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The Top 15 Islands of Ireland

5 min read

Ireland is an island of course, but Ireland has is host to many other, smaller islands along its roughy 3,171 km of coastline.

Read on to discover of Ireland’s fascinating islands. 

By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
More by Dawn

There are a few famous islands of Ireland, such as the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, as well as the Skellig Islands -largely thanks to Star Wars, which used the Skelligs as a filming location.

But what about the other islands of Ireland? From south to north, here’s our list of coolest islands of Ireland!

1. Cape Clear Island, Co Cork

Referred to as Cléire by locals, this island is the southernmost inhabited part of Ireland, maintaining a population of a 100. On Cléire, rub shoulders with the Gaeltacht community or dig into its rich ancient archeology – Cléire includes a prehistoric cup-marked stone (a Megalithic art form), a fulacht fiadh (a water-filled pit used for boiling water), an impressive neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, standing stones scattered across the island, the promontory fort at Dún an Óir alongside the ruined O’Driscoll castle. Accessible by ferry. An even better to visit is with our exciting Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry trip!

Hiking Sherkin Island Cape Clear Island Irish landscapes

2. Sherkin Island, Co Cork

With a population of roughly 100 people, the simple lifestyle on Sherkin Island feels like a step back in time. A short ferry ride from Baltimore on Sheep’s Head, Sherkin sports the remains of an old friary, a locally-maintained lighthouse, and the Sherkin Regatta Festival, a rowing event held at the end of July (weather permitting). Best visited on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry!

Islands of Ireland - Skerkin Island

Hiking on the rugged Sherkin Island

3. Garnish Island, Co Cork

With a population of roughly 100 people, the simple lifestyle on Sherkin Island feels like a step back in time. A short ferry ride from Baltimore on Sheep’s Head, Sherkin sports the remains of an old friary, a locally-maintained lighthouse, and the Sherkin Regatta Festival, a rowing event held at the end of July (weather permitting). Best visited on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry!

4. The Skellig Islands, Co Kerry

Islands of Ireland - Skellig Island

Approaching the craggy Little Skellig

Most likely the most famous islands of Ireland on this list, the Skelligs are two scraggy rocks 13km off the Iveragh Peninsula. Considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Skelligs may be familiar as they are an important filming location for both the 2014 and  2017 Star Wars films. Skellig Michael (the Great Skellig) was the chosen location for a group of 6th century monks looking for isolation. There are still several impressive ruins of six beehive cells, two oratories, several stone crosses and slabs, as well as a later medieval church. The islands were abandoned as a monastery in the 12th century. If you see any islands of Ireland, it should be Skellig Michael! Boat tours depart from Portmagee May – October, weather permitting. Visit it the less-travelled way on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry.

 

5. Valentia Island, Co Kerry

Valentia Island, Ireland hiking

Overlooking the Skelligs from the Geokaun Viewpoint on Valencia Island.

Just off the coast of the Iveargh Peninsula (also known as the Ring of Kerry) and accessible by bridge, Valentia Island features the celebrated Valentia Lighthouse at Cromwell Point – one of The Twelve Great Lighthouses of Ireland. From the viewing point, you’ll get great views of the Wild Atlantic Way as well as other islands if Ireland, like the Blasket Islands and even the Skelligs. With a modern population of 665, Valentia Island once had a very different population some 385 million years ago! Fossilised footprints of a tetrapod (a primitive vertebrate) record the creature’s march across what was once swampland.

6. Blasket Islands, Co Kerry

Islands of Ireland - Blasket Islands

Overlooking the Blasket Islands from Slea Head, Dingle

The six islands of the archipelego are easily visible from the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. Until the 1950’s, they were inhabited entirely by an Irish-speaking community who was evacuated in 1953 due to the harsh island conditions. Located just off the coast of Slea Head, the mainland Ireland’s westernmost point, the Blaskett Islands mark the final stop across the Atlantic before reaching Newfoundland, Canada (N. America’s easternmost point). The largest of the island, the Great Blaskett, can be reached by ferry from Dingle town. Get out to the Blasket Islands on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry.

7. Aran Islands, Co Galway

Aran Islands - Dun Aengus fort

Aran Islands – the Dun Aengus clifftop fort

Of all the islands of Ireland on this list, the Aran Islands in Galway Bay are one of the most famous names on this list. With about 1,200 inhabitants, the Aran Islands are the most populated islands on this list. The Aran Islands are a strong Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region, and also have some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. The islands feature Dun Aengus fort (Stone Age), Teampull Bheanáin (one of the world’s smallest churches), and the 14th century O’Brien’s Castle. Accessible by ferry from Rossaveal, Galway Harbour and Doolin village. Visit it with our hiking trip, Hiking in the Burren, Aran Islands, and Cliffs of Moher. Alternatively, bike the Aran Islands on our Bike Tour of Connemara and the Aran Islands.

8. Clare Island, Co Mayo

Clare Island lighthouse

Marvel at the beautiful Clare Island lighthouse

At the mouth of Clew Bay, Clare Island is the birthplace of the feared and respected pirate queen Granuiale (Grace O’Malley in English), who ruled the waters of Clew Bay and Galway Bay for 30-odd years in the 16th century. The island was long owned by the O’Malley family, and the island features a tower house built by them. There is also a church founded by the O’Malleys – the nearby O’Malley tombs are a possible burial site of Grace O’Malley. There is also an old lighthouse that has been refurbished into a guesthouse. There are daily ferries from Roonagh Pier near Louisburgh. Check it out on our exciting family adventure, Paddling and Pirates.

9. Inishbofin Island, Co Galway

10. Achill Island, Co Mayo

Islands of Ireland - Achill Island

Hiking the wild landscapes of Achill Island

Achill Island is also the largest island off Ireland’s coast, and is accessible by bridge. Today, it has a population of 2,500, and its history goes back to Neolithic times, when the island had 500-1,000 inhabitants – promontory forts and Megalithic tombs are scattered over the island. Achill Island was once the terminus for the railway, which provided a positive impact on the local economy. But – get ready for the goosebumps – it also fulfilled an old prophecy: that ‘carts on iron wheels’ would carry the souls of dead Achill Islanders on their first and last journey. In 1894, when the railway was about to open, its first service carried the bodies of the victims of the Clew Bay Drowning who had been en route to meet an emigrant ship. Its final service in 1937 carried the bodies of the Kirkintilloch Fire, a terrible tragedy in which 10 Achill Islanders who had landed on the mainland were killed. The train service ended that day. The station is now a hostel… There is also the eerie ruins of 80 stone farmhouses on Achill – called the Deserted Village – which were abandoned en masse in 1845 due to the Irish Famine.

11. Inishmurray Island, Co Sligo

Inishmurray Island Sligo

One of the dry stone huts remaining from the monastic days on Inishmurray.

The first uninhabited island on this list, Inishmurray is a place of rugged solitude. There are the ruins of an ancient monastery founded in the 6th century – an impressive, 15ft high and up to 10ft thick wall still protects the holy site, which includes an oratory with a stone roof, two churches, a structure called a clochán (a dry-stone hut with a rounded roof), a beehive cell, and a well. There are also the remains of an island village that was abandoned in 1948. Due to its religious significance, it remains a pilgrimage site. It is also a great place for bird-watching. No ferries go here to get here, and in fact, there’s currently an issue with the pier meaning that the normal charter a boat from Mullaghmore isn’t currently running. Hopefully this is resolved soon as the island is a fascinating place!

12. The Isle of Innisfree & Lough Gill Islands, Co Sligo

Lough Gill - Inishfree

Lough Gill – kayaking to the lake isle of Inishfree

The smallest and only inland island on this list, the Isle of Innisfree is a small, uninhabited island in the Lough Gill, just outside Sligo town. Despite its size, the island has been made famous by Sligo’s most famous resident, W.B. Yeats, who was ‘suddenly inspired’ to write his poem about Innisfree where he spent his childhood summers while walking down a London street (Read the full poem here). Though the island he romanticised is nothing more than small isle, there are several other islands in Lough Gill worth exploring, such as Cottage Island (nicknamed Beezy’s Island for its famous resident), and Church Island, where a ruined church still stands.  To experience Yeats’ inspiration up close, check out our Cycling & Yoga Escape bike tour in Sligo and Donegal, or kayak the lake on our Intro to Hiking & Kayaking.

13. Tory Island, Co Donegal

The most remote yet inhabited of the islands of Ireland, Tory Island tends to attract artists and writers to it. As per a long-standing tradition, the islanders choose a Rí Thoraí – the King of Tory Island, who is currently the painter, Patsy Dan Rodgers. While the King has no formal power, he is the island’s spokesperson, and he personally greets every arrival to the island. There is a bell tower on the island, the only part of the monastery to survive the siege of the English troops in the 16th century. Tory Island is accessible daily from April to October and five times a week the rest of the year.

Donegal coolest place on earth

Ireland’s most remote inhabited island, Tory Island is also home to Irish ‘royalty’

14. Rathlin Island, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland

Continuing with extremes, Rathlin is the northernmost part of Northern Ireland, and the only inhabited island off the shores of Northern Ireland. Of prehistoric volcanic origin, Rathlin is today home to tens of thousands of seabirds – a total of roughly thirty bird species, and popular with birdwatchers. For Viking fans, Rathlin was the site of the first Viking raid in Ireland, in 795 (according to the Annals of Ulster), and Robert the Bruce once sought sanctuary on the island. Today’s population is about 125, though up it was over a thousand people until about a hundred years ago. It is accessible by ferry via the port of Ballycastle.

Islands of Ireland - Rathlin Island

East Lighthouse on Rathlin Island. Picture by Bernie Brown.

15. Saltee Islands, Co Wexford – King + throne & birds

The only pair of islands on this list on the east coast, the Saltee Islands are privately owned and famous for their eccentric proprietors. The Saltee Islands are also home to one of Ireland’s largest, and least-visited seabird colonies. Join a local boatman to spot puffins, gannets and razorbills. Visit a local seal colony before spending the afternoon exploring the islands. Explore the Saltee Islands on our Ancient East Self Drive.

self drive ireland

 

This list may seem long, but it’s actually just an appetizer of the islands of Ireland! Though the islands of Ireland may sometimes be a challenge to visit, the reward is worth it!

See more exciting Wilderness Ireland hiking trips here! Or, browse our other active trips in Ireland. If nothing suits your needs, submit a tailor-made query to have a trip custom-built for you.

Check out our list below where you can visit some of these Islands of Ireland!

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

“American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

View profileMore by Dawn

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