This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the west of Ireland, along with my fellow FIE students. We spent two nights in Galway—the sixth most populated city in Ireland and the most populated city in the West Region by far. With roughly 70,000 citizens, Galway may appear a monstrous, urbanized city when compared to the second most populated town in the west, Castlebar—home to a modest 12,000 people—but it is simply a cozy seaside town which has retained much its traditional culture.
The contrast between West Ireland and East Ireland is palpable; it can be found in the peacefulness that hangs over the West’s rural landscape and in the words of the people themselves. The province of Connacht is home to several Gaeltacht speaking areas. The West’s small population and its dependency on agriculture are likely two reasons why the area has maintained its traditional roots more so than, say, Dublin—a highly populated, highly industrialized mecca.
On Saturday we visited a particularly well known Gaeltacht area: the Aran Islands. After a bumpy bus ride and an even bumpier ferry ride, we arrived at Inishmore—the largest of the three Aran Islands. The word “large” may be a misnomer, however. The Islands have a population of roughly 1,200, all of which are tucked into quaint homes spread out across the beautiful landscape. The Islands’ isolation has likely led to its unique and modest culture. The view from Dun Aengus—a Bronze Age fort located about 100 meters high and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean—was ineffable.
Finally, we rounded out the trip with a visit to the historic Cliffs of Moher. They were originally the site of a gigantic river delta and were formed approximately 320 million years ago. The Irish word “Mothar,” which means ruined fort, is what gives the Cliffs their name. Located at the coast of County Clare, the Cliffs are as terrifying as they are beautiful. And even though they have been featured in popular culture—The Princess Bride, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, etc.—they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.