Aran Walking Tours | History Of The Island
page,page-id-3199,page-template-default,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,smooth_scroll,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-3.6.12,vc_responsive

History Of The Island

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’.

Some scholars now believe that St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, may have been one of those early Coptic monks but whose early life was so obscure that his history was conveniently re-written to suit a modern day legend or myth.
These early monastic settlers brought a new way of life to Ireland’s shores and with it writing and knowledge such as the ability to use water to mill grains. Many of these early monks lived in beehive houses similar to this from the Iron Age. Two of those are Clochán na Carraige and Clochán anPhúca. With the arrival of Saint Enda to Aran, the island’s Patron saint, came a new school of thought and with it also came a new style of building from circular to high gabled churches, walled Cashels and early Christian crosses.
Aran flourished during this period as a seat of learning and pilgrimage and was considered one of the most important schools of early Christian Europe and bringing to the fore some of Ireland’s most influential saints such as Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Kevin of Glendalough, Caolman Mac Dúach, Rónáin who gives his name to the main village on the island and ended his days in Saint Ronan in Brittany and Colmcille who founded the monasteries at Durrow and Iona. Places like Aran were pillar stones of the great churches of Europe.

The name, Árainn or Ára naNaoimh, in folklore is reputedly to mean kidney of the saints and may be a metaphorical term as the kidney filters and cleans the body, Aran cleansed their souls.

With the monasteries came affluence and that attracted the attention of the Vikings who are said to have plundered the monastery of Aran on numerous occasions.  But the end of the golden age came in the 15th century with the conquest of Ireland by the crown’s forces and Aran was no exception. The large monastery at Cill Éinne with its 80ft high round tower was dismantled to build the Cromwellian garrison at Cill Éinne. Some of the abbey’s doorways have made it as far afield as the garrison fort on Inis Boffin. This was the end to the old Gaelic wars and chieftain domination opening Galway to trade and commerce from Genoa to North Africa. Influences which could be seen up until the turn of the  20th century in island dress, particularly the ‘críos’ a belt worn by the men folk and the bright red dresses and shawls worn by the womenfolk are a testament to this. Also the sean-nós singing in this region have links to these trade routes.
The mainstay of the islands economy in the past century was fishing, farming and kelp making and other associated trades, from weavers to cobblers, blacksmiths etc… Most of the island’s field systems have been made from cultivated by mixing clay, sand and seaweed, a practice known as ‘stocáil’. The Aran sweater, one of the islands great symbols is still produced and sold here by a handful of local knitters but has sadly been undermined by cheap imports.

Today, tourism is the prime industry and as many as 200 thousand visitors arrive on our shore annually and the busiest months being July and August.

The island has a number of festivals such as the annual ‘Ted Fest.’ in February, St John’s eve – bonfire night 23rd June, the pattern weekend on the last weekend in June, Red Bull Cliff diving in July, Halloween when the ‘púca’ (spirits) come’s to life and many holy wells are still visited on their feast days such as St Colmcilles on the 9th of June, The Well of the Saints in August and St Ciarán’s In September.

This is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ so to speak. There is much, much more. Remember that it’s hard to grasp 350 million years in just one day, something that should be considered when you are planning your visit.