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by Tom Kenny

The first steamer service to the Aran Islands began almost 150 years ago, in 1872, with a paddle tug called “The Citie of the Tribes”. She was operated by the Galway Steamship Company and was also used to tow barques and other sailing vessels to and from Galway port.

The same company commissioned a replacement ship, the “S.S.Duras” especially for the Aran route and she started service on February 11th, 1893. She also towed sailing vessels, operated a passenger service for liners and also a cargo and passenger service to Ballyvaughan. From there, a coach service connected with the West Clare Railway at Ennistymon, or, they were able to get to Lisdoonvarna by jaunting car, a great way to see the Burren. If such a service existed today, I am sure it would be well-used.

She was replaced in 1912 by the “Dún Aengus”, a single screw vessel with one funnel and a low freeboard which facilitated the transfer of her cargo to the currachs at the islands, there being no pier on the islands at the time. During the Civil War, this ship was commandeered by Government forces for a short period when she was used as a munitions and hospital ship. She once carried 200 troops from Galway to Clarecastle, and on another occasion 300 troops from Galway to Cappa Pier and to Foynes in Co. Limerick. She was also used to ferry several hundred men of the Irish Brigade to the entrance of the bay where they boarded a ship that took them to Spain to fight in the civil war there.

This ship remained at Galway for 46 years. She experienced two world wars and was on the rocks a few times. In May 1947, she ran aground at Inishmaan. The crew and 20 passengers were all rescued and the 14 head of cattle which had already been loaded swam safely ashore. This created difficulties for the islanders who had a lot of cattle awaiting shipment to Galway for the May fair, as there was no other vessel in the area capable of carrying cattle. The ship was salvaged and soon back to work.

In the fifties, when she was undergoing her annual survey, her place on the Aran run was taken by one or other of the small fishing vessels “Ros Breasil” and “Nabro”. Some of those associated with the Dún Aengus down through the years were Captains Goggin, Meskill and Tynan, Mike Folan, Eamonn Tobin and Murty Folan.

In 1958, the “Naomh Éanna” arrived and she was replaced in 1971 by the “Galway Bay”, the largest vessel so far on this run, captained by C.P. Boyle. She carried Ridgway and Blyth, the first men to row the Atlantic, and their boat “English Rose” on the last leg of their journey from the islands into Galway. The “Naomh Éanna” was sold off in the 1980’s and since then Aran Island Ferries have run regular passenger services from Rosaveal. Now after an interval of some years, the company have launched a new service from Galway to the islands with a brand new environmentally-friendly ferry called “Saoisre na Farraige”. This exciting development also offers a return journey by the Cliffs of Moher and is an interesting way to experience some of our west coast in comfort.