The Book that Inspired Me

`The Aran Islands' By Jm Synge

I COULD not have resisted following in JM Synge's footsteps. From the first lines of this 1907 travelogue about the Aran Islands, his affection for both the place and the islanders shines through. He writes of turf fires and the women's red petticoats, of children taken by the fairies and of fishing for pollock from curraghs in the rough sea.

That three lumps of limestone, 30 miles or so out of Galway, could inspire such enthusiasm made me want to see it for myself.

I knew life would have changed a great deal in the 90 years since Synge wrote. If it hadn't, the islands would probably have gone the way of St Kilda, left to the birds while a rapidly dwindling population took itself off to enjoy the less gruelling pleasures of late-20th-century living. But enough would remain, I was sure, to allow me a glimpse at how life on the islands used to be.

Like Synge, I took a ferry across to Kilronan from the Irish mainland. Unlike him, whose fellow passengers consisted of just "a couple of men going out with young pigs tied loosely in sacking, three or four young girls who sat in the cabin with their heads completely twisted in their shawls, and a builder, on his way to repair the pier at Kilronan", I had a full complement of backpackers, returning shoppers and Irish-Americans in emerald baseball caps for company.

As we pulled into Kilronan, the quayside was bustling. There were the bicycle-renters; the minibuses for daytrippers; the pony-and-cart men for more leisurely journeys; and families collecting local passengers. Heading out of town, if that's not too grand a name on an island with about 900 inhabitants, the main road buzzed.

Yet in the small lanes to either side, time really had stood still. Here were "the low walls on either side [looking] into small flat fields of naked rock" that Synge had written of on his first day on Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. I was luckier with the weather than he was: instead of fog or torrential rain, I had unbroken sunshine and the sea that lapped the white sand beaches seemed positively Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it was clear that in winter this magnificent bareness would be heart-breakingly desolate.

How anything could grow here seemed incredible. Yet for centuries the islanders had been painstakingly mixing up scrapings of soil from the clefts in the limestone with sand and seaweed to grow potatoes. Hermits had lived here, too, looking for God in the daily struggle for existence; a beehive hut served as a reminder. There were small tumbledown chapels, and "the line of stone pillars with crosses above them and inscriptions asking a prayer for the soul of the person they commemorated".

These solid reminders of past inhabitants would always be there. In the evening light, with the daytrippers vanished, I had them to myself. It could have been any century in the past millennium. Happily, it wasn't; I headed off back to my lodgings for a hot shower and a rather good meal.

`The Aran Islands' by JM Synge is published by Oxford University Press, pounds 5.99

Claire Gervat

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments