Ireland's Islands

Aran Islands, County Galway

Make your way to the northwest edge of Europe – and then go a little further. Our islands are worth a wander...

Scattered all along the wind-whipped coast of Ireland are some of its best-kept secrets: the islands. Inhabited or abandoned, a stone’s throw or an afternoon’s trip from the mainland, these remote outcrops represent a way of life distinct from anywhere else in the world.

Inishmore Peninsula

The Aran Islands, County Galway

Perhaps the most famous of Ireland’s isles, Galway’s Aran Islands are synonymous with traditional Irish culture, language, music and tradition. These three rugged outposts – Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr – are the last glimpse of Ireland before miles of open Atlantic Ocean.

Ribboned by postcard-perfect dry stone walls, it is here that the instantly recognisable Aran jumpers originated; where the locals speak Irish and keep an endangered way of life vibrant. Make your way to Inis Mór, the biggest island, and its prehistoric cliff fort, Dún Aonghasa – the view, the height and the fresh sea air are a panacea.

Skellig Islands, County Kerry

The Skelligs, County Kerry

It may have taken a galaxy far, far away to bring Skellig Michael to the world stage – but even without the intergalactic connection, Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are the most otherworldly of all Ireland’s islands. Anyone wanting to land and walk between the beehive huts and mournful puffins is at the mercy of the weather and restricted landing slots. On rough days, no approved ferryman will brave the wild Atlantic to take you across the water.

If you’re lucky enough to get here, you’ll soon realise you’re walking on hallowed ground – and understand why this place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s impossible not to stand in awe of the intrepid monks who crossed the choppy sea countless times to establish a remote monastery here in the 6th century. What they’ve left behind is simply magical – and like nowhere else on earth.

Devinish Island

Devenish Island, County Fermanagh

Once you set foot on Devenish, it’s hard to believe that you’re not miles off the coast of Ireland, but simply secluded on lower Lough Erne, one of Northern Ireland’s largest lake systems. Beloved for its 6th-century monastic site, Devenish has seen off Viking raids, been burned to the ground and is now a time capsule of early Christian Ireland.

While time has taken its toll here, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture what a thriving community once lived here; an age-defying round tower rises high above the ruins of the Oratory of St Molaise, St Mary’s Augustinian priory and a number of medieval carved crosses. The best part? County Fermanagh boasts no fewer than 154 islands, so a trip to Devenish can open up a world of exploration.

Great Blasket Island

The Blaskets, County Kerry

Before they were finally evacuated in 1953, the six Blaskets were home to a traditional Irish-speaking community. Today, a trip offers the truest glimpse into life of times gone by, with tours of the deserted village on the Great Blasket taking in the humble stone cottages and the reality of total reliance on the sea as a source of food and livelihood.

This hardy upbringing led to a literary legacy like no other, with islanders like Peig Sayers and Tomás O’Crohan adding irreplaceable classics to Ireland’s canon. Back on the mainland, the Blasket Centre is the place to go for a wealth of information on the history and heritage of this corner of County Kerry.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin, County Antrim

Although 150 people call Rathlin home today, it remains a place flooded with myth and legend, inextricable from its ancient storied past. The northernmost point of County Antrim – and part of the Causeway Coast, voted Best in Travel for 2018 by Lonely Planet – it was here that King Robert of Scotland was exiled in the 14th century – and where, it is said, a spider’s determination to repair its broken web inspired the king to return and reclaim his throne.

Around the island are dotted 40 shipwrecks, lost to the cold depths of this treacherous stretch of ocean. Three of the most famous – the HMS Drake, SS Lugano and HMS Brisk – were sunk during the First World War, and the SS Lugano remains one of the most spectacular dives on this part of the world.

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