Inis Meáin is the least frequented of the Aran Islands. But it typifies that which is truly the spirit of these unique islands. Psychologically, the islands feel far away even for us nestled away in Galway but they are very easily accessed from Rossaveal by boat and also very uniquely by airplane from Inverin – the flight being a mere eight minutes from
Connemara airport. It is wonderful to experience both ways of getting to the islands as you can have different perspectives of scale. The flight is stunning and as you approach the airstrip, you really get a sense of place and time on these islands that are an exercise in anthropology and climatic diversity.
I had not been to the islands for years but the draw of the award- winning Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites was too great. Ruairí and Marie-Therese de Blacam have created a stunning restaurant with four large suites attached. The building itself was designed by architects Blacam and Meagher and was directly inspired by the surrounding area. It is a monument in contemporary stone and sits in tandem with the local stonewalling. The build is much publicised for its unique aesthetic and design consciousness. It exists as a contemporary build with a total embodiment of all that is around it, from wool throws on the bed, Irish pottery, periwinkles to start with as an amuse bouche before dinner and fishing rods and bikes left outside for your amusement. This place presents something totally fresh but with the greatest respect for everything that it has come from. This is what makes Inis Meáin suites stand alone as a sparkling gem of contemporary Irish hospitality both nationally and internationally.
The rooms are simple and yet luxurious with a view that would take your breath away. Egyptian cotton sheets in white with grey tweed furnishings and dark wood lend a simple tone that allows the space itself to shine. Breakfast in the morning is dropped off to the porch of the suite, homemade granola, fruit compote, traditional soda bread, jams and fresh boiled eggs from the house chickens. Breakfast can then be eaten on the expanse of windowsill that is an unending table in and of itself. You are then well set up for the day’s activities; a detailed list of what to do is laid out charmingly and amusingly by the owners in an almost ‘things to do’ on the island. A walk to Synge’s chair on the precipice of the cliff past the writer’s house is a sublime and head clearing adventure, cycling all the lanes of the island, an afternoon in the local pub with a toasted sandwich and a glass of Guinness followed by a visit to the multi generational traditional knitters in a nearby house, a swim at the deserted beaches, and without fail a trip to Inis Meáin knit wear factory shop.
It seems all that these people do is spot on and done with such integrity. Inis Meáin knitwear supplies stores all over the world. Its commitment again to the local product is combined with an element of luxury that positions their products in stores as renowned as Bloomingdales in New York. The store itself is an old barn but houses a most extraordinarily diverse collection of knitwear. With bargain baskets galore, this is a chance to get your hands on some wonderful bargains and great finds. You can spend hours here looking at the old black and white photos and trying on endless combinations of knits and working up your appetite for dinner.
The simple stone dining room is really one of the most appealing restaurant rooms in Ireland. Large old black and white photos of the islanders subtly break up the room. The dark wooden huge windowsill again dominates and frames the landscape as if it were a photograph, light exists everywhere, it is almost like eating outside such is the openness of the space. Ruairí cooks in open plan in the centre of the room. The menu is simple; bearing in mind that all food has to be shipped or flown in, that alone is a huge achievement. There is naturally a strong element of seafood with the crab and lobsters caught daily by the local fishermen in their currachs. The vegetables come from their own garden and arrive simply buttered and seasoned, as they should be. There is cooking – here the ingredients are allowed to shine. You leave having had wonderful attentive service by Marie-Therese who fills you in on the local island activities and anecdotes, which further enhances this unparalleled dining experience.
After three days of blistering sun we leave revived and restored.Happy in the knowledge that we didn’t have to fly hours to have an exceptional holiday, knowing we were supporting a local community and staying with people who work to enhance not exploit as they create an exceptional time for their guests. This is eco tourism at its best and most integral. The Aran Islands are a stunning destination and if you haven’tbeen for a while, visit them again. The local community could do with slightly more tourism and coupled with that, you will have some breathtaking peace and beauty.