National Geographic : 1931 Jun
THE TIMELESS ARANS Photograph by A. W. Cutler OFF FOR FOOD The Aran Islanders subsist mainly on fish. Note the method of carrying the curragh to the water. In the background, 3/2 miles distant, is Inisheer, where seaweed is being burned. Inishman must be shipped perilously to Connemara for part of the summer. At Inishmore there is grass enough for all the year. Everybody rides, although there may not be a saddle on the three islands. For that matter, I do not recall seeing a bridle. A rope headstall, tied for the oc casion, serves the purpose. The men sit close to the withers, hug ging the barrels of their mounts and going everywhere at a fast pace. Women and girls often ride behind, sitting sidewise, with an arm around the horseman's waist, and calling for no slackening of speed. The Aran horses get no oats, but the limestone pasturage, like so much of that in the west of Ireland, is very rich and the steeds are remarkably sleek. They are known well enough to the buyers of mounts for half a dozen European armies, who at tend the fairs of Connaught. Handsome, shapely, spirited, with proud neck, trimmed mane, and square-cut tail, the horse of many a poor peasant might have been sum moned by Pygmalion from a Greek pedi ment. It goes without saying that the Aran men are expert boatmen; natural selection would long ago have weeded out the un skillful ; but, like so many other island folk, they are strictly boatmen rather than sail ors. Few have taken to the sea, though all are at home among breakers. Their spe cial craft is the canvas curragh, which is in effect the ancient coracle (still used in County Antrim) stretched out long, en dowed with sheer and streamline, and cov ered with textile instead of a bull's hide. THE CANVAS CURRAGH IS THE ISLANDERS' BOAT The curragh is buoyant, roomy, and slippery, ideally adapted to rough coastal waters and bad landings. Owing, however, to its lack of grip on the water, it has a dogged tendency to turn bow to the wind and is hard to keep on a quartered course. Leeboards would, no doubt, be a practical addition, particularly when the small bow sail is employed, but the device is unknown at the islands (see pages 751, 766, 770-2). No craft can be safely moored along the shores of the Arans, and the lightness of the curragh enables a crew of three to toss it upside down over their heads, and so to turn beetle while they bear it high and dry.