Inis Meáin

Never turn your back on the sea

‘Never turn your back on the sea’ - a phrase that couldn’t be more true than on Inis Meáin, the least inhabited of the Aran islands. The western shore of this rugged island is consistently battered by rolling surf. From the shoreline to the cliff tops, the rocks are pummelled with giant barrels of water.

I had arrived on the island the night before, after the ferry had rolled with the big swell across Galway bay. The next morning while standing on the walls of Dún Chonchúir, a large fort dating back to the Iron Age, I could see the waves lashing the shore far below. I wandered around the stone structure, located strategically on the highest point of the island, before heading off to explore. Heavy clouds settled in as I followed a road across the island, passing through an intricate maze of small fields enclosed by high stone walls. A robin followed me for a while, hopping a few steps ahead. Inside the small fields, cows nursed their young calves while keeping one eye on me. My attention turned to a whirring noise approaching from ahead. A small procession of bullocks appeared with a farmer in tow on an old Yamaha 80 bike, herding them along with a big stick.

Stone walls on Inishmaan

Stone walls on Inishmaan

As I continued past more stone walls, the sound of the sea grew louder and stronger. The road ended and I followed a short path down to the large flat shoreline where the waves were crashing onshore with a brute force. The echoing thud of wave against rock, was beautiful yet served as a strong reminder that nature was in charge that day. I stood for a while, transfixed by the power of the sea. The swell was huge, adding to the drama of the scene. I spotted a blowhole further along the shore. Giant jets of water propelled upwards, 30 ft in the air as rolling barrels of water collided with the rocks. I found a safe spot and set up my tripod in front of some nice rock pools, about 50 ft from the shore. The vibrant green seaweed in the rock pools provided some lovely foreground interest for a shot.

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Giant waves of water splashed over the rock edge every few seconds. I tried to count the sets of waves, but it was proving difficult to keep up. A sudden crescendo of surging water took me by surprise. It reminded me of the old Guinness ad where the raging surf is personified as a herd of white horses galloping towards shore. The impact of the wave hitting the shore was an amazing sight. Water flew up into the air before crashing back onshore and rushing up across the rock pools to meet the legs of my tripod. I couldn’t believe how far inshore, the water reached and how fast. I had thought I was a safe distance from the water, but the sea was demonstrating its power that day.

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I abandoned the puffing hole and moved on. Further along the west coast of the island, I reached the vertical cliffs. Even though I was high above the water, I still had to watch for sudden waves splashing over the edge. The light was so dull that I couldn’t imagine the sun ever returning that day. However, just as the water was unpredictable, so too was the light. By the time I reached Cathaoir Synge just before sunset, a favourite viewing point of J. M. Synge, the Irish playwright and writer who regularly visited the island in the early 1900’s, a sliver of light appeared. Then the sun dipped below the clouds. lighting up Inis Mór across the bay. The sun set fast and suddenly like a gift from the Gods, the sky lit up in a pink hue. It was a beautiful end to the day. No wonder Synge chose this spot as his favourite.