Dun Aengus/Dun Aonghasa

Trip Start Sep 06, 2004
1
23
50
Trip End Nov 23, 2004


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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

After another massive Irish breakfast, I was ready to go again. This time I wanted to visit the big tourist attraction on Inishmore, another fort called Dun Aengus (Dun Aonghasa in Irish). But I wanted to do it my way. No tour vans for me--I rented a bicycle for the day for €10. I got off to a wobbly start, since I had barely been on a bike in the last year and a half, but soon enough I was climbing the hill out of Kilronan.

The left-hand driving business suddenly got a lot more relevant. I had to fight the deep-rooted instinct that told me I was on the wrong side of the road. This got a lot stronger every time I saw a car coming...I was convinced we were going to collide if I didn't swerve over to where I was supposed to be. Fortunately the road was very quiet, and all the cars belonged to locals anyway (the ferry doesn't take cars), so I avoided any head-on collisions. There were potholes, bumps, no shoulders, and a very narrow road to begin with, but the lack of traffic made up for it.

For such a small island, Inishmore was rather hilly. My legs soon felt rubbery...not that the hills were so steep (mostly), but all that walking in Galway hadn't done a thing for my bike-riding strength. Getting out of Kilronan didn't take very long...just go past the grocery store, a church in ruins, the post office, the heritage centre (including one-room library and very expensive Internet cafe), a hostel, and a few other buildings. Then there were just fields and stone walls and farmhouses, a peaceful and calming scene. There was surprisingly little wind considering the absence of trees. The road wound up and down, gently or steeply. Once it ran through a quiet little village, but the rest of the time the views were clear. Sometimes I could see the ocean on both sides, other times I couldn't see it at all. I passed numerous signs marking the turnoffs for other historical sights, mostly ruins of early churches dating from the 8th century. But I had decided to see Dun Aengus first and the other sights on the way back if I still had energy. From the weakness in my legs, this seemed a wise move. I wasn't hurrying, but even so, I began to wonder how much further I had to ride.

An hour after leaving Kilronan, I finally arrived at the parking lot for Dun Aengus, which consisted of a turnaround point for tour vans (the drivers hung out at a pub back in the village) and a lot of bike racks that were almost completely empty. I managed to get off my bike and stumble around for a while until my legs recovered somewhat. Eventually I headed off to see the fort. This involved going through an interpretive centre (€2) that consisted of informational panels. I learned that the site of Dun Aengus had been a settlement since 1500 BC. The fort itself was constructed in different phases from 1100 BC to 1000 AD, with a decline in activity between 700 and 500 BC. One of the most impressive remaining features, apart from the walls, are the "chevaux de frise," upright stones jammed in the bedrock that provide a defense for the fort, especially from horsemen. The last occupant may have been a medieval king (identity unknown), possibly living on the mainland and using the fort as another base. By this time, the fort's exposed position on the side of a cliff on a barren island would have been a disadvantage for a settlement, but it may still have had prestige because of its long history.

This "canned archeology" was informative and I was glad I'd read it, but I couldn't help wishing for a repeat of the unadulterated experience I'd had at the Black Fort. Out the back of the interpretive centre, I climbed a rocky, fenced-in path up to the hilltop where the fort lay. It seemed I had come at exactly the right time again, for no one else was in sight. The fort had been well restored over the years, and I entered through a narrow doorway. Dun Aengus consisted of two concentric half-circles of walls (constructed in two different eras), with the open side of the half-circle ending at a massive cliff. As at the Black Fort, there was nothing to see but walls and grass. This time I approached the cliff, and even got down on my stomach to slither toward the edge and peer over it, but fear of death took over and I pulled away from the edge after the merest glimpse.

Then I went through a second doorway into the inner, higher section. In the centre of the walls, by the edge of the cliff, was a raised platform. Its use is unknown--probably ceremonial, but what kind is anybody's guess. I wandered around the inner half-circle, then the outer one again, and saw the chevaux de frise beyond, and that was all. Again no signs, no outlines or remnants of buildings, only the outer walls. It was too hard to get a picture of life there from only the walls.

There were a few other people wandering around when I arrived, but more came later. As the inside of the fort became crowded, I left. On the way down the path I ended up chatting with two Norwegian ladies from Trondheim after overhearing their speech. My Norwegian is horribly rusty and I can barely converse at all, but at least it's still there. They were quite spry, by the way, and I couldn't go much faster.

Before I reached the parking lot, it started raining. To kill time and to have a rest, I had a hot chocolate in the little cafe, then browsed through the gift shops. By the time I was done, it was still raining. I decided I'd better get going anyway. Rain doesn't usually last long in Galway, but the Aran Islands are right out in the ocean and I didn't know what to expect from the weather. So I brushed off my bike seat as best I could and set off.

I was wearing my MEC raincoat with the hood up, and the temperature still wasn't cold so my hands were fine. My boots were waterproof too, my socks were built to handle the wet, and so was my backpack (though not entirely, as I would discover later). But there was still a problem. I didn't have rainpants. Fine, damp legs, okay. But it was really raining hard. My pants got soaked. Fortunately I was wearing lightweight MEC pants, so they didn't get heavy or cold or start to chafe. However, they did start to funnel water into my boots. That wasn't pleasant at all. The only village along the way was quite soon after I'd set out, and I thought it best to keep going. Surely the rain wouldn't last the whole way back?

Well, you guessed it. It did rain--hard--all the way back. I pedalled like crazy: funny what motivation will do. 45 minutes later I arrived back at the bike rental place, exhausted and soaking wet. Reasoning that once I got back to the B&B I wouldn't want to leave, I decided to go browse a few souvenir shops and use the Internet. That worked for a while, but eventually the squelching in my boots got to me and I retreated to my room. And yes, it was still raining.

Back at the B&B, I took stock. The inside of my backpack had gotten a bit wet since the bottom had apparently leaked. Nothing important was damaged, though all my papers had to be spread out to dry. My clothes were soaked and I spread those out as well. Another reason I hadn't wanted to go back and change is that I would then have two sets of wet clothing, including both pairs of shoes. I just hoped that my clothes would dry overnight, because I was leaving in the morning. Since the rain was continuing, I didn't exactly feel like going out for supper, so I made do with the food I'd brought (rice cakes, Nutella, some fruit, remnants of a little cake I'd used as my birthday cake the previous evening). I spent the evening trying to dry out. The power went out for an hour or so, which was interesting. Lucky I had a reading light so I wasn't completely in the dark.

That evening I finished The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I confess, it's an Oprah book. I found it in the book exchange at the hostel. It's about a preacher and his family who go to the Congolese jungle to become missionaries, and how they're woefully unprepared and the Congo changes them (some of them) more than they manage to change it. Standard stuff, but well done and unexpectedly engrossing. Good way to stave off loneliness too.

I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, but I texted Katherine and Carla that I was coming back to Galway. (Texting is huge here, and my friends and I tend to do it more than phoning because it's cheaper, especially if you're on the same network. There are three networks in Ireland.) All I really knew was that the dampness of the island was getting to me, and I didn't want to bother packing up all my stuff and switching B&B's to see if another one would be dryer. So I had to get off the island at any rate. I was a bit too loaded down to go gallivanting all over the country. (Somehow my luggage had gained an extra bag mostly full of food and books, plus the flowers which were sitting on my bedside table.) And in any case I didn't feel brave enough to go any farther than Galway. For more on my thought processes at the time, stay tuned for September 30!
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