Trip idea: Ireland's islands

Tearaght Island, County Kerry

Uncover mystery and legend scattered along the coast in Ireland’s best-kept secrets: the islands.

Monastic marvels, traditional charm and wildlife up close and personal – Ireland’s many islands are a unique adventure for any traveler. Inhabited or abandoned, far-flung or a stone’s throw away from the shore, these islands remain relatively untouched by time, giving a great insight into a way of life distinct to anywhere else in the world. Venture out beyond the coast and you won’t be disappointed: you’ll find our islands are worth the wander…

Ireland's Islands

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Northern Ireland's islands

Steeped in history, myths and legend, prepare to be amazed by the curious finds on the islands of Northern Ireland.

A driving
Rathlin Island lighthouse

An upside down lighthouse and a renowned bird sanctuary

Once upon a time on a little island called Rathlin, off the coast of Antrim, a spider’s dogged determination inspired an exiled Scottish King to return and fight for his throne. Nowadays, life is not quite as dramatic and aside from being home to around 150 people, Rathlin is a conservation area for tens of thousands of seabirds that make the island their home. Head up to the platform of Rathlin’s unique ‘upside-down’ lighthouse to get a great view of the puffins, razorbills and kittiwakes. 

How to get there: Make your way to Ballycastle, County Antrim, where a boat makes the short journey over to Rathlin eight times a day.

If you have more time

Back on the mainland, explore what Lonely Planet adored about the jaw-dropping Causeway Coastal Route between Belfast and Derry~Londonderry cities.

B driving 3hr 20 mins
Boa Island

Mysterious figures on Boa Island

For a landlocked county, Fermanagh is a very watery destination. It's filled with secretive islands to explore, with Boa being one of the more haunting of Lough Erne's 154 islands. Home to the intriguing Janus figure, a 2,000-year-old stone carving created by the Celts, walk full circle around it to see its two faces – a man’s and a woman’s. Thought to represent a Celtic deity, many people leave small mementos in the statue’s deep indentation hoping that good luck will be bestowed upon them.

How to get there: Boa island is connected by road to the mainland, and is only a short drive from Fermanagh town.

Devenish island

Devenish Island on Fermanagh's Lough Erne

History buffs simply can’t leave the Fermanagh Lakelands before visiting the historic Devenish Island. A walk around the monastic site takes you on a journey through time, from the islands beginnings with St Molaise house in the 6th century, to Viking raids in 837 and even being burned to the ground in 1137, only for it to flourish in the Middle Ages as a parish church. 

How to get there: Only accessible by water, take the ferry from Brook Park with Erne Tours for this time capsule experience.

If you have more time

Pay a visit to Lusty Beg resort, the perfect place to relax and unwind by the lakeside woodlands. If you can't get enough of Fermanagh's islands, venture out with a boat ride along Lough Erne!

Islands of the Wild Atlantic Way

Experience the wild side of Ireland by sailing out to Ireland’s outposts in the Atlantic Ocean – where the next stop is America...

D driving 2h 16 mins
Tory Island

Meet the king of Tory Island in Donegal

Just 14.5km (nine miles) off Ireland’s rugged northern coast sits Tory Island. Despite having a population of less than 200 people, this curious island has royalty. A long-standing tradition of an ambassadorial role, the King of Tory is the spokesperson for the island's community, as well as their unofficial one-man welcoming party!

How to get there: Take a ferry from the Donegal town of Magheroarty, and as you step off the boat, you’ll receive a warm royal welcome from Tory’s current king!

If you have more time

You’re on the Donegal coast, don’t miss out on witnessing the dramatic sea cliffs and dancing Northern Lights of the Northern Headlands!

E driving 4 hr 59 min
The Aran Islands

Take a trip to Galway's Aran Islands

A trip to these Irish speaking islands is a traditional Ireland experience. Known for their iconic knitted jumpers, pretty thatched cottages and the majestic Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop, each of these islands brings its own incredible experience and a serene feeling that time is standing still. Visit Inis Oírr’s stony shore to witness the wrecked vessel ‘The Plassey’; venture to Inis Meáin, the least visited of the three, where you can take in the dramatic cliffs and deserted beaches in peace; or take in Inis Mór's ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa, clinging to the edge of a cliff. 

How to get there: Take a passenger ferry from Rossaveal in County Galway.

F driving 4 hr 48 min
The Blasket Islands

Step back in time on the Great Blasket Islands

Once home to a traditional Irish speaking community, the Blasket Islands are a glimpse into Ireland of old. Take a walk around the deserted village on Great Blasket to a true sense of of how communities lived in this isolated place. Life on these islands was for the toughest of the tough. And when they knew their time on the island was coming to an end, islanders such as Peig Sayers and Tomás Ó Criomhthain continued the Irish tradition of storytelling by writing their tales. 

How to get there: Take a read of their books before taking the ferry from either the Marina at Dingle town or Ventry at Dún Chaoin pier.

If you have more time

Explore the charming town of Dingle, tuck into its famous Murphy’s ice-cream and take a boat trip to meet local celebrity, Fungie the dolphin!

Garnish Island

Garlands of flowers adorn Cork's Garnish Island

Ireland’s version of the Garden of Eden is hidden deep in the lush surrounds of West Cork. Home to a series of gorgeous ornamental gardens, Garnish's sheltered position and almost subtropical climate has resulted in a magnificent variety of blooms, as well as attracting basking seals to chill out on its southern rocks! Take a book and sit amongst the flowers and trees on this otherworldly island and simply lose yourself in nature. 

How to get there: Take the ferry from the Main Pier in Cork's Glengarriff to make your way over to this island idyll.

If you have more time

Explore the rest of the Beara Peninsula: take in the glory of the southwest coast as you pass the Caha Mountains, drive through Healy pass, and take the cable-car to Dursey Island!

Islands in Ireland's Ancient East

Off the shores of Ireland’s eastern coastline, get lost in tales of the past…

H driving 1 hr 36 min
Gun park at Spike Island

The changing faces of Spike Island

A 6th century monastery, a 24-acre fortress, the largest convict depot in the world – County Cork’s Spike Island has had many roles. Nowadays dominated by the star-shaped Fort Mitchel, which once held over 2,300 prisoners captive, take a tour of “Ireland’s hell” and get lost in the history and mystery of this island. 

How to get there: A short ferry ride from Cork's Cobh harbor will bring you to your fate at Fortess Spike!

If you have more time

Explore the seaport town of Cobh and its bittersweet history. The last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic, hear its story with a trip to the Titanic Experience, set in the old White Star offices.

Saltee Islands

Wonderful wildlife on the Great Saltees of Wexford

Birdwatching enthusiasts should flock to the Saltee Islands, which together make up one of Ireland’s largest bird sanctuaries. Wander the paths through bluebells and rock flowers while watching the seabirds, who outnumber humans there by at least 100 to one! These islands also hold a fascinating story – two leaders of the 1798 Rebellion hid themselves in an island cave here, and later in 1943 it was bought by the late Michael the First, who crowned himself prince of the island! 

How to get there: The current owners of the island allow daytrips to Great Saltee, so catch the ferry from Kilmore Quay from April to September.

If you have more time

A full-scale reproduction of one of the 19th century ships that carried those fleeing the Great Famine to a better life in the New World, the Dunbrody famine ship in New Ross is a slice of history you cannot miss.

Dublin's Islands

Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, explore Dublin’s peaceful hideaways

J driving 2 hr 3 min
Kayaking at Dalkey Island

A stone’s throw away from Dalkey

Five minutes on a boat from the sleepy town of Dalkey takes you to Dalkey Island. While now uninhabited, the island was once an important site of pilgrimage. Take a stroll around the island and visit St Begnet’s church and the Martello tower, keep watch for wild rabbits and goats, and then settle down for a picnic and enjoy the views with the seals on the rocks beneath you. You may even spot a bottle-nosed dolphin if you’re lucky… 

How to get there: Take a ferry from Dalkey's Colimore harbor with Ken the Ferryman, who will tell you all you need to know about the history of the island!

If you have more time

Walk around Dalkey, pop into the Castle, or stroll upwards to Killiney Hill where the views over the bay will leave you speechless.

K driving 1 hr
Martello Tower on Ireland's Eye

A world away on Ireland’s Eye

The other side of the horse-shoe shaped bay is Howth, and although just 15 minutes away by boat from Howth harbour, stepping onto the island of Ireland’s Eye is like stepping onto another planet. With the ruins of a Martello tower and an 8th century church the only trace of habitation on the island, the island is overrun with birds and butterflies, and seals. Remote and atmospheric, the island is a beautiful spot for adventure. However, the island is not without its own dark history, being home to the site of a – gulp – murder cave. Whether it was an accident or murder remains debated to this day…..

How to get there: Head to Howth's West Pier, where you can hop on a ferry to this fascinating island. 

If you have more time

Adventurous souls will want to make the time to hike around the Howth Cliff Loop, with stunning views of the sea at your side.

Lambay Island

Meet Ireland’s resident wallabies

Thought wallabies could only be found Down Under? Welcome to Lambay Island – located off the coast of Dublin, this little island is home to a colony of red-necked wallabies. These animals were introduced to the island by current owners of the island, the Baring family, and a walk will see you coming across wallabies... as well as seabirds, grey seals and deer!

How to get there: Take a tour with Skerries Sea Tours, or alternatively you can take a private tour led by Lambay experts, with the boat leaving from Malahide!

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