Aran Islands Customs

Samuel Gamble Bayne
Aran Islands (4) | Start of Section

A century ago a curious custom prevailed in these islands. When a body was being carried to the grave, a convenient spot was selected at which to rest the pall-bearers; here the funeral procession came to a halt, generally about one hundred yards from the road. This spot was afterwards used as a site for a monument, erected by husband, wife, or family, as the case might be, which for the most part took the place of a monument in the graveyard. When the relatives possessed means these memorials became quite imposing, bearing carved statuary and having a short history of the dead inscribed on them, winding up with a formula invoking a blessing on the souls of the departed. We left the car to inspect a long row of these stones fronting on the main road from Kilronan to Dun Aengus. The quaint things said in praise of the dead were quite interesting.

Many of the natives on Thursday and Friday in Holy Week still make a pilgrimage round Aranmore, a distance of twenty miles, performing religious exercises at each church in the circuit.

The O'Briens were lords of Aran from an early period, but were driven out by the O'Flaherties of Iar Connaught, who in turn were driven out by the English in 1587. In 1651, the Marquis of Clanricarde fortified the Castle of Arkyn, the stronghold of the O'Briens, which held out against the Parliamentary army for more than a year after the surrender of Galway; but on the occupation of the island, the soldiers of Cromwell demolished the great church of St. Enda to furnish materials for the repair of a strong fort. On the surrender of Galway in 1691 Aran was garrisoned, and remained so for many years. Aran gives the title of Earl to the Gore family.

At his home we met Father Farragher, a genial gentleman and the parish priest of Kilronan, and he gave us a great deal of interesting information concerning the history of and life on these islands, which are historic to a degree rarely met with, and with which he was thoroughly familiar. We returned late in the evening by steamer to Galway.

When going to bed at the hotel, I summoned our comic "boots," and directed him to call No. 41 at six o'clock. The "boots" wrote the call on his slate, and then sat down with a puzzled expression on his face. Noticing this, I inspected the slate and found that the inscription read: 'Call 46 at 1." He excused his blunder by saying: "Shure, you Yankees do be givin' us sich quare orders these days, we're prepared for almost annythin'."

When leaving on the train the next morning and after we were seated in a crowded carriage, this same man put his head in through the open window and shouted: "You owe us another shillin'; the misthress forgot to charge the brace of 'nightcaps' ye had before bedtime."

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On an Irish jaunting Car through Donegal and Connemara

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Samuel Gamble Bayne was born in Ramelton, County Donegal, and educated at Queen's University in Belfast. At the age of twenty-five he left for America with a view to making his fortune. He invested in an oil well in Pennsylvania and later founded a bank which subsequently came to be the JP Morgan Chase bank in New York. By the time this book was written he was wealthy enough to be referred to as a billionaire. His account of the tour through the north, west and south of Ireland is a pleasant snapshot of how that part of the country was in the early part of the 20th century. He describes what is to be seen, gives some background history and, through the illustrations especially, provides wonderful glimpses of the area's social history.

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