This trio of cultural and historical hubs represents the rugged west of Ireland
Sitting pretty in Galway Bay are the Aran Islands – Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr – the last lands to the west before you reach America. Still maintaining aspects of traditional Irish life, the islands fascinate the thousands of visitors who make the journey every year.
Images of the islands are instantly recognisable due to their landscape, which is criss-crossed with stone walls, a traditional feature found in the west of Ireland. That said, each island has its own distinctive personality and charm.
Inis Mór is the largest (‘mór’ meaning ‘big’ in Irish) with a population of around 800. Considering it’s 12km (7.4 miles) in length and 3km (1.8 miles) wide, there are plenty of historical sites such as Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus), Na Seacht dTeampaíll (The Seven Churches), and a round tower.
Inis Meáin translates as "the middle one" prides itself on remaining quite traditional even in modern times. It’s here that the world famous Aran jumpers are still made along with contemporary knitwear designs at the Inis Meain Knitting Company. Folklore has it that the origin of the sweater came around when a fisherman and his family would add a unique pattern into the stitch. This was done so that if he drowned and was found, maybe weeks later, his body could be identified by the stitching. Writer JM Synge said of this island: “This is the last outpost of ancient Europe; I am privileged to see it before it disappears forever.”
Inis Oírr is the smallest and most eastern island. It’s less than 3km (1.8 miles) squared so completely walkable and the full walking trail is four hours long. Inis Oírr also has a similar landscape to the Burren in County Clare and therefore the flora is under conservation. Its current population stands at around 250 people.
Having inspired countless writers, poets and artists over the centuries, many come to the Aran Islands on a retreat to and connect with authentic rural and traditional Ireland. The three are all Irish-speaking communities, but residents are bilingual and English is their second language.
Getting to the islands couldn’t be easier by ferry, which depart daily from Rossaveal (Ros a Mhíl) just outside Galway city. Aer Arann also flies to the islands. Remember, you’re at the edge of Ireland on the Atlantic Ocean so always dress appropriately – it can get windy out there. But it’s also not uncommon to be so hot, you can dive into the waves before the rain whips around and it’s anoraks and Wellington boots for all…
Back on the ferry, and you can continue your journey along the Wild Atlantic Way.