Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 17, 2002

Muslim? Nope! Taliban or al Qeada? Not even close! I’ll put you out of your misery. It’s the smallest of the Aran isles – Ireland. Aran is well known – families living here make the world-famous Irish sweaters (expensive if you’re in the market). Each family has its own familiar mark in making the sweaters and hasn’t varied it in centuries. No one else can copy it.

But, I’m getting way from Inisheer. It is the smallest of the Aran Islands. Just to really get your attention, Inisheer boasts that it’s the only island where you can step off the plane and into a field of orchids and other blooms. You want beauty – you got it! Right at your feet! Beautiful.

Look around – your first impression will be … gray. Gray limestone pavements divided by countless gray walls. Only the whitewashed cottages with an occasional cultivated tree patch break up this soft sea-washed shade. It’s a restful sight.

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Naturally, the ocean is around. It’s an island, stupid (as the saying goes). Travel over the water in a currach (frail boats) and the ocean can become wild. Go ever so carefully.

This is a land, population 304, where the harvest must be won over the ocean. The traditional sweaters made and worn by the islanders were often used to identify the body of a son or husband drowned. Each family had a combination of stitches almost like a signature. Today islanders still create their masterpieces to sell to visitors in the natural shade of sheep’s wool.

I visited Ireland but not this island. I acted in the traditional manner and bought three of these sweaters – one for Nancy, one for Terese and one for Frank Jr. They were $49 each and worth every penny.

The men of Aran (main island) wear the sweaters – the women wear the traditional red flannel petticoat of Aran. Gaelic is the language here, but they speak a rich, musical English translated from the Gaelic. Christianity came here about 490 AD. The Church of St. Caven is in a small graveyard and is regularly dug out of the sand by the islanders.

I saw Ireland, and only by research did I discover what a joy I missed by not visiting the islands of Aran and their fascinating people. Next time, maybe?

Florence Arena a Suffolk resident and regular Suffolk News-Herald columnist.