By travelling to the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, visitors can experience a side to the country that is now rarely found on the mainland. Isolated from the rest of Ireland, these three small islands retain their traditional way of life, with unspoiled natural beauty within a unique limestone landscape. While staying amidst the grandeur of Ashford Castle, take the chance to discover this traditional side to Irish life by hopping between the Aran Islands.
Just off the west coast of Ireland and situated at the mouth of Galway Bay, these three small islands have become a popular stop-off for people travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way. And just like the west coast’s surreal Burren landscape, each one exhibits distinct limestone formations, alongside Celtic monuments and churches that sit atop rugged cliffs.
Inishmore is the largest of the three islands. Here, cliffs stretch along the entire western side and stone walls snake their way across the island, with a seal colony residing just off Kilmurvey beach. Covering 7,635 acres, Inishmore is best explored by bicycle, making it easy to hop between the Celtic sites, ancient stone forts and churches. Inishmore’s most prominent site, Dun Aonghas prehistoric walled fort, can be found at the top of the island’s 300-foot high cliffs, while the best beach for swimming is Cill Mhuirbhigh.
Festivals and events take place on the island year-round, including Patrún (Patron Saints Day), the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition and the Father Ted festival. Stroll through the island’s port village of Kilronan, stop by a local pub to catch live folk music, and visit the village’s Heritage Centre, which gives people a greater insight into the island’s past. Bicycles can be hired from Aran Bike Hire, or people can opt for a pony and trap ride.
Inishmaan sits in the middle of the island group, and is home to around 225 people. This island is best known for its traditional dress with a small knitwear factory and adjoining museum. Aside from walking along the island’s coast and taking in the far reaching sea views, visitors can stumble upon a number of historic stone forts, as well as the Aran Islands Dive Centre for PADI certified scuba diving.
The smallest island in the group is Inisheer at just three square-kilometres. Visit this island to follow walking trails through remote landscape, hire a bicycle or pony and trap, and to swim from the pristine shores. Perhaps unexpectedly, Inisheer has a contemporary arts and heritage centre, too, and it’s here that a theatre hosts film screenings, concerts and plays.
The ferry between Rossaveal in County Galway and Inishmore take around 40 minutes; it’s a 45-minute journey from Rossaveal to Inishmaan, and Inisheer is a 55-minute journey away. Find out what time they depart with Aran Island Ferries.
Back on the mainland, relax after your day’s island exploration by tucking into hearty Irish fare and savouring the sumptuous surroundings of Ashford Castle, while reflecting on your time in this unique part of Ireland.
Image credits: Cover photo of Fanad Head Lighthouse © Ciaran May / courtesy of Ireland.com. Aran Islands Cycling © courtesy of Ireland.com. The cliffs on Inishmore © Chris Hill / courtesy of Ireland.com. Horses on Inishmore © courtesy of Ireland.com. Kayaking on the Aran Islands © Brian Morrison / courtesy of Ireland.com.