So we had an early breakfast and hit the road towards Rossaveel (Ros a Mhoile?), the port town west of Galway where the ferries stop. It was raining on and off for the 45-minute drive, but we got to the ferry terminal on time, picked up our tickets (reserved online the night before), and got on the boat without mishap. The 45-minute ferry trip was uneventful: no especially dramatic scenery or wildlife sightings, under heavily overcast skies. The rain held off until we got off the boat, but by the time we reached the B&B 200 meters away it was definitely raining. We checked into our room and ran next door for lunch (at the Aran Fisherman restaurant, very tasty and imaginative), and by the time we had finished eating, the rain had stopped and there were signs of blue in the sky.
Innishmore (Inis Mor) is less than ten miles long, and the standard way for tourists to explore it is by bicycle -- there are at least three bike-rental places between the pier and our B&B -- so we rented a pair of bicycles, applied some sunscreen (!), and headed off under increasingly sunny skies. The first attraction was St Benen's Church, which was built in the 10th century on top of a windswept bare ridge and is still in excellent condition (except, as usual, for the lack of a roof). The interior dimensions are 6 feet by 12 feet, so it's not the sort of place you would hold a large service -- but then, the location makes pretty clear that it wasn't intended for gregarious types. In fact, shalmestere
said "This is the perfect introvert's vacation spot." Pictures to come.
We cycled on past the island airport and a cemetery, stopping on occasion to see the seabirds picking through the tidepools, looking for St Enda's Church. After passing the spot on the map where it should have been, we turned around and found it hidden in the middle of the cemetery (the guidebook didn't mention that detail). St Enda (Einne) founded a monastic community here in the 5th century where one of the students was St Columba (Colmcille), the patron saint of Ireland. The church was actually built in the 8th century, and is only slightly larger than St Benen's up the hill. Most distinctively, the ground has risen by three or four feet since it was built, so the church is set into a hollow, and if you're more than ten meters away you can only see the upper half of it. It has some amazing stone-carvings on the altar and internal walls.
By this time the sky was mostly clear, the sun blazing down, and it was hot (by Irish standards, i.e. maybe 70F). We returned to the B&B, reapplied sunscreen, dropped off the rainwear, and headed off in the other direction towards Dun Aonghasa, the main tourist attraction of the island (the tour book had recommended saving this for late afternoon or early morning to avoid the mid-day tourist crowds).
Like an idiot, I had failed to pick up a detailed map of the island before setting off, so we got a little lost, but it's not that big an island, and there aren't that many roads to get lost on, so that probably added only a mile to the trip. We took the less-hilly "coastal road" past the seal colony, and saw two or three seals in the shallows. Even the coastal road has some substantial hills and a lot of wind, so we were pretty tired by the time we reached the cluster of tourist shops at the Dun Aonghasa trailhead. But we parked our bikes and took the twenty-minute walk up the hill to Dun Aonghasa, a truly awe-inspiring Bronze Age stone fort built on the edge of a 500-foot sheer vertical cliff into the sea. Pictures to come.
As the astute reader will have predicted on reading the words "dropped off the rainwear" two paragraphs back, the clouds returned while we were exploring the fort, and it started to drizzle before we got back to the bikes. But that didn't last long, and the ride back to the B&B was mostly under overcast but non-precipatory skies. The tide had gone out, so there were now at least a dozen seals, each basking on its own tide-exposed rock. The ride was physically tough, since neither of us is really in bicycling shape, so we got to the B&B and lay down for a few minutes before walking a few hundred meters away to a restaurant (the Ostann Arann is described ion the guidebook as having "the best restaurant on the island", but we found it much less interesting than the Aran Fisherman where we had lunch), then back and crashing on the bed again.
It's Friday morning now. Two days from now we'll be on a plane back to the U.S. Today's itinerary calls for (possibly) walking to the Black Fort, another prehistoric stone fortification, taking the ferry back to Rossaveel, and driving around the Bay to County Clare.