Monday 10 August 2015

Tourism - We Are the Problem

"If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
Then maybe at the closing of your day,
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh,
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay."

It was a song popularised by Bing Crosby, and buried deep in my childhood memories. Now Judy and I have indeed, seen the sun go down over Galway Bay. It took a bit to make it happen - stuck for two days in atrocious weather at Doolin, waiting for the ferries to resume operating. They run to the Aran Islands which guard the entrance to Galway.

Wharf at Kilronan.

Our ferry felt more fishing boat than ferry - a nuggety, tough little vessel which even in the calming seas rolled beam on to what was left of the storm. Down below, the cabin was a steel box with hard seats and tiny portholes. At any moment we expected the crew to open a hatch and dump a load of fresh fish on top of us. We soon decided we were better off on deck despite the wind, cold and occasional rain.

We were disgorged onto the wharf at Kilronan - the biggest settlement on the biggest Island, Inishmore - and found ourselves in one of those places where tourism is threatening to destroy the very things that bring people there - the peace, tranquility and beauty.

Kilronan - early morning before the day trippers arrive.

We stayed two nights and discovered that somehow Kilronan was retaining much of its charm, despite the heaving mass of humanity on the wharf, the bike hire shops and the bus tours. There was a solidness about the place, a sense of permanence as though it might outlive the hordes taking selfies.

Dun Aengus Fort is built on 90 metre cliffs battered by the Atlantic Ocean.

We left our luggage at our hostel and cycled out to the island's biggest tourist attraction - the prehistoric stone fort of Dun Aengus, perched on a 90 metre cliff overlooking the Atlantic. Tour buses fought for parking, the bike park was full and the trinket shops were doing good business. The fort itself was overrun by modern invaders - us tourists. Despite the spectacular setting we were underwhelmed. There were just too many people. It was for me at least, impossible to reflect on what it must have been like to live there more than 3,000 years ago.

We join all the other tourists at Dun Aengus, but our very presence is destroying the tranquility of this ancient hilltop fort.

Like razor teeth, these upright stones are known as chevaux-de-frise and were designed to impede attackers at Dun Aengus. 

But all was not lost. As we have discovered often in the past, most tourists are on whirlwind trips ticking off places as they go. Many "do" Inishmore in a few hours - arriving on a ferry in late morning and leaving that afternoon.

Cycling across the island we came across tourism ventures trying to make a go of it. This sweet shop was in an odd location - a seal colony - and looked like it had gone out of business. A tiny cafe selling hot drinks might have done better given the often bad weather.

Jaunting cars - horse and cart - are popular for those tourists not inclined to cycle or take a bus tour.

With the luxury of time, we visited a couple of the less popular sites and it was there we found what we wanted. 

One was Dun Duchathair, the Black Fort, in a location that can only be reached by walking or cycling over a road that deteriorates the further it goes. There was hardly a soul there, and we wandered happily with just the sounds of the wind, the sea surge breaking on the cliffs below and the call of seabirds. 

The equally spectacular ruins at Dun Duchathair, with hardly anyone else.

Different, but every bit as well worth visiting, was Teampall Bheanain, or St Benan's Church. Built in the 11th century, it is tiny - just five metres long. It sits on a hilltop overlooking Kilronan and much of the island. Its roof has long gone, but it is still resisting the ages. We visited in early evening and yes, we watched the sun go down over Galway Bay.

Teampall Bheanain in the early evening. Built of stone slabs, it is just five metres long. Some claim it is the smallest church in Western Europe.

With Kevin Christie who manages the Kilronan Hostel. He has his own concerns that too many tourists take too many short visits to Inishmore, and miss opportunities to really appreciate it. Incidentally, Kevin is one of the founding members of KKK - Kool Kerry Krew (nothing to do with that other KKK). Each year he and a group of friends undertake a cycling tour in Ireland. We met him and the rest of the KKK while we were all camping at Dingle.

Fishing boat -Kilronan 

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