If you want to get a glimpse of the real Gaelic Ireland, then a visit to the Aran Islands is a must. They sit on the very edge of western Europe, just off the coast of Galway and draw visitors from far and wide to see their unique beauty, culture, history and heritage. So spell-bounding are these islands, that they have been ranked as number 7 in the top island destinations in the world by National Geographic in December 2007.
The Aran Islands are a group of three islands situated in Galway Bay, just about 45km off the coast of County Galway in the west of Ireland. These islands are very special places as they have remained one of the last remaining parts of the country, which still bear a very strong sense of Irish culture and language. The islands are ‘Gaeltachts’ (Irish-speaking areas) and their location has helped them to preserve and protect these traditions against foreign influences on the mainland down through the years.
The largest of the three island is Inish Mór which is just 12km by 3km in size and has a population of about 900 people. It is one of the most popular island destinations in Ireland. It’s of huge historical interest with over 50 different historic monuments dotted all over the island, the largest and most impressive being Dun Aengus – a prehistoric fort built during the Bronze Age at the top of a 100 metre high cliff.
The island has unspoilt sandy beaches with clear blue waters, green fields with stone walls, beautiful cliff walks and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean – it’s really no wonder that it has been the setting for a movie and the inspiration for many writers and artists who frequent the island regularly. The main village on the island is Kilronan, which is where visitors to Inish Mór disembark. It’s a lively spot during the Summer months, so pop into the local pub for a creamy pint of Guinness and mingle with the locals who will enthral you with the island folklore – which they are very proud of.
Inis Meáin is the middle island and the less visited of the three, so if you really want to get away from it all, head here. It has superb views of the Cliffs of Moher and has become a popular destination for diving due to its clear unpolluted waters. It has a share of historical attractions and an unusual flora and fauna similar to that of the Burren. The island has a population of about 200 people and depends largely on fishing and sheep rearing which is important for making the famous woolly Aran Island jumpers.
Inis Oírr is the smallest one of the islands and has a population of about 300 people. It has a distinctive charm about it and the local folk on the island still very much live a traditional Irish way of life. The little village on the island has a popular Irish pub, which is a great spot to enjoy a traditional Irish music session at its best!
Getting to these offshore islands is a pleasant experience. Most boats to take you to the islands leave from Rossaveal, which can be found about 1 hour west of Galway city. Some companies run a shuttle service between Galway city and Rossaveal Harbour.
The islands are usually explored by foot, bike or horseback. They are a paradise for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, swimming, diving, surfing or birdwatching.
Have you been to the Aran Islands? We would love to hear about your experience….any comments, tips, advice welcome in the comment box below.