Aran Islands

The three Aran Islands - Inishmor, Inishmaan and Inisheer - 
are in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland.  
Small and laid-back, they're a really wonderful place to explore on foot.

Ferries leave from either Rossaveal in County Galway or Doolin in County Clare,
or you can take a plane from Spiddal in County Galway. 


I spent two nights on Inishmor, the largest of the Aran Islands, on my trip in 2007. Inishmor is by far the most touristy of the three, but almost everyone is a day-tripper and goes on a predictable tour route. If you get off the beaten track the isolation is amazing. Stay overnight, and after the last ferry leaves until the first one arrives the next morning, you'll have the island to yourself. I stayed at the Pier House, right at the pier as the name implies, and a nice central place to explore the island. 

The beach and village of Kilronan

Kilronan Harbour at sunset

The eastern end of Inishmor from Dun Aengus

Dun Aengus is the best known of the ancient stone forts of Inishmor, but it tends to be crowded with tour groups (unless you get there before the first ferry arrives, as I did). 

A short walk in the other direction from Dun Aengus out of Kilronan, the "Black Fort" (Dun Dúbhchathair) is almost unknown and unvisited, and, in my opinion, even more interesting. After 3,000 years, it's still overlooking the sea on the northern coast of Inishmor, at the end of an unmarked path across the bare limestone karst moonscape.

Harbour Seals are common in the waters around the Aran Islands

This curious little fellow came up to visit at Kilronan Quay

The Seven Churches is a monastic settlement on Inishmor

The island is covered by small fields surrounded by drystone walls. 

There are few, if any, gates on Inishmor. Instead, if you need to move
livestock in or out of a field, you just unbuild the wall to make a gate
and rebuild it behind the cows

The Jaunting Cars meet every ferry and compete with the minibuses for tourists

As with most of western Ireland, the population of the Aran Islands
is a fraction of what it once was. Deserted homesteads can be found across the islands.

Sanderlings on a beach west of Kilronan


Inisheer is the easternmost, and smallest, of the Aran Islands. At only two miles across, it's easy to cover the island on foot. 
We stayed at Brid Poill's B&B, and were greeted with the best fresh-baked scones I've ever had. 

The narrow, winding roads, bordered by high drystone walls, are perfect
for horse carts or tractors - and that's mostly what you find for transport on Inisheer. When we got off the ferry we met this horse carter, who asked where we were going - "Brid's? That's a long way... for 10 Euro I'll take you there". Knowing full well what was going on, I decided to take the Grand Tour, and we boarded the cart. We went all around the eastern part of the island before arriving at our B&B which, as I'd suspected, turned out to be less than a five-minute walk from the pier. 

Inisheer Quay, with the Doolin Ferry

14th century O'Brien's Castle sits on the highest point on Inisheer,
inside a prehistoric ring fort

Just down the hill from O'Brien's Castle, the National School was built in 1885 
next to the 1804 Signal Tower. The landowner who owned the island then
was forced to build the school - but put it on the most windswept, desolate
part of the island to discourage attendance. 

A window in O'Brien's Castle

What little soil there is in the small fields was laboriously built up by the islanders
from sand and seaweed brought from the beaches. Sheep are considered
to be too much trouble, so only cows and horses are kept. 

This is a Robin - really! 
The bird we call "robin" in the US - Turdus migratorius - is really a thrush

A friendly horse in a field on the shore of Inisheer's lake

A potato field

The Plassey wreck was tossed ashore in a storm in 1960.
It featured prominently in the opening titles of the Britcom Father Ted

Inisheer from the Doolin Ferry...

... and much the same view, but from Inishmaan, the next island west. You can see how close the Aran Islands are to each other. 

Inisheer Graveyard, which hides...

... the 10th century Temple Kevin. The church was buried in sand and 
forgotten. A storm uncovered it in the 1890's. 

Songthrush singing on a drystone wall


The Middle Island, Inishmaan, is the least touristy of the three. There are few tourist attractions and the season doesn't open until June for the hotel and restaurant. The island's museum is now a woolen outlet shop, and the only place for lunch is the village shop, which (at least when I was there) was out of stock on guide books to the island. On the upside, there are several marked walking routes which are great for walking, and if you get lost, anyone you meet will be happy to take some time and chat. And if you just want some solitude, there's world-class quiet.  

The ferry ride from Rossaveal was exciting, with high winds and waves. In about 45 minutes we made it to Inishmaan, and I was met at the pier by Martin and his taxi to take me to Angela Faherty's Creig Mor B&B. Angela's a great cook, which was good, since none of the other places to eat on the island had opened for the season yet. 

Inishmaan is divided in half - a low-lying area with the piers and most of the houses, and a high plateau with two ring forts, the shop and church, and little else. 

Inishmaan cemetery

As with the other islands, fields are small and enclosed by drystone walls

Where the islanders didn't build soil with seaweed and sand, it's still just rock

Cliff view from Synge's Chair, a rock seat within a shielding wall, used by playwright John Millington Synge. The wind was so high the day I was there, it was difficult to walk along the rocky clifftop to the Chair. 

Arctic Terns were nesting on the sand near the island's airport

Greater Black-Back Gull

Herring Gull riding the winds at Synge's Chair


"Hello, there! Got a treat?"

Happy Goat and her kids

Dún Chonchúir (Connor's Fort, in English) is the larger of the two stone age ring forts on Inishmaan. 

Nothing inside the fort but silence and enigmatic stone enclosures. Who built it? what did they use it for? What was it like when people lived here? Or did they live here, or was it just a place of refuge? No one knows. I found it incredibly restful just to sit on the wall and ponder...

The smaller fort, Dún Fearbhaí, overlooked the B&B

View from Dún Fearbhaí across the lower part of Inishmaan

Potatoes are grown in raised "lazy beds"

Ringed Plover

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All pictures © Copyright 2007-2011 Mike Brown