Ireland is compact enough to criss-cross very readily in just one day and be back in your hotel in time for dinner. For this journey we took a bus, a tram, three minibuses, two trains and two aircraft. Most of this was done on a single ticket.
Although the trip took just a day we went from modern-day Dublin all the way back to the iron age, and stood on a perilous cliff looking out in the direction of the Americas. This took us back in time by perhaps as much as twenty-two centuries.
Our journey started off with a bus from slumbering Temple Bar, exhausted from its jollity of the night before, to Dublin Heuston station.
At the station we were met by a member of Railtours Ireland, who was to escort us all the way through to Galway. From this point until we returned to the station in the evening we travelled on a single Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) ticket! We boarded the train at 7:30 and enjoyed the lush greenness of the Irish countryside, punctuated by towns with familiar English names, though the Irish names were to us unfamiliar and exotic-looking.
As we drew closer to Galway the stone walls of the West became more prevalent.
From the station in Galway we were given directions to the minibus stop and said goodbye to our escort.
We were driven from Galway to the Connemara airport. It is worth commenting on that the drive was at a reasonable speed and in compliance with the traffic laws. That made a refreshing change from our experience in many other parts of the world.
Aer Arann Islands operates the eight-minute flights from Connemara across Galway Bay to the Aran Islands. We flew to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran islands. The flight is a short hop in a nine-seater twin-engined Britten-Norman Islander aircraft. Each passenger is individually weighed so that the balance of the aircraft can be calculated. (If you weigh more than anybody else then you are probably going to sit in the single seat at the back!)
There are good views of Inishmore as you come in to land at the small aerodrome.
Second minibus – tour of Inishmore
The villages on Inishmore are clusters of sometimes as few as three to four houses. One views various ruins of buildings such as the Irish Church, and a building that dates back to Cromwell. The fields are small and the walls of stone around them are an indication that they were riddled with stones that had to be removed by hard, back-breaking work before anything could be planted.
The undoubted highlight though, is Dun Aengus, built around 200 years BCE by people so ancient that archaeologists have no clue as to who they actually were!
Iron-age fort: Dun Aengus
Dun Aengus has its back to the sea, with a 100 metre cliff on that side, and a series of four concentric fortifications on the land side, to protect it from attack by land. It is not clear what its purpose was, but whoever built it certainly went to a lot of effort to put it up. Some have suggested that it had religious purposes, but that seemed to us to be an unnecessary amount of fortification for a shrine.
Curiously enough, some walls that were “restored” in more recent times appear to be falling over already, in contrast to the original walls that seem to be doing fine by themselves despite their age.
Our visit to Dun Aengus was enhanced by the local historian offering her expertise and knowledge to our small, ad-hoc group that had tramped up to the fort together.
There is a fairly long, uphill walk from the small group of crafts shops where the minibus stops, up to Dun Aengus, and the site itself is perched on somewhat of a hill, so you need to be fit to get there. It is not suitable for folks using wheelchairs.
There was time to lunch at the crafts village, and buy some unique knitwear, handmade on the island. Though wool was also on sale, it rather disappointingly came from England!
The return to Dublin consisted of everything in reverse: a minibus to the aerodrome, another fun flight, the minibus back to Galway. A short stop in Galway to buy some traditional jewellery (helped by kind directions from the driver), then the rail journey back to Dublin and a short tram ride back to the hotel.
The green beauty of the land is something truly memorable.