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A beginner’s guide to the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands offer an escape from everyday life for any tourist, with the rugged and barren landscape providing a real atmosphere of peace and solitude. People have been calling the islands their home for thousands of years, which can come to a surprise to many visitors. Visitors will be glad to hear that the islands get less rainfall than Galway City.

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Part of the Gaeltacht

The Aran Islands are part of the Gaeltacht, which essentially mean that the predominant language of choice is Irish. Don’t worry if you can’t speak Irish, as the islanders also speak English. For those who want to speak Irish, this a great place to come and learn and is what many secondary school pupils do over the summertime, immersing themselves in the language whilst attending an Irish college here.

Aran sweaters

Aran sweaters were invented as recently as the 1890s and have become recognisable all over the world, in particular in the most traditional off-white colour. Originally, they were hand-knitted; today, they are more commonly machine knitted. This means that looking for Aran sweaters has never been easier, with many online stores selling them.

Currach boats

The Aran Islands’ boat of choice is known as the currach boat. These boats are native to the islands and have had their construction and form perfected over many centuries. The boats have a distinct wooden frame that was traditionally covered in animal skins; today, animal skins are for the most part replaced with more cost-effective tarred canvas. They are now primarily used for fishing; however, in the past, currachs were the staple form of transport between the islands and the Irish mainland.

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Dry stone walling

When arriving at the islands, it is hard to miss the considerable number of stone walls; in fact, there is an estimated 10,000km of stone walling. Dry stone walling is a craft and it is not as easy as simply piling one rock on top of another. The key to a stable and tight wall is picking the right stones, which the builder may have to customise. As you can imagine, the work is physically very demanding. The craftsmanship can be seen and each island has its own style of dry-stone walls; for example, some are built by using stones vertically, which is rare to see on the mainland.

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