KILROANAN, Ireland Anchors Aweigh! chortles the 80-year-old widow next to me when the ferry to Inishmore sails off, followed by Oh, that was a good one! when a furious wave hits the boat. The ferry tilts and lurches; excited passengers yell in pleasure (Isnt it grand!) each time a wave hits.
But I grip the armrest in terror, imagining how to find the life preserver when all around me are screaming and drowning as the boat sinks.
Kilroanan harbor where the ferry docks is a swarm of newly arrived tourists, pony carts and men in Irish caps. Kin I interest ye in a tour of the island in me cart? asked one.
Inishmore is the largest of the three Aran Islands, located off the west coast of Ireland 1½ hours from Galway. We made it to our bed and breakfast, the thatched Man of Aran Cottage, and then walked a mile to Dun Aenghus, a 2,000-year-old Iron Age ring fort. Resting on flat limestone slabs shaped by the winds and rains of centuries into a kind of giants cobblestone plaza, the fort hangs on a cliff 300 feet above the booming Atlantic.
The winds rise, rainbows appear and disappear like twinkling stars on a cloudy night, and we can see a black-faced storm coming right at us. Tourists lie on their stomachs, daring to slither up to the cliffs edge while the wind whips their rain jackets around, threatening to sail them off and over the sea. A lone Japanese man sitting cross-legged near the cliff watches the storm advancing, preferring quiet contemplaton of fury to the daredevil feats of other tourists.
Worlds smallest cathedral
Silhouetted far across from the harbor is Temple Bheanain, known as the worlds smallest cathedral. It is a long walk there and then a good climb over limestone terraces to reach it. The stone roof is no longer there, only three walls and a small constricting stone doorway. It was built in the 11th century and is so small it couldnt have been intended for more than a dozen people if they were packed and standing upright like so many sardines. Perhaps it wasnt a church at all, but built to house a treasured relic. No one knows. There is a feeling of peace there despite the wind.
That evening we read short stories by Liam OFlaherty, from a collection entitled Island Stories. OFlaherty was born on Inishmore, and his stories are about life there in the early 1900s. Spring Sowing is especially poignant; a newly married man and his young wife are exhilarated with their first spring planting together as man and wife. But then she has a sudden, despairing foresight of how her life will be: forever poor, forever planting. She knows she will die worn out from neverending work.
The island glows with green-ness; green pastures separated from one another by miles and miles of stone walls. Following them one morning we find a sign pointing to the left that says, in Gaelic, Dun Eoghanachta. It is another ring fort in a lonely field. We climb up the crumbling stones and walk the ramparts looking for Viking raiders. Cows graze nearby, blackberry bushes heavy with fruit nod in the breeze, a newborn donkey and his mother sleep in the waving grass.
Our last morning on Inishmore we slip apples from the bowl in the kitchen into our pockets and go through the fields to find the young black horse wed seen earlier in his stony pasture. Hes thrilled and chews the apple for a long time. On the way back, hurrying so we dont miss Oliver Faherty who is taking us to catch the Galway ferry, we see a triple rainbow. Then the rains come, our first in five weeks in Ireland, soaking us through and through. We dont care; Ireland has been so good to us.
Esther Greenfield, who lives in Durango, traveled to Ireland last fall. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.