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    Travel Guide to the Aran Islands

    By Sheilagh Larkin, Marketing & PR Assistant
    More by Sheilagh

    Welcome to the Aran Islands

    Nestled off of the rugged west coast of Ireland lies the Aran Islands, which comprise three separate islands: Inishmore (Inis Mór), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), and Inisheer (Inis Oírr). The Aran Islands are collectively known for being an Irish-speaking region and for their unique and beautiful landscapes splattered with ancient stone walls and fortresses against the backdrop of the wild Atlantic Ocean.

    From the hauntingly magnificent landscapes to the enchanting local traditions, a visit to the Aran Islands promises an unforgettable journey through the heart of Irish heritage. Whether you’re an intrepid explorer or a culture seeker, this is your invitation to dive into a world where time seems to have stood still.

    Take Me Straight To:

    Where are the Aran Islands?

    The Aran Islands lie between the coastlines of County Clare and County Galway and are only accessible by ferry or plane, so depending on where you’re staying on the mainland, what time of year you plan on visiting, and whichever island you’re most interested in, you have a choice.

    If you’re staying in County Clare, you can travel with the Doolin Ferry Company to any of the Aran Islands from March to early November from Doolin Pier. 

    If you’re staying in Galway, you can travel year-round from Rossaveel Pier with Aran Island Ferries to any of the three islands. From April to September, you have the added option of travelling from Galway City to Inishmore.

    You can also fly to the islands with Aer Arann Islands from Connemara Airport. The airline flies to the islands year-round; however, weather conditions may affect both ferries and flights to these Atlantic islands.

    When to Visit the Aran Islands

    Wild Atlantic waters in Donegal

    Travelling to the Aran Islands promises an adventure at any time of the year. However, the weather is usually better during the summer months. Travelling during the summer also allows you more flexibility regarding ferry times. However, this means the islands are busier with tourists and visitors. If you can visit towards the end of the summer season, you may be lucky and get the best of both worlds: fewer people and potentially dry weather.

    Learn more about Ireland’s weather by season in our climate guide here.

    And while it’s dry, there’s no better way to explore the islands than by hiking or biking around them. Bike rental is available on the three islands, but pre-booking a bike is advised. Walking trails and biking routes allow you to tour the islands at your own pace and soak in the heart-stopping views whenever it strikes you.

    If you’re looking to stay the night on any of the islands, you have various options, including glamping or guest houses, depending on your preference. Pre-booking is advised for an overnight stay, as places can be limited.

    If you don’t want to worry about the logistics of planning a trip to the islands, why not let us handle it for you? On our hiking and island hopping trip around Ireland’s west coast, we will bring you to the Aran Islands, as well as other hidden gems along the Wild Atlantic Way. Find out more about a hiking and island hopping tour below.

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    Megalithic Age

    It’s believed that people have inhabited the Aran Islands since 3,000 BC. We know little about these early settlers, although it is thought that they originally came from the mainland of Ireland. Monuments dating back to the Stone Age adorn each island, with a classic example being a still-intact wedge tomb on Inishmore. It is thought people used these wedge tombs as burial and ritual sites.

    If you’re interested in Neolithic Ireland, learn more on our guide to Irish prehistory

    Early Christian Age

    Early Christians in Ireland were fascinated with the country’s wilder and rocky parts, viewing them as gateways to something otherwordly – often settling on islands rising out of the Atlantic Ocean. Such a philosophy made the Aran Islands an ideal place for solitude and prayer, and for this reason, the Aran Islands have been home to many saints throughout history. St. Brendan the Navigator and St. Colmcille of Iona studied on the islands before establishing their own monasteries elsewhere. Remnants of this time are visible all over Inishmore, such as St. Benan’s Church, dating back to the 7th century.

    Bronze & Iron Age

    The islands boast ancient stone forts and remnants of early settlers, providing a glimpse into the lives of the people who thrived here during the Bronze and Iron Ages. From the impressive prehistoric fortress of Dún Aonghasa on Inishmore, perched dramatically along the cliffside, to the lesser-explored archaeological sites on Inishmaan and Inisheer, the Aran Islands preserve remains of an ancient civilisation. 

    Bronze & Iron Age Stone Forts

    The word Dún means fort in the Irish language, and the islands are famous for their stone forts. These forts are usually from the late Bronze Age (1100BC) to the Iron Age (300BC-500AD). There are several forts found across the three islands. They are part of a complex of such structures found throughout the west coast of Ireland. Over the past decade, many of these forts, including Dun Aengus on Inishmore, have been excavated as part of ‘The Western Stone Forts Project’. Similar to the Megalithic remains, the function of these forts isn’t clear. Some suggest that, aside from being used for residing, they may also have been used for ceremonial purposes. 

    The Aran Jumper

    The Aran jumper is probably one of the most famous items to come from the islands. Knitted initially by the wives of island fishermen, these jumpers were crafted from unscoured wool, retaining natural oils like lanolin for water resistance. While debated as an ancient craft, it likely emerged in the early 1900s, providing clothes for their families and income for island women.

    What’s unique about the Aran jumper is the stitch patterns, which often have a symbolic meaning. Example stitches are the diamond shape, which is a wish of success, wealth and treasure; the honeycomb as a hard-working bee; the cable as a wish for good luck and safety when fishing; and the basket stitch, which is a symbol of the fisherman’s basket and hope for a plentiful catch.

    The first Aran knitting patterns were published in the 1940s by Paton’s of England after being supplied by Ó Máille’s shop in Galway, with exports to the U.S. beginning in the 1950s. Ó Máille’s store played a significant role in the costuming for the classic film ‘The Quiet Man’ (1952), and the Aran sweater appeared in Vogue in the 1950s, increasing its popularity worldwide. 

    Despite misconceptions about its use by fishermen, Aran jumpers have become a cultural symbol. While hand-knit versions are less common today, they remain highly valued for their quality and intricate design.

    Literature

    The islands have played a disproportionate role in world literature and arts, attracting various writers and travellers since the late 19th century, along with producing some of their own, like Máirtín Ó Direáin and Liam O Flaherty. Writers flocked to the Aran Islands in search of something lost in Ireland’s more urban regions – a distinctive culture shaped by isolation, rough weather, subsistence living, and limited luxuries. 

    One of the most well-known works to come from the Aran Islands is John Millington Synge’s series of essays, ‘The Aran Islands’. This collection outlines Synge’s experience on the island, fully integrating with the people and observing their way of life. Reflecting on the essays today, they offer deep insight into a way of life that has since disappeared. Synge went on to write his famous play, ‘The Playboy of the Western World,’ drawing inspiration from a man hiding from the authorities and seeking refuge on Inishmaan. The character lived in one of the local forts before eventually taking a boat to America.

    Martin McDonagh, a renowned playwright and filmmaker, has based several of his works on the west coast of Ireland, where he spent a large chunk of his childhood, including a trilogy of plays set on the Aran Islands. ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ is a dark comedy that has been showcased since 1996 off-Broadway, London, and on Broadway. In 2014, the play received six Tony Awards nominations after its Broadway run. 

    Film & TV

    Man of Aran (1934)

    In Man of Aran, Robert Flaherty expertly blends documentary and fictional narratives to capture life’s everyday challenges on the formidable Aran Islands. After premiering in April 1934, the movie went on to win the Best Foreign Film at the 2nd Venice International Film Festival. 

    Leap Year (2010)

    Leap Year, a rom-com featuring stars such as Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, and Adam Scott, was partially filmed on Inishmore. It’s of no surprise that the filmmakers chose Inishmore for the movie’s most crucial scene, as the cliff makes for breathtaking views of the rocky Irish coastline.

    Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

    Another work set on the Aran Islands and created by Martin McDonagh, the ‘Banshees of Inisherin’ gained significant recognition worldwide with nine Oscar nominations. 

    Much of the movie was filmed on Inishmore, taking advantage of the spectacular scenery backdropped against the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean. Brendan Gleeson, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, said of the island that it “is an extraordinarily harsh place with all this bare limestone rock, but there’s a softness about it, and it’s the most extraordinary thing.”

    Want to read about more stories inspired by Ireland? Have a look at our article featuring a number of books, films, and TV series inspired by the landscape, culture, and towns of Ireland.

    Read More

    Local Farm & Food Culture

    The culinary landscape on the Aran Islands is a delightful mixture of traditional Irish flavours and contemporary foodie culture, making it a haven for gourmands. Local establishments showcase the islands’ specialities, with fresh seafood from the Atlantic, hearty stews, and artisanal cheeses taking centre stage. Pubs and eateries scattered across the islands offer a warm and inviting atmosphere where visitors can savour locally sourced ingredients prepared with a traditional twist. (Love pubs? Here is our list of cosy Irish pubs).

    The interest in the Aran Islands food scene has grown so much in recent years that there is now a dedicated food tour to showcase the islands’ delicacies. Sink your teeth into Aran Island foodie culture, from a tour of a goat farm where visitors can watch goat cheese being made and, of course, have a taste of their creamy wares, to trying out the different products made from local hand-harvested seaweed. 

    From charming seaside cafes to family-run restaurants, the gastro scene on the Aran Islands provides an opportunity to connect with the island’s rich cultural heritage through its culinary treats.  

    Love cheese? Why not discover our list of favourite Irish cheeses? Aran Island goat’s cheese features prominently – check out the others we’ve selected.

    Highlights of Inishmore

    Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa)

    Dating back to over 3,000 years ago, Dun Aengus is famed as being one of the best examples of an ancient semi-circular stone fort across Europe, and the largest fort across the Aran Islands. But what makes it really spectacular are the views overlooking the neverending Atlantic Ocean.

    There is also a visitor centre about 1km / 0.6 miles from the stone fort where you can learn all about the fascinating history and archeoloogy of the ancient site.

    The Seven Churches (Dísert Bhreacáin)

    For centuries, The Seven Churches was held as one of the most significant monastic settlements and pilgrimage centres along the west coast of Ireland. Despite the name, there are, in fact, only two churches on this site, along with several domestic buildings. The number seven is possibly related to the pilgrimage circuit of Rome, which includes seven churches. The remains of St. Brecan’s Church, which is said to have been in use between the 8th and 13th centuries, is a feat of impressive masonry with remarkable features still intact. The other church on the site dates back to the 15th century.

    Wormhole (Poll na bPéist)

    The wormhole of Inishmore formed naturally, although it may not look like it. There are a number of underground channels in the wormhole that connect to the Atlantic Ocean. Water rushes into the wormhole through these channels when the tide is in, which fills up the hole and pushes the water out over the edges.

    Getting to the wormhole requires a good pair of walking shoes, as the ground is uneven and rocky. It also should never be swum in due to the strong and hard-to-predict currents, but it is undoubtedly a sight to behold and worth visiting.

    St. Benan’s Church (Teampall Bheanain)

    Dating back to the 7th century, St. Benan’s Church is considered by some the smallest church in Ireland (though other churches also claim their title). Although not fully intact, the church stands as a landmark for fishermen out at sea. Alongside St. Benan’s Church are the ancient remains of a monastic settlement founded by St. Edna in the 6th century.

    Kilmurvey Beach

    A serene coastal haven, Kilmurvey Beach is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Walk along the white sand, dip your toes into the clear water, and let your worries drift away with the tide. Some cafes and restaurants are around the beach so that you can enjoy a stunning beachside view with your lunch. Perfection.

    Inishmore Seal Colony

    If you’ve had your fill of historic marvels and want to catch some wildlife, take a walk along the Coast Road and see if you can spot some seals. Make sure to check tide times before you visit. The seals are much easier to spot at a low tide as they sunbathe on the rocks. Remember to keep your distance from the seals. Even though they’re majestic creatures, they’re still wild animals, and visitors should exercise caution. Want to learn more about seals and other Irish animals? Read our guide to Irish marine wildlife.

    Inishmore Hiking Trail

    Kilronan to Dun Aengus

    This out-and-back trail begins at the ferry port and brings you all over the island – passing by the seal colony and ending at Dun Aengus. Along the way, expect to experience the true Irish countryside. View the grazing cows, sheep, and rural communities dotted around the island. This long route is approximately 18 km/11 miles, but if you don’t feel like walking it, you can rent a bike and cycle the trail.

    Remember to always be prepared when hiking in Ireland – make sure before you set out on your walk to have appropriate footwear, a fully charged phone, and drinking water.

    View Hike Details

    Highlights of Inishmaan

    Ferboy’s Fort (Dún Fearbhaí)

    What is intriguing about Ferboy’s Fort is the condition it is in and its unusual D-like shape. The shape suggests it predates Christianity, as forts tended to be more circular. Its location in the middle of the island means it doesn’t quite have the same natural appeal as the cliffside forts popular with visitors to Ireland, such as Dun Aengus on Inishmore. Nonetheless, this fort is in excellent condition and offers great insight into ancient Ireland.

    Synges Chair on the Aran Islands

    Synge’s Chair (Cathaoir Synge)

    Irish writer J.M. Synge very much made this island famous in modern culture. He lived in Inishmaan for a considerable time between 1898 and 1902, drawing much inspiration from the island lifestyle. The small museum ‘Teach Synge’ (The House of Synge) is dedicated to the writer and is where Synge used to live. It’s worth a visit for anyone curious about Irish history and literature.

    Conor’s Fort (Dún Crocbhur)

    Conor’s Fort is a must-see on Inishmaan with its intricate design, the mystery surrounding what the structure was used for in the past, and the question of who built it. Classified as a National Monument because of its elaborate design, Conor’s Fort is the largest stone fort on all three Aran Islands. It stands defiantly at the island’s highest point and is in full view no matter where you are.

    Inishmaan Hiking Trail

    Lúb Cill Cheannannach

    Enjoy this 8 km/5 mile looped walk around Inishmaan. Along this trail, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the past, viewing ancient sites on your amble along this route. Not only will you pass through historical wonders, but you’ll also soak in the breathtaking coastal views surrounding you. Leave the world behind on this trail and soak in the isolation that Inishmaan offers you.

    Remember to always be prepared when hiking in Ireland – make sure before you set out on your walk to have appropriate footwear, a fully charged phone, and drinking water.

    View Hike Details

    Highlights of Inisheer

    The Plassey Shipwreck

    The Plassey Shipwreck, nestled along the rugged coastline of Inisheer, stands as an iconic and poignant landmark on the island. The cargo vessel met its fate in 1960 when it ran aground during a storm and was pushed onto the rocks by the strong sea, where it has stayed since. The shipwreck has become a must-visit site, drawing visitors to explore its weathered remains and contemplate the stories that echo through its rusted metal—a reminder of the sea’s unpredictability.

    The Lighthouse

    The lighthouse, first opened in 1857, is located at the island’s most southerly point, offering spectacular 360-degree panoramic views. The lighthouse lies adjacent to the Cliffs of Moher on the mainland, meaning you can admire the scenery across the ocean on a clear day. Its beacon radiates over 20 nautical miles and provides critical navigational and safety assistance for ships sailing along Ireland’s western coast.

    O’Briens Castle (Caisleán Uí Bhriain)

    The fortress was likely built by the O’Brien family as a fortified tower house in the 14th century. The moss-covered remains of the castle are certainly a sight to see as they lie on the highest point of the Inisheer and offer scenic views across the island.

    St. Kevin’s Church (Teampall Chaomhan)

    The main graveyard of the island shrouds the remains of St Kevin’s Church. Unusually, the ruins of this church are partially underground and interestingly feature an ancient stone carving of Christ.

    Inisheer Hiking Trail

    Lúb Ceathrú an Locha

    This looped walk on Inisheer allows you to explore the island’s highlights – such as the Plassey shipwreck and historical buildings – while offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and, on a clear day, the County Clare coastline. This trail is marked with arrows, and most of the terrain is flat, making it an enjoyable stroll for the entire family.

    Remember to always be prepared when hiking in Ireland – make sure before you set out on your walk to have appropriate footwear, a fully charged phone, and drinking water.

    View Hike Details

    Discover the Aran Islands

    Trip & Departure DatesAvailabilityStatusPriceBook
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    25th May - 31st May 2024

    1 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,290Book Now
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    8th Jun - 14th Jun 2024

    1 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,290Book Now
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    27th Jul - 2nd Aug 2024

    5 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,290Book Now
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    17th Aug - 23rd Aug 2024 Women only departure

    6 place(s) leftGuaranteed 2,290Book Now
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    21st Sep - 27th Sep 2024

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,290Book Now
    Hiking & Island Hopping – Ireland’s West Coast

    5th Oct - 11th Oct 2024

    8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,290Book Now

    Meet the Author: Sheilagh Larkin

    “Growing up in a beautiful corner of Ireland meant my younger years were spent along stunning beaches, karst landscapes, and craggy hills. This deepened my appreciation of the outdoors and being in nature in any capacity.”

    View profileMore by Sheilagh

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