6 of Ireland's treasured islands

Ancient histories, seaside oddities and shipwrecks ahoy: Ireland’s islands are the perfect secret escape

Valentia Island
Valentia Island

Valentia Island, Country Kerry

You can’t get more ancient than Valentia. Here, you’ll find the world’s oldest evidence of tetrapods, tiny water-dwelling creatures that crawled out of the primordial ooze and became the first animals to walk on land. These magnificent fossils are thought to date from Devonian times (350-370 million years ago). Find them by following the island’s Tetrapod Trackway.

Getting here: By road bridge from Portmagee, or by car ferry.

Rathlin Island, County Antrim

Shrouded in myth and mystery, Rathlin is famous for its legendary tale of Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king whose exile here changed Scotland’s history. The story involves a cave and a very determined spider. Intrigued? Find out more at the Boathouse Visitor Centre, where you can also view artefacts from Rathlin’s many shipwrecks.

Getting here: Rathlin Ferry from Ballycastle.

Heir Island (also known as Hare Island), County Cork

How many things can you pack into an island 2.5km long and 1.5km wide? Quite a lot, it seems. A haven for nature lovers, Heir Island’s marshland is home to over 200 varieties of wildflowers. The island’s sailing school lets you explore all the sheltered bays from the waterfront. And budding chefs will adore Island Cottage, which may well be the smallest cookery school in the world. You can even dine at the restaurant at the end of the day. Phew!

Getting here: Heir Island Ferries from Cunnamore Pier, near Skibbereen.

Gola Island, County Donegal

Gola Island is Irish history frozen in time. Uninhabited since the 60s, there’s still evidence of the lives this island nurtured. Author Brian Wilson captures Gola’s poetic but true description in his book, Dances with Waves: “White specks of bog-cotton waved in the wind, lapwings wheeled and piped above the moorland, and the potent scent of the sea was on the Breeze.” For adventure lovers, the immaculate granite of the towering cliffs present rock climbers with some of Europe's finest challenges...

Getting here: Gola Island Ferries from Gweedore.

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Inis Óirr (Inisheer), County Galway

Inis Óirr may be the smallest of the three Aran Islands, but it’s packed with things to do and see. To the north, golden beaches tempt swimmers into the Atlantic Ocean; the eastern shore is the final resting spot of a shipwreck and overlooks the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. At Áras Éanna, the island’s arts and cultural centre, immerse yourself in workshops where you can learn about traditional culture. Visiting in August? You’ve got to see the traditional currach boat races!

Getting here: Aran Island Ferries from Doolin or Rossaveal.

Ram’s Island, Lough Neagh, County Antrim

Possibly formed as a glacial esker, Ram’s Island is crammed with history, from the impressive round tower (the remains of a 1,000-year-old Celtic monastic settlement) to coins from the reign of King Edward I in the 13th century. During the Second World War, a flying boat base was even established in Sandy Bay, and materials for the war effort were flown in daily. Impressive, eh?

Getting here: The Island Warrior from Sandy Bay on Lough Neagh.

Think you know all of Ireland’s islands? John Lennon loved one so much, he bought it…but there are still plenty of others to explore!

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