ARAN ISLANDS OILEAIN ARANN

ARAN ISLANDS (OILEAIN ARANN)

On the westernmost edge of County Galway, isolated from the mainland by 32km of swelling Atlantic, lie the spectacular Aran Islands (Oiledn Aranri). Their fields are hatched with a maze of limestone, the result of centuries of farmers piling stones into thousands of meters of walls. The tremendous cliff- top forts of the early islanders give the illusion of having sprung from the limestone itself. Of the dozens of ruins, forts, churches, and holy wells that rise from the stony terrain of Inishmore (Inis Mor; pop.

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900), the most amazing is the Dun Aengus ring fort, where concentric stones circle a sheer 100m drop. The Inis Mor Way is a mostly paved route that passes the majority of the island's sights and is great for biking; pick up a map at the tourist office (‚2). Windswept Inishmaan (Inis Meain; pop.

300) and Inisheer (Inis Oirr; pop. 300), the smallest island, also feature paths that pass by the islands' incomparable ruins.

Island Ferries ( (091) 561 767) go from Rossaveal, west of Galway, to Inishmore (2-3 per day) and Inisheer (2 per day). Queen of Aran II (a 566 535), based in the islands, also leaves from Rossaveal for Inishmore (4 per day; round-trip ‚19, student ‚12).

Both companies run buses to Rossaveal, which depart from Kinlay House, on Merchant St. In Galway, l'2hr. Before ferry departure (‚6, students ‚5).

Ferries to Inishmore arrive at Kilronan. The tourist office stores luggage (‚1), changes money, and finds accommodations. (61 263.

Open July-Sept. Daily 10am-6: 45pm; Oct. 10am-5pm; Nov. -Mar.

10am-4pm. ) UMainis- tir House (IHH) O, less than 2km from town on the main road, is a sprawling hostel that was once a haven for musicians and writers. Don't miss the nightly vegetarian buffet (‚12), an excellent place to meet other travelers. (61 169.

Bike rental ‚10 per day. Laundry ‚6. Dorms ‚12; singles ‚20; doubles ‚32. ) The Spar Market in Kilronan functions as an unofficial community center.

(Open in summer M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su 10am-6pm; off-season M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su 10am-5pm. )

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