Monday, July 30, 2012

Inis Oírr: the Renting of a Bike

We arrived yesterday on Inisheer, or, as the Irish would spell it, Inis Oírr, the "eastern island." Inisheer is the smallest of the three Aran Islands, and as soon as you step off the boat, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. The sign announces this to you right away: "An Gaeltacht," – the land where Irish is the first language.

And this is not just some kind of tourist come-on; walking through the little pathways of the town, you would rarely hear English spoken. The conversational tongue is Irish, all the signs are in Irish, notices and posters are all in Irish. English is the second language here.

I have, in the past, been gently corrected on my own usage as well. In my early years of visiting Ireland, I inquired as to their language, and used the term "Gaelic." Then came the correction: Gaelic is a family of languages, and Irish is one of them. So here we are, at the mouth of Galway Bay, and on the edge of the Atlantic, surrounded by the Irish tongue.

When we arrived on Inisheer, we did a little exploring about the place as we made our way to the B&B. It didn't take long for all six of the men who drove their pony trams to know that the two Americans were going to walk to their residence. Only two hundred and fifty people live on this island – news travels fast.

And so it was that on the second day, we rented bikes for an island excursion. At the siopá, the bike shop, the lady said, "And aren't ye the folks from America?"
"Yes," says I, "We're staying up with Brídh Poil at Radharc an Chláir."
"Ach," says she, "I knew that."

I'm sure she did.

"We'd like to rent bikes for the day," says I.

"Well," says she, "you'll be needing to watch out for the brambles along the side of the roads... They're starting to grow out into the pathways. So mind yourselves."

"And do I need to pay now? Leave my license? Or my credit card?"

She looked at me with that half quizzical, half amused smile that the Irish sometimes bestow on tourists. "Oh, you can just pay at the end of the day," she said. "And no, there's nothing to sign. No locks needed, either."

If I rented a bike in America, I'd have signed things in triplicate, promised my first-born to lawyers if I scratched a fender, and left a hundred dollar deposit.

But this is the Aran Islands. Population 250. Irish is spoken here. And we are most certainly not in America.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Baile Na Gleanna, Inisheer, Ireland

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