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Seven prehistoric stone forts are on the islands. Cromwell's soldiers destroyed the castle and all but two of the seven churches established by Brecan. The typical settlement was a clachan , a scattered cluster of small, single-story cottages with thatched roofs. Typical clothing for an Aran man was homespun trousers and waistcoats made of grey or light-brown tweed; for women, a calf-length woven skirt along with a knitted sweater was worn. Aran knitters were highly skilled. Salvaging flotsam often produced wood for building and fuel. His play, Riders to the Sea , is set on Inishmaan.
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The islands' geology is mainly karst limestone, related to the Burren in County Clare to the east , not the granites of Connemara to the north. This is most obvious in the construction of the walls around the fields. Glaciation following the Namurian facilitated greater denudation. The result is that the Aran Islands are one of the finest examples of a Glacio- Karst landscape in the world. The effects of the last glacial period the Midlandian are most in evidence, with the islands overrun by ice during this glaciation.
The impact of earlier karstification solutional erosion has been eliminated by the last glacial period. Any karstification now seen dates from around 11, years ago, so the island karst is recent. Solutional processes have widened and deepened the grykes of the limestone pavement. Pre-existing lines of weakness in the rock vertical joints contribute to the formation of extensive fissures separated by clints flat, pavement-like slabs.
The rock karstification facilitates the formation of subterranean drainage.
The islands have an unusually temperate climate. Late May is the sunniest time  and also likely the best time to view flowers, with the gentians and avens peaking but orchid species blooming later. The islands supports arctic , Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. Like the Burren, the Aran islands are renowned for their remarkable assemblage of plants and animals.
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The grikes crevices provide moist shelter, thus supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier arctic or alpine plants can be found, but when the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants such as gentian and orchids.
Notable insects present include butterflies— pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria euphrosyne , brown hairstreak Thecla betulae , marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia , and wood white Leptidea sinapis ; moths—the burren green Calamia tridens , Irish annulet Odontognophos dumetata , and transparent burnet Zygaena purpuralis ; and the hoverfly Doros profuges.
Many Irish saints had some connection with Aran: St. Columba called it the "Sun of the West". In total, 38 national monuments are on the Aran Islands. The islands were first populated in larger numbers probably at the time of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the midth century, when the Catholic population of Ireland had the choice of going "to hell or to Connacht ". Many fled to the numerous islands off the west coast of Ireland, where they adapted themselves to the raw climatic conditions, developing a survival system of total self-sufficiency.
Their methods included mixing layers of sand and seaweed on top of rocks to create fertile soil, a technique used to grow potatoes and other vegetables. The islanders also constructed unique boats for fishing, building their thatched cottages from the materials available, or trading with the mainland. The Aran Islands are an official Gaeltacht , which gives full official status to Irish as the medium of all official services, including education.
An unusually high rate of Irish-language monolingualism was found among senior natives until the end of the 20th century, in large part because of the isolating nature of the traditional trades practised and the natural isolation of the islands in general from mainland Ireland over the course of the islands' history. Young islanders can take their leaving examination at 18 on the islands, and then most leave for third-level education.
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Year-round ferry passenger services exist. Aran Island Ferries  operate a year-round service from Rossaveal in County Galway, connected by a bus service from Galway city.
A heavy-cargo service operates several times a week from Galway Harbour , and is operated by Lasta Mara. Aer Arann Islands operates an air service from Inverin to Inishmore Airport , which has a connecting bus from Galway city. The airline announced that it would cease all flights in December ,  but an agreement was reached to continue the service until 30 September Cars on the islands are exempt from road-worthiness testing.
Most visitors to the island hire bikes, as they are the most convenient way to see the islands. Visitors come in large numbers, particularly in the summer. Sseveral Bronze Age and Iron Age forts and attractions are on the islands:. The islands have had an influence on world literature and arts disproportionate to their size. Sketches by and of Clarke exist from these trips, regarded as formative in his upbringing, as they marked the first occasions in which convalescing off the mainland of Ireland was necessary for the artist.
The unusual cultural and physical history of the islands has made them the object of visits by a variety of writers and travelers who recorded their experiences. Beginning around the late 19th century, many Irish writers traveled to the Aran Islands; Lady Gregory , for example, came to Aran in the late 19th century to learn Irish. Elizabeth Rivers moved from London and lived in Aran, where she created two books of art and was herself visited by artists such as Basil Rakoczi. Many wrote of their experiences in a personal vein, alternately casting them as narratives about finding, or failing to find, some essential aspect of Irish culture that had been lost to the more urban regions of Ireland.
A second, related kind of visitor was those who attempted to collect and catalogue the stories and folklore of the island, treating it as a kind of societal " time capsule " of an earlier stage of Irish culture. Visitors of this kind differed in their desires to integrate with the island culture, and most were content to be considered observers. The culmination of this mode of interacting with the island might well be Robert J. Flaherty 's classic documentary Man of Aran , which was critically acclaimed by the Nazi Party.
The film's depiction of man's courage and repudiation of the intellect appealed to the Nazis, who noticed it during the Berlin Festival in One might consider John Millington Synge 's The Aran Islands as a work that straddles these first two modes, it being both a personal account and also an attempt at preserving information about the pre- or il- literate Aran culture in literary form. The motivations of these visitors are exemplified by W. Yeats ' advice to Synge: "Go to the Aran Islands, and find a life that has never been expressed in literature. In the second half of the 20th century, until perhaps the early s,a third kind of visitor came to the islands.
They came not necessarily because of the uniquely "Irish" nature of the island community, but simply because the accidents of geography and history conspired to produce a society that some found intriguing or even beguiling, and they wished to participate in it directly. At no time was there a single "Aran" culture; any description is necessarily incomplete and can be said to apply completely only to "parts" of the island at certain points in time.
Visitors who came and stayed, though, were mainly attracted to aspects of Aran culture such as:. For these reasons, the Aran Islands were "decoupled" from cultural developments that were at the same time radically changing other parts of Ireland and Western Europe. Though visitors of this third kind understood that the culture they encountered was intimately connected to that of Ireland, they were not particularly inclined to interpret their experiences as those of "Irishness".
Instead, they looked directly towards ways in which their time on the islands put them in touch with more general truths about life and human relations, and they often took pains to live "as an islander", eschewing help from friends and family at home. Indeed, because of the difficult conditions they found—dangerous weather, scarce food—they sometimes had little time to investigate the culture in the more detached manner of earlier visitors. Their writings are often of a more personal nature, being concerned with understanding the author's self as much as the culture around him. This third mode of being in Aran died out in the late s due in part to the increased tourist traffic and in part to technological improvements made to the island, that relegated the above aspects to history.
A fourth kind of visitor to the islands, still prominent today, comes for spiritual reasons often connected to an appreciation for Celtic Christianity or more modern New Age beliefs, the former of which finds sites and landscapes of importance on the islands. Finally, many thousands of visitors come for broadly touristic reasons , to see the ruins, hear Irish spoken and Irish music played in the few pubs on the island, and to experience the often awe-inspiring geology of cliffs. Tourists today far outnumber visitors of the four kinds discussed above.
Tourists and visitors of the fourth kind, however, are under-represented as creators of literature or art directly connected to the island; few are ordinary "travelogues" of note, perhaps because of the small size of the islands, and no personal accounts are written about Aran that are primarily concerned with spirituality. The prize is not transferable. Entry is for people of 18 years of age and over.
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