I awake before dawn to almost complete silence. I strain my ears and barely hear the muted lowing of a cow and the muffled lapping of waves. I am enveloped in peaceful solitude. I am on Inis Meáin. I sit by the window and wait for day’s first blush to appear and lose myself in dawn as it comes creeping up over the eastern horizon. As I watch the sky, a faint rustling below me precedes the sudden appearance of a wren and a pair of robins who propel themselves from the thicket to alight on the stone wall in a flurry of tik-tik-tiks and melodic trills. I am a recent visitor to this island, only coming for the first time a fortnight ago. I was so enchanted that I have returned to see more of, and to spend more time on, this least visited of the Aran Islands, this place of unspoiled beauty, of limestone karst, and patchwork of green fields delineated and defined by dry stone walls.
After arriving yesterday I happily spend the day exploring Dún Chonchúir, Dún Fearbha, Synge’s Chair and Cill Cheanainn. This morning I have no particular itinerary but set off after breakfast in the general direction of Leaba Dhiarmid is Gráinne, a neolithic wedge tomb named for the tragic lovers. The sky is overcast but the sun shows promise of breaking through to warm the cool morning air. I finally spy the tomb; it sits unobtrusively yet enigmatically on a large expanse of karst pavement which is dotted with almost whimsical depressions and scored by deep grikes from which wildflowers and shrubs have taken hold.
Treading carefully, I pause often to study the shapes of the water-filled basins in the pavement. I find a toadstool shape here, a butterfly with lopsided wings there, and yet further on another which resembles the head of a gnome. An air of mystery and antiquity hovers here. The karst descends steadily downward and suddenly I am coming upon a patchwork of fields. Blackbirds, robins, and pipits flit to and from the top of the stone walls. Dandelions, daisies, and thistle still dot the fields with colour.
The clouds are breaking up and the sun’s rays are warming. The echoes of summer remain here despite the whisper of winter on the wind. This is a good place to sit and bask for a while before setting off on the trail again. There are no sounds aside from the twitter of birds, the distant thrumming of a tractor, and a bumblebee searching for the last of summer’s nectar. I reluctantly leave this idyllic resting place and set out again, this time towards the village in search of lunch. The time left for exploring is shrinking and soon it will be time to make my way to the harbour for the 4:30 ferry crossing. I have a quick but tasty lunch of carrot soup and just-baked brown bread.
I wish I had more time to linger but I learn from the proprietor that a beehive hut is a few minutes’ walk away and so am off on the trail again. The trail to the beehive hut is an uphill one which takes me behind a cottage. I am unsure as to whether the cottage is occupied but there is a small flock of chickens pecking hopefully at the ground near the back door. Two hens fall into step with me for a few paces as I am nearing the beehive hut. I peek inside the the narrow opening , let my eyes adjust, and am bemused to see, nestled in behind the tall blades of grass, a worn and forlorn Teddy bear dressed in a pinafore leaning against the back wall – not at all what I would expect to find in a beehive hut! I decide to allow for a leisurely pace to to the harbour so that I can stop along the way to photograph birds. I am delighted to sight and photograph my first lapwing and wheatear.
I am so preoccupied with bird-watching that I’m unaware of two curious cows in the opposite field, who begin to snuffle and snort, seeming to want my attention. Poking their heads over the top of the stone walls, the larger of these two gentle creatures allows me rub its head. I’ve been carrying an apple in my pocket all day and divide it among the three of us. When I begin walking on they follow as far as they can, mooing plaintively after me.
I take a short detour to walk along the shoreline and watch ringed plovers and oystercatchers searching the masses of seaweed for hapless invertebrates stranded by the receding tide. A sandpiper is darting in between the clumps of seaweed, probing the wet sand for tiny prey. Reluctantly, I make my way to the the pier. Two cormorants are floating in the harbour, wings outstretched to dry, while a motionless gray heron stands sentinel-like on top of the breakwater. All too soon the ferry is arriving and I am boarding to sail away. I watch Inis Meáin recede in the distance until it is barely discernible from the sea surface. There is still so much of this magical island that I haven’t explored but this is all the more reason to return, again and again.