Our bedroom overlooks the extraordinary Inis Meáin landscape, little fields surrounded by high dry stone walls, a few cattle here and there, Coilumin’s rectangular garden along the road is bursting with cabbages, ripe onions, beets, rhubarb, potatoes…He has harvested the rye since the last time we were here, tied it in sheaves, threshed it against a standing stone on the limestone pavement below his field. He’ll save the precious seed for next year’s crop and the long straw can be used for thatching, I wondered if he made rye bread but apparently it’s not part of the island tradition.
On a fine day, one can see across Galway Bay to the 12 Pins, and the Clare coast to the south but this morning, a thick mist is swirling in from the sea, enveloping the white washed buildings of the Inis Meáin Knitwear factory. It’s a hive of activity around the clock, lovingly turning out the most beautiful knitwear from the finest wool, cashmere, linen and cotton yarns for export to a few carefully chosen shops around the world.
The fluffy grey mist ebbs and flows and I can’t help being secretly pleased that it’s likely that our flight to the mainland in the tiny Aer Arann plane will be somewhat delayed…so I can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
So let me tell you about this delicious repast – Breakfast at Inis Meáin Suites is no ordinary breakfast. It’s delivered into the bedroom porch in a handmade iroko timber box tray around 8.30am ish. Lift off the lid, inside you’ll find a feast… 10-12 little jars and Bec containers are tucked into thick polystyrene moulds…freshly squeezed orange or apple juice, homemade granola, seasonal fresh fruit, thick unctuous yoghurt... There are several slices of both brown and white soda bread tucked into a little box beside two slices of poppy seed banana bread. Two fresh hard-boiled eggs from their little flock of happy hens are covered in little hand knit Aran egg cosies – how cute and practical is that! But that’s not all, there’s also a little pot of pickled herrings and a gutsy liver pâté and just in case we have a craving – two little pots of the most sublime chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted with a pot of crème fraîche. We made a pot of coffee from the freshly ground beans. There’s a minimum two night stay, and other choices for breakfast the next day.
Each room comes with walking sticks, two bikes, fishing rods, two deck chairs and lest you need it, an umbrella. Wandering or cycling around the island is a joy, fields full of wild flowers…hare bells, fuchsia, loosestrife, heather, honeysuckle… A few cattle here and there and there’s certainly one donkey and maybe more. Don’t miss the Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows in the chapel of Saint John and Immaculate Mary. Check if Millington Synge’s little thatched cottage is open and climb up the steps to at least one of the stone forts. You’ll probably be alone to ponder how these extraordinary ruins were built between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago…
Inis Meáin is possibly the quietest and the least visited of the three Aran Islands – there’s one shop and one pub with lots of outdoor seating. Depending on the time of the year, there’s one or two cafés and a quirky craft shop but don’t leave the island without visiting Inis Meáin Knitwear. No ‘fast fashion’ here – beautifully crafted pieces that you’ll treasure for a lifetime…
I almost forgot to mention dinner, always a surprise – Ruairí de Blacam’s food reflects seasonal organic produce from their garden and polytunnel, fresh catch of fish and shellfish from local fishers and occasionally wild and foraged food from the island. The wine list chosen by Ruairí’s wife Marie-Thérèse is also exceptional. This place is one of Ireland’s hidden gems, check it out and put your name on a cancellation list – www.inismeain.com