6 tales from Ireland’s islands

A wallaby colony, an island king and a stubborn little spider who inspired a leader… there’s far, far more to the lesser-known islands in Ireland than just blue seas and green landscapes!

High-kicks at Lambay Island, County Dublin

Many surprising things may happen on Ireland’s islands: You might see a whale breaching in the swirling ocean, you might find a shipwreck rusting on a beach… but a wallaby? Well, take a trip to Lambay Island and don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of grey-brown fur bobbing through the grasses. A colony of wallabies was introduced to the island by the Baring family (who own the island) in the 1950s, and today number around 100, adding an exotic element to a landscape defined by rugged hills, crashing waves and steep cliffs. 

Getting there: Skerries Sea Tours runs daily walking tours of the island.

Ireland’s Teardrop at Fastnet Rock, County Cork

This shard of rock sitting 6.5km southwest of Cape Clear Island in West Cork is a desolate spot. Pummelled by the Atlantic, it was often the last sight of home for those leaving Ireland for a new life in 19th and 20th century New York – hence its moniker. More than just a symbol of home, Fastnet was also the tallest and widest rock lighthouse tower in Ireland and Great Britain. Famous for its isolated and often terrifying conditions, principal lightkeeper Noel Crowley recalls in the book A History of Fastnet Lighthouse: “The big seas would come sailing up over the entire building like the field of horses in the Grand National. Up, up, up and over!"

Getting there: You can’t land on Fastnet, but The Fastnet Tour includes visits to Cape Clear Island, as well as circumnavigation of the lighthouse itself. Subject to weather conditions.

An Irish king at Tory Island, County Donegal

In a tiny pocket of Donegal, on an island just 5km long and 1km wide, you’ll find royalty. The king of Tory reflects a tradition thought to date back to the 6th century. But don’t expect any regal outfits or haughty manner. The island is led by a thoroughly modern monarch, democratically elected, warm and friendly, and often to be found welcoming tourists as they land off the ferry. With a population of around 130, a trip to Tory is an excellent excursion from the Wild Atlantic Way.

Getting there: Ferries leave for Tory Island from Magheraroarty and Bunbeg in County Donegal.

A spider’s web on Rathlin Island, County Antrim

It’s the little things. Or, at least, it was for Robert the Bruce. In the year 1306, the Scottish king found himself on Rathlin Island after suffering a devastating defeat at the hands of the English. As he sat in a cave pondering his next move, it’s said he spotted a tiny spider hanging on a thread repeatedly trying to swing to a nearby rock, and eventually succeeding. The spider’s determination was not lost on him and a return to Scotland followed. Several centuries later, Rathlin is still a spellbinding destination with birdwatching (it’s a sanctuary), an upside-down lighthouse and plenty more ways to inspire you…

Getting there: A ferry service runs from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island.

Tetrapods at Valentia Island, County Kerry

This beautiful island delivers immaculate views across the ocean to the Skelligs, and welcomes us to the unique architectural character of its village, Knightstown. But hidden in another corner is a piece of history from 350 million years ago. Walk the Tetrapod Trackway to the fossilised footprints of an amphibian that moved out of water and onto land. There are only four of these trackways in the world – and Valentia’s is the most extensive!

Getting there: Valentia Island is accessible from the mainland in County Kerry via a landbridge.

Monastic marvels at Devenish Island, County Fermanagh

It’s the year 837AD and the tranquillity of Devenish Island is shattered. The Vikings have arrived and the monastery on this idyllic slip of land is brutally raided. Today, you can take a boat over those same waters that made Devenish so vulnerable to Viking attack, and step onto an island to stroll around the remains of one of the most important Early Christian monasteries in Ireland.

Getting there: Devenish Island can be accessed from Trory Point in County Fermanagh.

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Ireland's Islands