There are a few famous islands of Ireland, such as the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, and 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 the coolest islands of Ireland.
Referred to as Cléire by locals, this island is the southernmost inhabited part of Ireland, maintaining a population of 100 people. 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.
Visit the islands of Cork and Kerry on an island hopping tour of southwest Ireland, including the incredible Clare Island and its thriving Gaeltacht community.
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).
Garnish Island is a sort of paradisal place, resembling more of a Roman villa than an Irish island. Tucked into the pretty Bantry Bay of West Cork, Garnish Island is world-renowned for its divine gardens, alluring designs and rare specimens. The island and its surrounding area also include a squat martello tower and a small island home to a colony or harbour (or common) seals, one of Ireland’s two seal types. Read more about spotting marine wildlife off Ireland’s coasts.
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 in Ireland, it should be Skellig Michael. Boat tours depart from Portmagee May – October, weather permitting. Learn more about the Skellig Islands here.
Visit this extraordinary rock pinnacle to spot puffins, gannets, ancient monasteries and Star Wars filming locations on our Cork & Kerry island hopping tour.
Just off the coast of the Iveragh 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 of 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.
Visit Co Kerry and the Iveragh Peninsula, with the option to discover Valentia Island, on our southwest self drive adventure.
The six islands of the archipelago are easily visible from the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. Until the 1950s, 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, mainland Ireland’s westernmost point, the Blasket Islands mark the final stop across the Atlantic before reaching Newfoundland, Canada (N. America’s easternmost point). The largest of the island, the Great Blasket, can be reached by ferry from Dingle town. Learn more about the islands’ literary heritage here.
View the Blasket Islands from shore and visit the Blasket Island Interpretive Centre by hiking the Dingle Way. Or, visit Great Blasket Island on an island hopping tour of southwest Ireland.
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 the Aran Islands while hiking and island hopping along Ireland’s extraordinary west coast. Prefer two wheels? Why not bike Connemara and the Aran Islands?
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.
Paddle in the wake of the pirate queen on a family adventure to Clare Island, perfect for adventure-craving families. (Learn more about adventure-loving family activities in Ireland here.)
Inishbofin is a beautiful little island off the west coast of Connemara. Home to plenty of seabirds (even the occasional puffin!), Inishbofin is just 5km wide, but it is an ideal place for outdoor lovers. There are options for wild swimming (or just dipping the toes in the ocean!), diving (with wetsuits of course), hiking, horse-riding and other water sports. Jutting up from the coast of Inishbofin Island rises the dramatic Cromwellian barracks, as well as lesser-known sites like holy wells, forts, cliffs, medieval/monastic sites, and beaches on this unspoilt and timeless island. Get a taste of the hearty island cuisine at the restaurants and bars of Inishbofin.
Hop over to Inisbofin and other amazing west coast islands on an island hopping tour of Ireland’s west coast.
Achill Island is also the largest island off Ireland’s coast, and is accessible by bridge, unlike many of the others on this list. Today, it has a population of 2,50. Achill Island’s 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, 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 during their first and last journey. In 1894, when the railway was about to open, the very 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. So, the prophecy was fulfilled.
There are also the eerie ruins of 80 stone farmhouses on Achill – called the Deserted Village – which was abandoned en masse in 1845 due to the Irish Famine.
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 chartered boat from Mullaghmore isn’t currently running. Hopefully, this is resolved soon as the island is a fascinating place. Read more about County Sligo.
Update: The harbour/jetty to Inishmurray is the currently closed for the foreseeable future due to safety concerns. We hope to see the island re-open in the near future.
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. Read about the lakes of Ireland.
Explore the wilds of Sligo on a private cycling and yoga trip around Lough Gill. As this trip can be tailored to you, you may want to add a kayak activity on the lake.
Tory Island is also home to Irish ‘royalty’ on Ireland’s most remote inhabited island. 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 on 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. Lear more about County Donegal.
Continuing with extremes, Rathlin Island 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. It has a bird sanctuary and is a great place to spot puffins.
For Viking fans, Rathlin was the site of the first Viking raid in Ireland, in 795 (according to the Annals of Ulster), it was home to a terrible massacre by a British king after a local chieftain dared stand up to the monarch, 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.
Hike the unique geology of the Causeway Coast and the massive sea stacks of Rathlin Island (in season) for an unforgettable hiking adventure.
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. Learn more about Ireland’s marine wildlife, or birdwatching in Ireland.
Want to discover Ireland’s incredible islands yourself while visiting Ireland? Check out our full list of tours visiting islands below.