Back to my blog after a long break, during which my family and I moved from Singapore to Ireland. Apart from a few road trips, and many hikes, Aran Islands were our first major holiday.
Aran Islands are a set of three islands, off the western coast of Ireland. Inis Mór (Inishmore) is the largest island (31sq-km), Inis Meáin (Inishmaan) is the middle island (9sq-km), and Inis Oírr (Inisheer) the smallest (8sq-km). This is the ‘Gaeltacht’ region of Ireland – a region where Irish Gaelic is the primary spoken language. Aran Islands are also famous for the Aran sweaters, known for their distinctive patterns with more than a century and a half of history behind them. This link has more information.
There are ferries to the Aran Islands from Doolin (near Cliffs of Moher) and from Ros a’ Mhíl (Rossaveel). We had already been to the Cliffs of Moher so we decided to take the ferry from Rossaveel. Aran Island Ferries operates the ferry services from Rossaveel to the three islands, while Doolin2Aran Ferries operates the services from Doolin. The same ferry services also operate services between the islands. Tickets can be booked online, at the ticket office, or purchased on the ferry at the islands. If driving to Rossaveel, parking is available at €5 per day (as of Apr-2019). There is a parking lot right next to the ferry terminal, which is more convenient. There is also a second parking lot around 500m before. I would recommend driving to the one near the terminal first.
Inishmore, as mentioned before, is 31sq-km in area, which translates to around 10km long and 3km wide. There are many points of interest like remnants of fortresses, some dating back to pre-historic times (Bronze Age – 1000-500 BCE), remnants of old stone churches, a few pubs, and a few sweater shops. The best way to get around is on bikes (rentals available near the pier) but if short on time, or other constraints that make biking difficult/not possible, then there are mini-bus tours and horse carts available too. This link has a list of places that I had plotted on Google Maps but the bike rental place will also provide a map that lays out the prominent places, and best routes to take. We rented our bikes around 4pm of Day 1, kept them overnight, and returned them at 5pm of Day 2 (when the shop closes) for €15 per bike. All options are available including mountain bikes, city bikes, with child seat, with tag-on, smaller bikes for children, and even e-bikes.
We started off from Dublin in the morning at 8:30am and reached Rossaveel around 12 noon. Had a bit of a wait as our ferry was at 1pm so we dug into our snack pile and enjoyed a mini picnic. The ferry ride itself was quite smooth (~40min) and the weather was glorious (not something that Ireland is famous for). We dropped off our luggage at the Kilronan Hostel where we had booked a room with 4 bunk beds and an attached bathroom. The hostel is very well located, has clean rooms, a cosy kitchen and lounge room but is not a fancy place. We were quite hungry by now so went over to The Bar a short walk away in the main market area for some lunch and drinks.
It was around 4pm by now, sunset would be around 8:30pm, and we had beautiful weather so we decided to rent bicycles and explore a bit. My daughter was quite excited about biking but my wife and I were a bit apprehensive as she hadn’t biked for many months, and had never done more than a 3-5km ride before. There were a few initial hiccups as she (and my wife) figured out the workings of the gears, especially on the steep inclines, but that was all sorted out soon and we set out towards Dún Aonghasa (Dun Angus), a pre-historic hill fort on the edge of a 100-metre cliff.
Dún Aonghasa is a fascinating place. It is believed that the fortifications were constructed over many eras, the earliest dating back to before 1000 BCE. It’s a short hike (~1km) to the top from the bicycle parking (entry closes at 6pm, side gate is open for late exits) and the views of the northern atlantic ocean are stunning. The winds are crazy and there are no barriers at the cliff edges so there is need to exercise caution, especially with kids.
By the time we got back from Dún Aonghasa, it was almost 7pm. The days are long at this time of the year (sunset around 8:45pm) but it was getting cloudy and cold so we called it a day for the cycling (my daughter wasn’t very happy about that), dropped our cycles off at the hostel, and headed back to The Bar for dinner, a couple of beers, and some fun live music.
The next morning, we had a nice breakfast of toast with a variety of spreads, cereals, oatmeal and some nice hot tea at our hostel kitchen and then set out for Day 2 of exploring Inishmore on our bicycles. The map below shows our route which covered most/all of the prominent points of interest.
The absolute stand-out for me was Poll na bPeist, also known as The Wormhole. It can be best described as an olympic sized swimming pool cut into the rock.
To get here, we had to first cycle a short way in from the main road and leave our bikes there and then do a short (~1.5km) hike across terrain like this.
But watching the mesmerising effect of the power of the sea filling up an olympic size swimming pool in seconds made coming here well worth the effort. A word of caution here: a couple of weeks later we saw this video. Please exercise extreme caution. We allowed our children to get close just for a minute or so and then had them waiting way behind. However, my wife and I both took photos near the edge, oblivious to the danger that a very high tide posed. Please be very cautious.
The other highlight of the day was stopping for a delicious lunch at Teach Nan Phaidy, a very cosy, homely restaurant with great food, followed by yummy ice-cream at the ice-cream shop just around the corner.
Some of the other prominent places to visit in Insihmore are the Seal Colony Viewpoint, Kilmurvy Beach, Na Seacht dTeampaill (The Seven Churches), Dún Dúchathair, Dún Eochla, The Black Fort, Dún Eoghanachta and a few more. See this link for a list and map locations.
And do definitely visit the two sweater shops in the village market that sell hand-knit Aran Sweaters. They are a bit expensive but worth an indulgence.
We had originally planned to spend one more day in Inishmore, and there were a few places we hadn’t explored yet but we also desired a bit of a change so we modified our plans and decided to spend the last day and night in Inisheer instead. Found a nice hotel, and booked the ferry tickets online, and we were all set.
The ferry to Inisheer was at 11:30am, taking about 40 mins. This link has info on the inter-island sailing from Doolin2Aran Ferries. We checked in to the Óstán Inis Oírr (Inisheer Hotel) and got a lovely room with one double and two single beds, perfect for our family. The hotel is very well located, ~5mins walk from the pier and they also run a very cosy pub and restaurant next door, where we had our lunch.
We then walked back towards the pier to rent our bikes for the day from Inisheer Bike Rentals (link). The lady at the shop found the perfect bikes for us and we set off for another day of cycling.
To see the prominent points of interest in Inisheer on cycles, there are two main loops. This link shows the route and prominent points.
The most enjoyable part is just cycling around and taking in the beautiful sights but these were my highlights:
1. Caislean Ui Bhriain (O’Brien’s Castle): Beautiful 360-degree views of Inisheer village, the sea, and the hills.
2. Inisheer Lighthouse
3. Maireann a gcuimhne fós im aigne: A stone carved as a memorial to those lost at sea. The route getting here, along the coast, is very pretty and the memorial is simple and touching.
We returned our bicycles back around 6pm. The shop closes at 5pm but the lady was very nice and said we could return the cycles at any time and we could just leave them there if the shop was closed. After returning the cycles, we just walked around a bit before going back to our hotel. There was a nice game of football on the TV so the pub was full of life.
The ferry back to the mainland next morning was at 7:30am so the hotel folks sent over a kettle for tea/coffee and a few scones as we would miss the complimentary breakfast. We took the ferry back, chatting with a few locals onboard who were on their way to Rossaveel to meet friends and a day of shopping. Stopped at Corrib House, a nice tea room in Galway, for a yummy breakfast and then drove back home. A memorable, and a little magical, holiday.