Student Issues

An island girl’s insight: misconceptions and silly questions of island life

As I have long established, the Aran Islands are a place of great interest to everyone who asks where I am from. 
It is, without fail, followed by a string of questions. While I appreciate the interest and curiosity, there is a common misconception of what it’s like to live on the Islands. 
Because of this, locals are questioned on every topic, although some could be seen as valid queries, other questions seem hard to believe. 
This article might save you time for if you ever meet me.
“Do you all speak Irish all the time?”
This is a very fair question. We speak Irish regularly, but not constantly, all through school we were taught every subject through Irish. That meant that even in French class, we would translate the English questions into Irish before translating them into French!  
Most people who live on the Island have two Irish speaking parents, meaning that at home and among family, Irish is spoken primarily, but for someone like me, who’s parents have very little Irish, I make sure to use the native tongue as often as I can outside of the house.  
Outside of school, young people generally speak English, with plenty of Irish words thrown in for good measure. And then of course the Gaeilge comes out in full force whenever you so much as step foot off InisMór. 
“Do you have internet/electricity?”
Variations of this question comes up all the time. While the electricity part is asked less and less nowadays, the WIFI questions remain prominent in my conversations. 
We have had household electricity on the Aran Islands since the late sixties. Although we do get a few power cuts in the winter months, it’s pretty much the same as the rest of Ireland. 
We have had internet since the mid nineties and it was your average crappy dial up, the one you had to disconnect if your parents were expecting a phone call. However when WIFI and broadband came about we generally got the same deal as the rest of the country. 
Again, because of stormy winters and high seas, there have been more than a few times where the internet was down, but unfortunately we are just as addicted to our smart phones, Netflix and Facebook as the rest of you! 
“What do people do to survive?”
While this may come across as a hunger games type question, what I think people mean is what jobs and livelihoods do people have, and how do people make money. 
From April to October almost every islander utilises their time, houses become B&Bs, shops get stocked up and horse and carts and mini buses are packed with eager tourists.  
Without tourism the island would be a very different place, the summer is when everyone works as hard as they can for as long as they can before the winter months come in and we are back to quiet, short days, and while those days can be filled with wrapped up walks and cosy nights in, financially it is the complete opposite to the peak in July. 
“Do you have cars on the Aran Islands”
Many people are shocked when they get here, they see dozens of cars on the pier, several buses and even some electric cars. 
People often imagine that the island is too small to need a car, however 9 miles is not a short stroll. Many parents on the island have large families with several children, and given that the winter is rough, the ferry leaves at 8.15am, and the shop sometimes closes at 5, there is much need for a car to get around. 
Many people’s misconceptions are based on the fact that they themselves have never visited the island. For those who have and still ask the following questions, it is often difficult to give a serious answer.
“Do you guys have your own island money?”
 My friend was asked this by someone who was visiting her. The answer she gave may not have been so friendly, but all I will say, is that we too, are part of the European Union, and have euro. 
“What’s that shiny stuff on the top of the water?”
It was the sun’s reflection.
“Does this Island go all the way down to the bottom?”
Sometimes I think it would be interesting if we didn’t go ‘all the way down to the bottom’, and just floated around so that every morning you would wake up in a different location!
“What time does the midday boat leave?”
Variations of this question comes up, so to save time, the midday boat leaves at twelve, the 5 o clock ferry leaves at 5 o clock and it follows that pattern throughout the day.
I am, and always will be happy to answer any questions that potential visitors and curious strangers may have, but as a general guideline, it is more similar to the rest of Ireland than one might think, and just like Ireland, the water goes all the way around our island (that was another genuine query from someone!)  
Photo: Doug Kerr/ Flickr