It has been almost a year since I visited the largest of the Aran Islands, Arrain. I have thought about it a lot these last few days, probably because of the warmer weather we’ve been getting. The sunshine is making me feel nostalgic for this time last year, when we had a similar spell of early warm weather.
I can’t say I’d mind being on Arrain now. I wouldn’t mind being on a bike, free-wheeling down traffic-less roads to the Atlantic. Or standing on a storm beach watching that ocean ending its long journey on the side of a small limestone island. I wouldn’t mind sitting on a wall in the sunshine, eating cheese sandwiches and watching the planes land and take off from the island’s small airstrip. Or exploring secret churches, hidden amongst the long beach grasses. I wouldn’t even complain if I had to sit in a pub and drink Guiness. I could be there now and I honestly wouldn’t mind it at all.
Arrain is roughly 13 miles long and two miles wide at it’s widest point and it sits at the mouth of Galway Bay in Ireland. It seems appropriate to be writing about Arrain on 1st April, the month of water – albeit rain. If rain defines April, it is fair to say that the sea defines Arrain. It is the sea that has carved out the limestone chain that forms the Aran Islands, and it will continue to carve them until the islands no longer exist. Everyday a little bit more is returned to the sea. It reminds me of a quote I read once in a book in a small bookshop in Truro. I don’t remember the name of the book, but the quote was from Seneca: Beyond all things is the sea. I’d love to know why or in what context Seneca wrote that, but it stuck in my mind. It is true of Arrain more than most places. The sea is inescapable on Arrain, you see it where ever you go and one day it will be all that is left of the island.
It is the sea I find myself hankering after as I sit here on this bright April day – more specifically the sea on Arrain. Every day that I was on the island I sought out salt-water, I became a halophile. I sat at the edge of a 300ft cliff and looked down at the rolling and roaring waves below, my hands tightly gripping the rock. I lay down on my belly and watched waves relentlessly crashing up against the cliffs and felt the spray on my face. I walked along beaches and was spied on by seals. I cycled the islands few roads – on Arrain it is fair to say that all roads lead to the sea – and I let my feet off the peddles. Of course on the British/Irish archipelago you’re never too far from the ocean, but there is a difference between being by the sea and on the sea. On Arrain the sea surrounds and engulfs everything: the horizon, the air you breath, your very skin and hair, to which it clings. On Arrain you feel as though you are sailing on one of those fabled stone curroughs that the saints used to reach the island. On Arrain you are on the sea. Perhaps Seneca isn’t so relevant afterall, there is no beyond – it is.