Growing Vegetables on Inishmore

Stepping on to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands and a 45 minute ferry ride from Galway, is like going back in time. This island of about 800 people (the population grows to more than 1,000 in the summer) is Gaeltachtai, which means Irish (Gaelic) is still the predominant language. The island didn’t get electricity until 1972. The one bank opens every Wednesday for four hours. Inishmore has one doctor, one police officer, and five bars. In the words of our local guide, “We have our priorities right!”

Island coastline with its sheer cliffs.
Island coastline with its sheer cliffs.
Closer look at the cliff drop.
Closer look at the cliff drop.
Spotted this seal sunning itself in the bay.
Spotted this seal sunning itself in the bay.

This is a place of such desolate beauty that it makes your heart hurt. It’s a place where people have eked out a living on nothing but rock. The stunning 2,000 year old Dun Aengus fort was built of rock on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The walls that crisscross every inch of the island were constructed of rock. And the most delicious food is grown here in soil built upon the rock over centuries. This was done by people collecting sand from the beaches, composting seaweed, and digging what little dirt they could find from between the cracks of rocks. There was a film made in the 1930s called “The Man of Aran” that shows life on the island. Definitely worth watching!

Stone walls section off various plots and pastures.
Stone walls section off various plots and pastures.
No mortar
No mortar
Part of the old Dun Aengus fort
Part of the old Dun Aengus fort

Our guide said because of the salt content in the seaweed, the vegetables take on a special taste; not salty but incredibly flavourful. I can vouch for that…I had a bowl of vegetable soup that was probably the culinary highlight of my trip. It was exquisite.

Wildflowers in the restaurant where I had my delicious bowl of vegetable soup.
Wildflowers in the restaurant where I had my delicious bowl of vegetable soup.

As a place that has relied on the sea for sustenance, Inishmore is steeped in tragedy. Our guide Michael told us that every single person on the island has lost someone to the sea. I later asked him if people could still make a living fishing, and he sadly shook his head. He was a commercial fisherman for seven years and says he loved it. He had to give it up to pay the bills. That’s when he became a tour guide. The fellow driving the tour bus behind ours had the very same story to tell. “The Atlantic takes no prisoners,” our guide said.

Some old headstones from the 6th and 7th centuries.
Some old headstones from the 6th and 7th centuries.
About half a dozen women on the island knit these sweaters, that incorporate various patterns unique to the island. Beautiful work!
About half a dozen women on the island knit these sweaters that incorporate various patterns unique to the island. Beautiful work!
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