Man of Aran

of Aran

Nothing is a specious word that means nothing. Nothing always gets me thinking.

Nothing is a specious word that means nothing. Nothing always gets me thinking.

It’s wrong to think that when life is simple, you embellish. It’s the opposite: with a Beaufort wind force of fourteen that condemns the islanders to nearly total silence for three out of twelve months, there’s no time to embroider; you get straight to the point.

It’s wrong to think that when life is simple, you embellish. It’s the opposite: with a Beaufort wind force of fourteen that condemns the islanders to nearly total silence for three out of twelve months, there’s no time to embroider; you get straight to the point.

Excerpted from “Aran Journal,” Nicolas Bouvier’s rugged prose conveys the wild beauty of these Irish islandslike echoes chiseled by the wind, captured in green and gray.

Galway III

They told me: “Leave your car at the edge of the turnip field and give the key to the gas station attendant.” They told me: “The plane will be late; you have plenty of time.” We had plenty of time. In the kind of caravan that served as a waiting room, around a red-hot cast-iron stove, there was a priest with sacraments; a mother with three pale little girls, all dressed the same in knee socks and burgundy jackets bought on sale in Galway that were itchy, and they scratched their calves with that stubborn scowl that young girls often have; and an old woman with a tidy white bun and a reed basket shaped exactly like a chicken on her lap, with a hole for the neck and head, which emerged, beak open and terrified, swiveling its head frantically around the tiny room; a stunningly elegant young minx in boots reading Orwell’s 1984, just one year too late, not looking at a soul, turning the pages with a perfectly manicured gilded fingernail; a ewe whose hind leg had just been put in a cast by a vet on the coast and which would make the trip in the luggage compartment; and finally, the pilot, extremely reassuring in his rumpled tunic, who put everyone on the scale as if we were all here to lose weight; then the heavenly roar of the engine over the sea that turned to black. Landed in Inishmaan, on a barely marked landing strip, just long enough to drop off the priest, his cruet and a few securely tied packages, then take off for the “Big Island” (Inishmore), without even switching off the engine and for the shortest flight ever recorded in the tables of commercial aviationthree minutes, forty-five seconds.

Kilmurvy, Aran

Today, everything that could have been taken from the rock has been; essentially, the island belongs to those who, after inconceivably hard work, transformed this immense stone from gray to soft green, changed it into a paradise for botanists and ornithologists. When, from the top of the cliffs on the west coast, you look at this lattice of low stone wallsset end to end, they measure 12,000 kilometersthat covers the entire island and seems to contain it within a tightly woven net, and when you consider just how rustic the techniques were, everything that the Irish say complacently about their indolence and incurable daydreaming just seems like utter nonsense. It’s true that these same Irishmen boastfully laugh that they are the best liars on the Atlantic coast, which is absolutely true.


I remember that in Macedonia, we couldn’t stop in a single villageeven the poorest onewithout hearing “Oh, you’ve come to taste our water,” each person claiming to have a better spring than their neighbors. They watch you, looking anxious as you drink the frosted glass they hand you, as if you were a taster for a great vintage wine; and you had better make sure that your lip smacking and compliments are up to scratch. At this game, the air of Aran would win any competition, hands down. Anything good I could say about the air you breathe here, in this raging weather, with its taste of wild fennel and saltwater mist in suspension, would fall far short of the truth. It expands, invigorates, intoxicates, unleashes animal spirits in the mind that indulge in uncharted, hilarious games.

Kilmurvy, le 18 février au matin

Left Michael in the hands of a farmer who was coming up from the shore with a cart full of kelp. They were speaking Gaelic; I only know it was about the price of a calf. Came up alone, zigzagging among gentians and stone walls, as far as Dun Aengus Fort, that stands atop the highest cliff. I could hear the sea without seeing it, battering the foot, and the wrath of the wind that blasted them straight on, seeking a way out. I told myself, “Ok… only a hundred meters to go,” and thought I was safe. I was wrong. A wind that whips up from Newfoundland is not easily deterred by a cliff, however massive. Rather than an obstacle, it’s more like a riddle, for which it has forever held the answer. This is how it goes: it tamps down a cushion of air at the base of the reefs; from this trampoline, it bounces up and starts again. Once it’s climbed high enough, it reaches the top and hurtles down the other side in furious, sharp waves that crush the broom and thistles, better not to be in its way. One of these gusts hit me full force, just a few meters from the fort, flung me to the ground and rolled me over the loose stones and brambles like a scrap of newspaper. I watched my heavy camera bag tumbling down the green meadows and all the rabbits in a mad stampede.

Kilronan, samedi matin

The grocery store at the harbor where I wanted to buy pens, paper and tobacco is closed. The church is open. Saw the end of a wedding: the brand new tweed suits gleaming in the freezing air, faces flushed with excitement. The priest, a hefty, frizzy-haired guy, was frenetically dishing out friendly thumps, handshakes, hugs, slaps on the back. He was far too familiar, maybe because of the cold. Didn’t look like a man of the cloth or even a mage; more like a rugby coach after a converted try.

Le même matin

Michael got out of the car, struggling with the door that the storm was trying to tear off. […] At the beach, he shielded his eyes and, his back to Europe, gazed westward where the sea was steaming and frothing like a cauldron, he said to me with laconic satisfaction: “Next bus stop: New York.” Then the wind picked up, making any further conversation impossible. […] This beach was one of those non-places that traveling keeps up its sleeve for us. I had seen others like it, and I felt happy here.

Aran II

I sawmy eyes had gotten used to the darka pale shape backed into a corner formed by two stone walls. It was a white Percheron so enormous and motionless that my first impression was that it was a gigantic effigy abandoned by some kind of Atlantis, unknown to archaeologists, which the winter winds had scrubbed clean of its lichen and barnacles to create this polished, opaline perfection. It was in the most sheltered corner and, its muzzle snuggled against its chest, wasn’t moving at all, to stay warmer. If it hadn’t been for the shiver running from his tail to his nostrils, I’d have sworn that he was made of plaster.


1990 Éditions Payot / 2001 Éditions Payot & Rivages

A place to write

Kilronan Pub, late afternoon. The pub, also closed because of the wind, had just reopened, the time for drinks for all those not invited to the wedding. […] In short: despite the rundown look of the place, there was this amber-colored dusk, like the Flemish masters who reproduced on the side of a carafe the entire tavern that fills their canvas. It was too dark to photograph freehand. I attached the camera to a small tripod, placed it on a corner of the bar and, lulled by the overall torpor, forgot to say the magic words: “don’t move!” F-stop: 5.6, time: one second. Exactly the one they chose to stretch while yawning and blinking. Instead of a Vermeer, I got a Francis Bacon, with his blurred, viscous, alcohol-bloated contours. It was certainly closer to the spirit of the place.

Ljubljana: biking for gold


biking for gold

Carnet d’adresses


1990 Éditions Payot / 2001 Éditions Payot & Rivages


The g Hotel & Spa

Galway, on Ireland’s west coast, the last stop before boarding a ship or taking a fight for the Aran trilogy. North of the docks, this modern 101-room hotel was elegantly designed by Philip Treacy, a local boy turned milliner for royal and haute-couture clients. The interior gleams, while the wind winds past the long windows; the seascape is just that close.

Wellpark, Dublin Road, Galway.
Tél. +353 91 865 200.


Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites

This rugged pearl seems to have always been here, interlaced stones formed by the wind in the center of Inis Meáin, the central island off the tourist trail. Chef Ruairí de Blacam, who returned to his tiny homeland in 2007, and his wife Marie-Thérèse, opened this stationary ship whose clean lines refect the peacefulness of the surroundings. Just fve suites facing the elements and a restaurant for 16 guests with a menu showcasing the noble local ingredients: lobster, lamb, vegetables and herbs from the garden. And a panoply of special touches: bikes, binoculars and a thermos of homemade soup.

Inis Meáin.
Tél. +353 86 826 6026.
Address Book

Going There


Every week, AIR FRANCE has 35 fights from Paris- CDG to Dublin on a codeshare basis with CityJet.

Every week, KLM has 14 fights from Amsterdam to Dublin.


Aéroport de Dublin.

À 11 km.
Tél. +353 1 814 1111.


À l’aéroport.


— Depuis la France :
Tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.


Hertz, à l'aéroport.
Tél. +353 1 844 5466.


Journal d’Aran et d’autres lieux Nicolas Bouvier, Payot. OEuvres Nicolas Bouvier, Gallimard, coll. Quarto. Nicolas Bouvier, passeur pour notre temps Nadine Laporte, Le Passeur éditeur.

Irlande Gallimard, coll. Encyclopédie du voyage.
Irlande Gallimard, coll. GEO Guides.
L’Essentiel de l’Irlande Lonely Planet.


Peadar Poil.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Carte illustrative, non contractuelle Map for illustration purposes only