The west coast of Ireland is dotted with islands – incredibly beautiful, romantic islands. Take time to visit at least a couple of them. You may find that they end up being the highlight of your visit. They were for me.
Described are five incredible Irish Islands – all on the west coast of Ireland. My favourite – so far – are the Skellig Islands.
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The Aran Islands
The Aran Islands are perhaps the best known of the Irish islands, probably because of their famous Aran knit sweater, a useful water repellent piece of clothing worn by the farmers and fisherman. (Incidentally each family had its own carefully guarded pattern and unique combination of stitches. The sweaters were one of the ways of identifying fisherman who had drowned and washed up on shore.)
Take the Doolin one if you’re in the vicinity of the Cliffs of Moher and have a wish to be scared to death and likely seasick for 90 minutes. The 40 minute ride from Rossaveal is a piece of cake in comparison.
Once you arrive in Inishmore, the largest island and home to 800 mostly Irish speakers, you’ll find there’s plenty to enjoy over a few days. Rent a bike and cycle the island on very scenic, very quiet, mostly easy backroads. It’s a good way to get the flavour of the whole island.
On the Aran Islands you could also do the following:
- Visit Dun Aengus, a 4,000 year old fort perched on a cliff
- Go bird watching
- Take a ride on a pony cart
- Watch the local fisherman fish from their tar and canvas boats called currachs and if you happen to be there in June catch currach races at the Patrun Festival.
- Enjoy traditional music in a local pub
- Walk to the Church of St. Benan, reputed to be the smallest in the world
- Check out the Black Fort, another cliffside ruin only a few miles from Kilronan
- Look for a seal colony along the coastal road about 2 miles from Kilronan
Stay at the Pier House – a comfortable but by no means fancy place overlooking Kilronan Pier. The onsite restaurant is wonderful.
If you don’t want to organize a visit to the Aran Islands on your own sign up for a tour with Get Your Guide. They offer tours that start at either Galway or Doolin that include the return ferry ride.
The Blasket Islands
If you’re walking or driving the Dingle Way then it’s impossible to miss the stunning views of the Blasket Islands near Slea Head.
The islands lie three kilometres off the Dingle Peninsula and can be reached by a 20 minute ferry ride. Once on the islands you can walk, hike and swim.
Before you head for the islands you could visit The Great Blasket Center in Dunquin. The center highlights the unique way of life that has existed on the island. The residents are famous for producing a large amount of Irish literature.
In fact the Blasket Islander’s distinctive life coupled with its rich history of literature is the basis for a World Heritage Site application.
The Skellig Islands – my favourite Irish islands
The Skellig Islands are two steep and rocky islands lying about 16 kilometres off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula and are accessed by boat from either Portmagee or Caherdaniel. The smaller of the islands is home to 28,000 breeding pairs of gannets.
These birds have a wingspan of six feet so the sheer mass of birds is mind boggling. They have the good sense to leave for Africa sometime in October and return again in the spring. They are not to be missed.
The larger island goes by the name of Skellig Michael. It was originally settled in 490 AD by Christian monks. The monks endured at least four Viking raids but remained on the island for about 500 years.
The island was abandoned in the twelfth century when the monks headed to the Augustinian monastery on the mainland. Two lighthouses were established beginning in 1820 but apart from the lighthouse keepers there has been little human traffic so the site is in excellent shape. The island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
A visit to Skellig Michael requires a head for heights and the ability to climb 600 stairs. The beehive huts that are part of the monastery are built at the top of the stairs.
The island consists of nothing but cliffs. There are no handrails so people with a fear of heights can be seen coming down the stairs on their rear ends. There are a few small flat sections so one can bring a lunch and enjoy the view. Puffins nest on the steep hillside so you can also enjoy watching their comings and goings.
Reserving a boat trip
Boat trips to the Skellig Islands can be reserved in advance and it is likely your B&B host will be able to provide that service. The very pretty town of Portmagee about 20 minutes away from Cahirciveen has the most departures though unfortunately you won’t know until the morning of the day that you plan to go if the boat will run.
Boats are only able to run 100 days of the year because of weather and wave conditions. They almost never operate in the winter but summer is no guarantee as even in August of 2008 they were only able to run half the time.
There are several companies running trips and prices are in the order of 40 Euros per person. Michael O’Sullivan doesn’t have a website but can be reached at: Waterville Boats firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: +353 (0) 66 9474800/ Michael +353(0) 87 2202355 Pat +353(0) 87 4178268.
Journey times depend on the boat size but are typically 45 minutes each way. The boats circle Little Skellig Island and then drop you off on Skellig Michael. You are given about 2 hours to walk up and explore which is adequate time. Be warned that there are no bathroom facilities on the island.
Clare Island is accessed from Roonah Point, close to Westport. Spectacular cliffs make for some interesting walking. Bicycling is also possible. It is a short 20 minute ferry ride and it is possible to stay in a B&B or at the one hotel.
Inishbofin Island is 10 kilometres off the coast near Clifden and is accessed via a 30 minute ferry ride from the small fishing village of Cleggan. There are cliff top walks, white, sandy beaches and interesting flora and fauna.
I’ve missed a few of the Irish islands but if you’re read this far then you can see what incredible places they are to visit. Put Ireland on your travel wish list. You won’t be disappointed.
Further reading on things to do in Ireland
- Connemara, Ireland: Why its Well Worth a Visit
- Climbing Mweelrea: Western Ireland’s Highest Mountain
- 5 Things to do in Galway
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