Aran Islands - County Galway
The Aran Islands apart from being the most popular and visited islands off the coast of Galway are really, very special being pocket sized versions of how life used to be in Ireland not so very long ago and if you get a chance you should definitely take a trip out to either Inis Mor, Inis Meain or Inis Oirr. Born of a long tradition of fishing and farming these once isolated communities were self sufficient and pretty much oblivious to life on the mainland. The Irish language is alive and well out there, as are music and crafts and you will not get closer to nature than on the Aran Islands. And yet it is technology like broadband that is leading a revival and return to Irelands Islands that had suffered a huge exodus in the past.
There is a daily service, during the summer, to each of the three Aran Islands from Doolin Harbour. Sailing times may differ slightly depending on the weather and the tides of course, so always check directly just in case. Inish Mor (being the largest) is the most popular with its spectacular cliff side stone fort Dun Aengus and plenty of options accommodation and food wise, but the smaller Inish Oir and Inish Meain are every bit as nice (and quieter in high season) with miles of tiny stone walled fields, deserted lighthouses and shipwrecks. Once there, getting about is by ‘shanks mare’ ie on foot or by hiring bikes, so you can freely wander about taking in the views and perhaps even have a swim in the turquoise waters on a pristine white beach, with perhaps only a donkey for company. Follow that with a fresh crab salad or fried mackerel with brown bread and butter, a cold beer or a pint of Guinness and you will have found a little piece of heaven on earth.
10 Other things to see and do in the Aran Islands....
1 Walk, hike or hire a bike and go off down any of the little stonewalled roads to explore the beauty of islands. The tiny fields, potato and cabbage gardens, and little cottages with their roofs lashed down against the weather.
2 Take a pony and trap ride around or hire a guide details at the harbour for a more informative and very entertaining guide to the island's history, present day culture and folklore.
3 Hike up to Dun Aengus, Inish Mor, a large circular stone fort perched on the edge of 300' high cliffs. This stone age settlement is defended by a 'Cheveux de frise' a circle of upright stone spikes.
4 Have a swim on Kilmurvey beach, white sand and turquoise water or take a high dive at Poll na bPeist, the Worm Hole, a deep natural pool where international diving championships where held last August.
5 Visit the Man-of-Aran cottage where the famous documentary about life on the Aran Islands was filmed by Robert J Flaherty in the 1930's. It is a restaurant and B&B so you can stay there now.
6 Visit the seven churches at Teampall Ronan, Islanders believed that if they died on the islands that they would go straight to heaven, which is why a nursing home have to built in Kilronan as older people would not go to one on the mainland.
7 On Inish Oir, walk or cycle out to the lighthouse, taking a detour to look at the Plassey wreck rusting away since it was washed up on the rocks in 1960.
8 Visit Aras Eanna, a local art and crafts initiative to ensure skills such as weaving and basketry are not lost. There is a bodhran (Irish drum) maker there as well and there, traditional music lessons and courses are run during the summer.
9 Learn Irish, the islands are collectively a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) and have been learning centres for Irish since the time of John Millington Synge who went to live on Inish Meain and wrote the Playboy of the Western World, a famous Irish play that shocked theatre goers when it was performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1907, which was based on island life.
10 Mary Immaculate Church on Inish Meain (the Middle Island, the altar was built by James Pearse, father of Irish patriot Padraig Pearse, Harry Clarke stained glass windows also.
For more information on access, accommodation and activities visit the Aran Islands website
And if you have not got time for a trip out to the Aran Islands you really should consider the Cliffs of Moher Cruise. this is a great little cruise, one of the Top 10 Boat Trips listed in my eBook , as you get to see a fishes eye view of the famous Cliffs of Moher and the colonies of seabirds that nest on the cliffs and sea stacks opposite them. There are plenty of excellent photo opportunites and you might even get to see some dolphins!