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The Aran Islands
by J. M. Synge
ISBN 0486400484 / 9780486400488 / 0-486-40048-4
Publisher Dover Publications
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Nothing much happens on the Aran Islands--at least, not much went on there in the late 19th century, when John Synge sailed out to these mist-shrouded, salt-sprayed, and wave-battered chunks of rocks south of Ireland. Therein lies the charm of the setting and of this lovely book, which captures the saltiness of both the marine air and the time-lost characters, who deeply believe in the magical "wee people." In cottages where nets and fishing tackle hang from beams, the women (who always wear red dresses and petticoats, as do some of the boys) sit at their spinning wheels or sew cow-skin sandals, while the fishermen spin yarns about fairies, sunken vessels, and bags of gold gained from adulterous wives. The big happening of the year is when roofs are rethatched--an event that blossoms into a festival with twisted rope stretching from kitchen table through lane to nearby field. Synge seems an ambassador from a different world: addressed as "noble person," he brings tokens of modernity--be they clocks or simple magic tricks that beguile the locals. First published in 1907, this re-released travelogue gives a poignant peek into another time and begs a visit to the Aran Islands to see how, or if, they have changed. --Melissa Rossi [via]