Aran Island Hopping (Part 1 - Inis Mór) (July 2022)

I‘d only ever visited the Aran Islands, off Ireland’s west coast, once, years ago, and then only for a day trip to the largest island, Inis Mór.  My main recollection of that visit is that the water was very choppy, the boat was very small, and everyone was very seasick.

This time I wanted to make a proper visit, staying on and exploring each of the islands. Getting there is easy enough - there are various ferry options and you can even fly - but traveling between the islands was surprisingly tricky, as I’ll explain.

There are three islands, with a combined population of about 1200-1300 people. They’re in the Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking part of Ireland. Inis Mór (or Inishmore) is the largest island, Inis Meáin (Inishmaan) is the next, and Inis Oirr (Inisheer) is the smallest.

The islands are famous for their mile of stone walls, and abundant archaeology. Most notable are the massive stone forts (or Duns) like Dún Aonghasa, with its dramatic cliff edge location. Some of these date back three thousand years or more.

The first island I visited was Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. I traveled from Galway city with Aran Island Ferries, who do a fairly seamless bus transfer to Rossaveal, the harbour from where the ferry leaves. In summer they also sail directly from Galway city but the sailing time is about 90 minutes (compared to 40 from Rossaveal) so I chose the shorter sea route in case the sea was rough.

The sea crossing was actually very smooth - no seasickness on this journey.

Kilronan is the main village on Inis Mór and is definitely catering for a tourist market, with lots of minibuses and horses and traps to take people around the island. As it was 25 C today there maybe wasn’t much demand for Aran sweaters.

There are plenty of places to hire out bicycles, as the island is quite flat and cycling is an ideal way to get around. I hired a bicycle from Aran Islands Bike Hire for a couple of days, which cost 40 Euro. They’ll also drop bags off at your accommodation, which is incredibly handy. I was a bit dubious about handing over my suitcase to a complete stranger with only vague directions about where it should go, but it turned up at my B&B without any problems.

The children of the Aran Islands are that bit holier than those on the mainland - a road sign in Kilronan.

The first of many donkeys (they seemed to be everywhere on the islands). And very lovely they all were, too.

Having rented out a bicycle for the duration of my stay, I cycled out to Dún Dúchathair, the Black Fort, to the south of  Kilronan. I’d heard that it was almost as dramatic as Dún Aonghasa, but with far fewer people. It was a bit of a cycle along a lane that became increasingly rocky, at which point I had to abandon the bicycle and walk through what seemed like a desert of limestone.

It was really worth the effort - the fort has a dramatic location, with substantial walls still standing. In one of the other photographs above you can also see the chevaux de frise - vertical slabs of rock that provide added defence, and which are also seen at Dún Aonghasa.

Someone had left this little homemade cross on one of the walls of the fort. It was part St. Brigid’s Cross - part Blair Witch Project.

I didn’t touch it.

The fort was located on this dramatic headland. The water was an incredible shade of blue.

The stone walls here are amazing - there must be thousands of miles of them. Some of them were so inaccessible it was hard to see what their function was. Possibly they‘re very old.

Next I visited this little church, Teaghlach Éinne (St. Enda’s church), on the eastern side of the island. Like a lot of the churches here it has a particular haunting quality about it, enhanced by the starkness of the surrounding Celtic cross gravestones. It felt like the Dead were very much present, and watching.

Before traveling to the islands I’d watched Robert Flaherty’s iconic 1934 documentary, Man of Aran, set on Inis Mór. Colman “Tiger” King played the man, and it was totally by accident I found his grave here. I wasn’t looking for it and didn’t even know he was buried in this graveyard.

These striking roadside memorials are found throughout Inis Mór (I didn’t see them on the other islands) and are quite unusual. They seem to have been raised by particular families, mostly in the Nineteenth century.

One local rumour was that people were buried upright inside them. 

Cycling to my accommodation for the night I passed these two thatched cottages; it felt like before and after shots for a property makeover show.

One afternoon here and already I’m sunburnt.

This little cottage really did look like something out of a fairytale. You can’t quite see it but on the right was a tiny little model of the main cottage; maybe it was for the Little People.

There was something almost mystical about this white horse, standing waiting for something.

I was staying for two nights in the very lovely Kilmurvey House, in the middle of the island. It’s a great location for walking. My room had a beautiful view over towards Dún Aonghasa, which you can see at the top right of the picture.

Because Kilmurvey House is right beside Dún Aonghasa, it’s possible to visit later in the day, when all the other tourists have gone (and for free - the gate is left open when the visitor’s centre is closed). I went up about 7 o’clock in the evening and there were just two other people there. You really get to appreciate the dramatic setting on a cliff edge, and that sense of being on the edge of the world.

This “platform“ inside the fort sticks out over the sea.

The famous chevaux-de-frise - a defensive structure between the walls consisting of vertical slabs of rock.

Breakfast the following morning - Porridge and Whiskey, the only way to start the day. Especially when you follow it with a fry, like I did.

It was a misty morning and this graveyard was looking particularly haunting.

Not far from Kilmurvey house is the Wormhole, or Poll na bPéist, a tidal pool that looks like it’s man-made but actually isn’t - amazingly, it’s completely natural.

It’s not that easy to get to. I started off down a lane beside the graveyard then had to cut across some fields and then across a sea of rocky limestone until I reached the coast. From there I could walk up to the wormhole, though it’s dangerously slippy at this lower level; I’ve heard horror stories about people falling and breaking bones.

Video - The Wormhole

The wormhole as viewed from above; it looks deceptively calm in this video but earlier the water was swirling around like a demon. Those cracks in the rocks I’m standing on look rather alarming.

After visiting the wormhole I retrieved my bicycle and went on to look at a couple of other interesting sites in the middle of the island. I travelled along the Back Road, on the south of the island, which was a bit of a mistake as much of it is uphill and at a certain point it seems to just peter out into a kind of track. 

I cut across one of the side tracks to join up with the road down the middle of the island; it was pretty rough for cycling but the views were stunning.

I bumped into Jamiroquai, who was also out having a bit of a ramble in one of his funny hats.

The lighthouse was built in the middle of the island in 1818, but was rather poorly located, as it couldn’t be seen from some of the most dangerous parts of the coast, and often wasn’t visible in bad weather - not ideal for a lighthouse. It was decommissioned in 1857.

Video - Inside the Lighthouse

I’m not sure if it was supposed to be, but the door into the lighthouse was open so I had a quick peek inside. It may look brand new on the outside but you can see inside that it’s falling apart. That crunching sound you can hear is me walking over the bits of the iron staircase that have fallen down. I didn’t attempt to go up. And I’ve no idea why the dresser is sitting there.

Beside the lighthouse is Dun Eochla, another impressive stone fort, thought to date back to between 550 and 800 A.D.

All this sight-seeing is thirsty work. I had food and drinks at the lovely Teach Nan Phaidi cafe near Kilmurvey.  Galway Hooker IPA is an excellent ale, highly recommended.  I was so taken with the glass I asked if I could buy it but they politely declined. 

It was a good chance to listen in on nearby conversations (the ones that weren’t in Irish, anyway). Sample exchange:

"“Do you have chickens or hens?”

"“No, we have a ferret.”

"“No eggs out of them”

I couldn’t get the image of ferret’s eggs out of my head after overhearing that.

When the sun shines the beach at Kilmurvey is a bit of a stunner. 

I think that couple nearest the camera must have been watching the film From Here to Eternity.

Not far from Kilmurvey is Na Seacht Tempaill, or the Seven Churches, an early monastic site and once an important place of pilgrimage. There are various structures remaining though apparently only two of them are actually churches. Some of the buildings were places where pilgrims could stay. The place had a beautiful serene feel when I visited in the late evening, with no one else there at all.

Out for a walk late on my final evening I was lucky enough to photograph these fighting goats. A bit earlier I’d seen one from the road, standing photogenically on a stone, but I hadn’t been fast enough to grab a shot. I was about to go on when I thought I’d go up to the field and have a closer look, at which point I discovered there were actually two of them. They started play fighting over a bit of root that they both clearly adored, and I got some great action shots.

Fish and chips in the Bayview restaurant in Kilronan on my final morning - very good!

After a couple of days it was time to move on to the next island - Inis Meáin, the middle of the three. Getting here from Inis Mór proved surprisingly complicated. There was an option to book online with Doolin Ferries but it never seemed to work. When I rang the ferry company I was told to ring back the day before departure - not ideal when you have accommodation booked for three nights. Then, miraculously, one day I was able to book the ferry online, for the afternoon I wanted to travel. 

 I turned up at the harbour on Inis Mór to find that there were actually two Doolin ferries at that time (and, confusingly, an Aran Islands ferry that was also going to Rossaveal at the same time - the queues for both got completely jumbled up). When I tried getting on the first ferry I was told that they were going straight to the mainland without stopping at Inis Meáin, but the second one would be stopping. When I went to the second one they said the exact opposite- they were going direct to the mainland but the first would stop at Inis Meáin. I began to despair of ever getting there (and began to see why the middle island is described as unspoiled - no wonder when it’s such a palaver to get there). 

In the end it took a phone call from the captain to establish that the second ferry was, indeed, stopping at Inis Meáin, and I managed to board.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In