The Aran Islands (Oileáin Árann in Gaelic) are a group of 3 islands in Ireland, known throughout the world for their wild, typically oceanic beauty! Located 18 km from the west coast of Ireland, on the Galway Bay side, these islands are the cradle of a strong History, between archaeological remains, ancestral traditions, and life rhythmed by the climate and the ocean… Breathtakingly beautiful, they are popular with tourists for their wild landscapes and prehistoric remains (many forts are still standing). The icing on the cake: it was originally on the Aran Islands that the famous Aran sweater (or Irish sweater) was born, made from incomparable local virgin wool!
According to legend, the Bay of Galway was originally a simple lake, blocked by an overhang. However, this overhang would have been destroyed by a strong storm, and would have left behind it, only the 3 islands of Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Beyond this legend, a more rational explanation has been put forward by geologists. The islands of Aran would be in truth the extension of the Burren (Co. Clare), located on the other side of the bay. This finding was made after observing a great similarity between the soils of the Burren and the Aran Islands. Consisting of limestone and shale, the soils have the same similarities, and consist of large flat surfaces cracked by erosion as well as large expanses of pebbles.
The Aran Islands were populated as early as the 5th century, during the period of the Christianisation of Ireland. At that time, the islands were mainly inhabited by a few small chapels and monasteries, as well as villages populated by farmers and fishermen. Life was harsh, and was conducted in accordance with Gaelic customs. From the 5th to the 20th century, ways of life changed relatively little, and many traditions were preserved until the 1900s.
Thus, many travellers stopping on the Aran Islands at the beginning of the 20th century could only be surprised by the gap between their modern customs and the ancestral customs practiced on the Aran Islands.
The inhabitants lived in tiny hovels consisting of a bedroom and a kitchen. They spoke only Gaelic, not knowing any English. Not knowing the modern means used to count the time (the watch), they used sundials and used the wind to help them evaluate the hours of the day.
They dressed only from the wool produced by their sheep, and wore hand-spun and hand-woven clothing. They spent their days at sea, fishing, using frail skiffs, called “Curraghs”, which only they knew how to handle…
In truth, the inhabitants of the Aran Islands categorically refused to buy any of the resources available on the island of Ireland, with the exception of peat!
With few means at their disposal, and living in a state of proven poverty, they lived in total isolation, relying on the product of their labour and the natural wealth of their islands and the ocean. As the island’s shores were relatively violated by the ocean, many fishermen lost their lives, and the daily precariousness, coupled with the prevailing misery of those years, undoubtedly made these inhabitants a much poorer population than the rest of Ireland…