Located off the coast of North Clare, the Aran Islands are famed for their cultural heritage and beautiful surroundings. They are a perfect spot to experience Irish culture, traditional Irish music and wild, rugged landscape. Get away from the mainland for either a few hours or stay overnight in the local hotel or with one of the many families that run B&Bs and guest houses. The Aran Islands are a Gealtacht area and the local use Irish as their daily language.
There are many activities to fill up your day and of course, no island would be complete without idyllic coves, sandy beaches and stunning seascapes and Aran is no different. Diving is a very popular pastime for tourists at the island and it is possible to get certified at the Diving Centre on Inish Meain. After a hard day's diving, swimming, sightseeing and walking on the islands, try some fishing or enjoy the craic and sample some traditional Irish music in one of the local pubs. Even though hostels are not as plentiful as on the mainland most do excellent food.
The Aran Islands consist of three islands – Inis Mór , Inis Meain and Inis Oirr. They can be reached by passenger ferry from Doolin on the north Clare coast. The travel time from Doolin to Inis Mór is approximately 90 minutes and from Doolin to Inis Oirr is about 25 minutes. Car ferries are not available to the Aran Islands, but parking is available at Doolin and you always bring your bike or hire one on the island.
Inis Mór is the largest of the three and is well-known internationally. The island provides a wonderful array of Celtic, pre-Christian and Christian historical sites combined with unique landscapes and plenty of local flora and fauna. Delve into the history of the Aran Islands with sites such as Dun Aonghasa Fort, located on the south of the island. Standing on top of a dramatic 300-foot cliff, the fort is thought to be one of the best examples of a semi-circular stone fort in Europe. Spanning over a 14-acre site, the remains of the fort includes three terraced walls, an inner enclosure and a platform that opens out over the wild Atlantic Ocean. An interpretive centre is attached to the site.
Continue your historical tour of the island with sites such as Na Seacht dTeampaill (the Seven Churches), which is located on the west coast of the island. While technically there are only two churches set among a number of dwelling houses, the site is still impressive. There are also a number of other forts on the island, including Dun Eachla (in the middle of the island) and Dun Eoghanachta (on the east of the island).
As you enjoy the wonderful landscapes and wild Irish countryside, some places worth visiting are: the Kilmurvey Craft Village (located just north of Dun Aonghasa Fort); the site of one of the earliest monasteries in Ireland – Teaghlach Einne (St Enda’s Household), which is located on the south tip of the island; the east of the island with its panoramic views of the islands and Galway Bay; and the Worm Hole, situated east of Dun Aonghasa.
The ‘Middle Island’ is perhaps the lesser visited of the Aran Islands. Famous Irish playwright and poet J. M. Synge (author of world-renowned works such as The Playboy of the Western World) was hugely inspired by the Aran Islands and Cathaoir Synge (Synge’s Chair) is located on the west of Inis Meain. Although the island is smaller than Inis Mór, there are still plenty of activities for the visitor.
Visit the national monument of Dun Crocbhur, or Conor’s Fort, which stands on the highest point of the island (in its centre) and is the largest stone fort of all the Aran Island’s forts. If you happen to be there on August 15th you may witness the local communities annual pilgrimage to Leaba Chinnderig, Saint Kenderrig’s Grave. The grave is said to be the resting place of The Princess of Leinster, but that’s another story or as they say on Aran. "sin scéal eile".
The smallest of the three Island’s Inis Oirr is none the less just as popular with visitors. It has a beautiful sandy cove facing east towards the Burren in north County Clare where the waters appear to be Mediterranean on a sunny day. One of the must visit places is Áras Éanna, established in 2000, a perfect haven for arts and crafts enthusiasts with its 70-seat theatre, art gallery, craft workshops, artist-in-residence and café. You can even sample a traditional basket-making and weaving workshop!
Other areas of interest on the island are Cill Chobait on the west coast of the island; O’Briens Castle, the old lighthouse and the main village on the north of the island; the new lighthouse on the western tip of the island and the Wreck of Plassey with its rusting shipwreck on the south-eastern part of the island. Visit the local pubs to see a visual record of the rescue of the crew from the Plassey in March 1960.