Biking Inishmore

[Welcome to Ireland week. I hate the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Chicago, but it’s as good a peg as any for some posts.]

We spent most of our time in Ireland in cities: Dublin and Galway. This is because I knew us trying to drive in another country, on the “wrong” side of the road, especially when drinking would be a major feature of the vacation, was a bit too much for us to take on. This was my boyfriend-at-the-time’s first trip out of the country, so we had to take it easy. We’d take buses and trains. This kept us mostly in major cities.

Except when we took the ferry to Inishmore for the day. Inishmore is the polar opposite of a bustling, cosmopolitan town like Dublin. I think we saw one or two trucks the whole time we were there. We saw more sheep, cows, and chickens than motorized vehicles or, in fact, people.

Inishmore is the largest of the Aran Islands off Galway. There’s a well-built tourist infrastructure, with regular ferry service and bed-and-breakfasts and bicycles for rent thrust into your hands pretty much as soon as you get off the boat. But once you’ve paid for those bicycles, and wobbled on them for a minute, and gotten yelled at by a local for biking on the wrong side of the road, and biked out of the “town” area near the dock, you find yourself almost entirely alone with livestock and ruins. And it’s absolutely beautiful.

We were lucky enough to have a warm(-ish) and clear day for our visit. We were also lucky enough to have no particular plans and several hours to just bike around aimlessly. My usual overplanning didn’t happen for this trip–I think because we left on the trip shortly after moving in together, so all of my planning-brain was taken up with moving. So we just rode, and stopped when we wanted to, and left our bikes outside ruins of who-knows-what to clamber around and get the best views, without worrying about guardrails or queues or any other typical markings of tourism. We wondered where all this had come from, what kinds of people had first lived here and what kinds still chose to live on an island isolated from the world. We mooed at cows and bahhed at sheep, like dumb city kids who don’t know any better often do. We stood looking out at gorgeous sea vistas stretching out beyond where our eyes could go and said the sort of things you might imagine young people in love would say to each other. It was a completely perfect couple of hours, topped off with beer and cake back at the docks before ferrying back to the mainland.

When I travel, I almost always stick to cities. They’re easier to get to and get around in, especially when you’re by yourself, which is my default these days. But when I think of the brilliant green and blinding blue and ancient gray of Inishmore, it reminds me that I should make more of an effort to get out of cities, out into nature, out away from the world.