditionally made from a wooden frame covered with animal skins and then coated with a water sealing layer of tar, which gives the boats their black colour. Currach racing is a popular sport for Islanders and you may be lucky enough to catch a race during your visit.
As an official Gaeltacht area, all road signs and public notices are in Irish. Signposts to sights of interest are often just in Irish so it’s good to know the names of the places in Irish. It is also important to recognise road signs in Ireland especially if you are driving (or more likely cycling) on the islands.
The most important sign you will see is the yield sign, which is the same triangular shape and red and white colour as on the mainland but bearing the words ‘Geill Sli’ instead of ‘Yield’.
Some common Irish words you might encounter on the Aran Islands are:
‘Garda Siochana’ is the Irish word for Police (literally guards of peace)
‘Oifig an Phoist’ means post office
‘Teampall’ indicates an ancient church
‘Dun’ is the word for fort
‘Siopa’ indicates a shop
‘Cill’ generally refers to a small church eg. Cill Ronain – Kilronan, Cill Ghobnait – Church of St. Gonait
‘Ostan’ – Restaurant/Hotel/Pub
‘Tigh’ from ‘Tigh Tabhaire’ means pub usually followed by the proprietor’s name eg. Tigh Fitz (Fitz’s Pub)
Fáilte – Welcome
Fir/Fear – Men/Man
Mná/Bean – Women/Woman
The world famous woollen sweaters of Aran have their roots in the fishing traditions of the island men. The women traditionally made the wool from the sheep’s fleece while the men knitted the sweaters using goose quills as needles. The traditionally cream coloured sweaters have intricate patterns and designs and the designs themselves have special significance. There are a variety of stitch patterns symbolising different things. For example there is a Trinity Stitch symbolising God, life and being and the Trellis stitch is symbolic of the stone walls of western Ireland. The single zig-zag indicates the twisting cliffs of the island’s coast while a double zig-zag represents marriage and its inherent ups and downs. The diamond stitch symbolises wealth and success while the honeycomb pattern indicates hard work and its rewards. You can learn more about the traditions of the Aran Sweater and its patterns at the Aran Sweather Market in Kilronan on Inis Mor.
The three Aran Islands are designated ‘Gaeltacht’ areas which means that the first language of the local islanders is the ancient Irish language (Gaeilge). The Irish language is a form of the old Gaelic language spoken by the Celts and is one of the official languages of Ireland. There are various Gaeltacht areas in Ireland, including the Dingle peninsula in Kerry, Ring in Waterford, Connemara in Galway, West Donegal, West Mayo, Muskerry and Ballyvourney in Cork as well as a splattering of urban Gaeltacht and planted Gaeltacht areas all over the country. Many of the western islands of the country are also Gaeltacht areas including the three Aran Islands. There are various dialects of Irish which differ significantly (mainly in pronunciation) which can be broadly categorised into the three dialects of Munster Irish, Connemara Irish and Ulster Irish. Munster Irish speakers (especially mediocre speakers like myself!!!) can find it quite difficult to understand the Connemara dialect spoken on the Aran Islands but it is encouraged and appreciated by locals if you try to speak even a cupla focal (few words).
A lot of houses on Inishmore having a straw roof and from time to time this straw has to be replaced. We were lucky to see them replacing the straw on the roof. Why straw, well all the old houses are build from clay and straw.
Straw is a good durable and cheap material, it’s plenty on hand. It’s a rest product of grain. It’s light so the construction and the foundations don’t have to be so strong as for a stone building. Straw is also a good isolator, so that means that it’s in the winter faster warm and in summer it stays cooler longer. The straw roof is also breathing, this means that there is good ventilation and that you don’t have problems with condensation (straw is giving the moisture towards the air).
Here we saw several people thatching a rooftop. While we were talking to their neighbour, they made good progress in putting that new layer of straw on the roof.
The forts on Aran have been here for hundreds of years. They are great prehistoric sights and you wouldn't want to destroy them. Please don't climb onto the walls of the forts. Remember that they are old and real and not made out of concrete. This is no adventure playground!