The Aran Islands were formed some three hundred and fifty million years ago in a sub-tropical ocean south of the equator, made of carboniferous limestone as was the Burren of County Clare and still was interconnected when our early ancestors first colonised the area.
There is much evidence to suggest that Galway bay was a lake and had bogs and a dense covering of trees. The earliest people probably arrived some 7,000 years ago and they were hunter/gatherer groups who followed the coastline with its rich abundance of food.
Later populations flourished they began to settle into small walled enclosures to contain livestock, a practice still observed today. As a more stable population grew the need to protect this area came to the fore and this began the building of Aran’s great fortresses, some of the earliest being the Black Fort and Dún Aengus, which may have been the beginning of an ancient line of defence against neighbouring tribes. In its hay-day Inis Mór (Árainn) alone had 10 ring forts throughout the island and this line of defence continues across the islands and on into Co. Clare. Time and rising tides have now split the land mass and will inevitably continue this process and areas such as an Gleann Mór near the village of Cill Rónáin where the island will split again in a similar manner as before. The islands in their long and varied history have seen many natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami’s, the most recent of which occurred in the late 17th century and may explain the abandoned villages on the lower levels of Eochaill for higher ground.
The island is also home to many Iron Age villages and houses. The most prevalent being Baile na mBocht (The village of the poor) in the town land of Eochaill where the remains of some 30 ‘clocháin’ corbelled houses can be viewed. But undoubtedly Aran’s golden age began with the arrival of the early Christian scribes or anchorites who followed in the traditions of the desert fathers and lived in small isolated communities along Ireland’s western seaboard. They followed strict rules of penance and of prayer, ‘it might be said that some of the monasteries were built within the deserts of the ocean’, as the word monastery means ‘to live alone’.