The Aran Islands

Author: Kieran Furey

Though I lived in Galway for five years in the 1970s, I only ever managed one day-trip to the Aran Islands. When I left UCG, I promised myself that one day I'd go back for a leisurely look at all three islands. It took me twenty-five years to get around to it. These three poems resulted from that visit, as a way of remembering the Aran Islands in case I never go back again.

Fast boats squirt out from Rossaveal
And chase at speed across the fertile bay
And fertilise the barren island places
With foreign talk and tanned and laughing faces.
Ease up, traveller. Stay here. Sleep.

Sleep on beds of limestone,
Between sheets of rain and rock,
Under blankets of mist,
Surrounded by a patchwork quilt of fields,
Under a low roof of cloud.
Tourists crawl like lice or ticks
Or fleas across all this.

Arainn has set her warm face
Against the amorous Atlantic,
Her bays indifferent to the ocean’s tongue.
She is a brow knitted
Across the scowl of Galway Bay.
She ignores the fingers of wind
Tickling her maidenhair fern.
But when the sun disrobes
And makes love to her, she relaxes
Into accents rich and soft like island wool,
Though often dropping stitches into English.
She smiles in red and purple flowers,
The colours of her jarvies’ faces.

She enjoys herself in summer.
Rock of ages, roll of sea.
The music of the wind
Ruffling the long green hair
Of an island stoned
Out of her winter mind
On meadow grass.
Leaving the heritage centre
With its Woman of Aran
Dressed like a Romanian refugee,
I follow the road that unwinds
Down to the busy pier.

This is the hub of the wheel of fortune.
What goes around comes around
On this rockwater ball.
Man, woman, child of Aran, be proud
Of the paths beaten to your doors.
The tide ebbed out for long enough,
But now it’s foaming in;
I see it in the froth of pints
And cappuccinos.
To the music of west winds
On her rock and roll of ocean
The good ship Inishmore
Is at last in motion.

Men who fished for twenty calloused years
Now trawl the pier for custom.
The horny hands of cattlemen
Caress the steering wheels of tour vans.

There are gales of laughter in the street,
Teenagers steeped in Irish
Talking up a storm.
Water fortunes made are stashed away
In banks of cloud, waiting to be spent,
To spread the largesse round.
There are legendary shops
Where golden argonauts are fleeced,
The buzz of commerce now
Louder than the drone of priests.

The pubs are busy but unhurried, like the bees.
The sun plays hide-and-seek with B&Bs.
Quick and lazy as a lizard,
Aran basks on her own stones.
It’s good to be alive
In times like these.


Two thousand acres of clover-scented lawn
And stone is Inishmaan.

If you fly in, you’ll see it all below
Under the microscope of window.
Small islands are discrete;
They are themselves.
The toasted sandwiches take ages
And ages are served always here
On a pewter plate of sea.
This is pure, congealed Atlantic:
The icing on a cake of walks.
There are no hookers here.
This is the seat of Synge and song;
The half-door half-open
To what we were;
A place as rare as sycamore
On stone; a middle island not alone
Yet happy enough to keep
Its own company.


‘Inish’ here means island
And when you’re on the coast of Clare
And hear boatmen talk of ‘Inis Oirr’
You’ll know the island meant is here,
The east one, Inisheer.

From Inishmore the Cliffs of Moher
Are a line pencilled on the sea.
From Inishmaan you see them clear,
But not as clear as seen from here;
Inisheer is a wayward daughter
Of Old Mother Burren
Gone west, but still under the influence.

Inisheer is legendary, like a mermaid
Half-way to being a rockfish
Trapped and served with sea.
A salt tear on the face of the wind.
A small, stubborn, contented duck
Paddling on a pond of history.