Island Hopping In the West of Ireland.
Escape to the most delightful islands in the West of Ireland and uncover the many stories and legends scattered along the coast. There are 30 islands to visit along the West coast, some inhabited and uninhabited, some remote and some close to the mainland. To reach these islands you might have to drive distances across sandy beaches or swinging bridges, or even take a swinging cable car, but for most a ferry will help you reach your island escape. The islands along the Irish coastline are definitely worth the wander……
Here is just a taste of what is on offer when island hopping in the West of Ireland……….
Sherkin Island, County Cork.
Sherkin Island, on the southwest coast of County Cork, is approximately 3 miles long with a population of just 100 people. The island is the ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan and is often referred to as the most accessible island in Ireland.
With four different walkways catering for all different abilities, you get the chance to explore the diverse, untouched landscape. It is a great base for whale watching, with good fishing to be had on the rocky headlands. And if you’re lucky you could spot seals and dolphins swimming offshore.
Getting there: From the Cork fishing village of Baltimore, travel by Sherkin Island Ferry to Sherkin Island. The trip across the harbour from Baltimore takes approximately 10 minutes.
Valentia Island, County Kerry.
Valentia Island, off the South West coast of Kerry, is an island of great beauty and contrast. The western part of the island is dominated by the barren, dramatic cliffs of Bray Head which command spectacular views of the Kerry coastline while the mild effect of the Gulf Stream results in Valentia’s balmy climate and lush, colourful vegetation. This beautiful island delivers immaculate views across the Atlantic 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 fossilized 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! An important quarry on the northern part of the island which opened in 1816 still flourishes today. The famous Valentia Slate has been used in many prominent buildings including the British House of Commons in London.
Getting there: Valentia Island is accessible from the mainland in County Kerry via a land bridge at the Portmagee Channel.
The Blasket Islands, County Kerry.
Some 6 km beyond the most westerly tip of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, large humps of sandstone with awesome cliffs rise from the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by smaller rocks and reefs, these are the Blasket Islands, or Na Blascaodaí. Once home to a traditional Irish speaking community, the Blasket Islands are a glimpse into Ireland of old. The largest of the islands, The Great Blasket or An Blascaod Mór, was finally abandoned in 1953 when the last twenty two people living on the island were moved to the mainland. No other island community of this size has yielded such a literary wealth, producing world renowned writers, such as Peig Sayers, who documented island life in their beloved Irish language and whose work has been translated into many languages.
Visit the Blasket Islands centre in Dún Chaoin at the very tip of the Dingle Peninsula for an insight into the islands or take the ferry and explore this historic Great Blasket island on foot along its steep grassy paths and hilly tracks. Discover the pre-historic remains and extraordinary bird life as well as the large colony of seals who have made the Great Blasket their home. You can even camp the night on this wild and romantic island.
Getting there: Dingle Boat Tours operate fast (50 minute) passenger ferries from Dingle Marina to the Great Blasket Island.
Omey Island, County Galway.
With stunning walks and ruins, Omey Island in Galway is one of the best-kept secrets in Connemara and perfect for those who want a little something different. Omey Island is a tidal island situated on the western edge of Connemara in County Galway, near Claddaghduff. The island is particularly popular with walkers. Discover the rocky shoreline edged with sand cliffs, the early christian monastic site called “Crocan Na Mban” and witness the graveyard built on a site associated with Brendan the Navigator.
Enjoy a day of horseback riding across Omey Beach, catch sight of historical sites and see the picturesque landscapes and wildlife. In the early seventh century, St Feichin founded an important monastic settlement on Omey Island and the ruins of St Feichin’s Church can be seen not far from the shore on the mainland side. During the summer months the island is covered in wild flowers including salt-tolerant alpine, colourful shore plants and wild thyme. Omey Island is a designated Special Area of Conservation (S.A.C.), because of the number of rare and important plants and insect life to be found including unusual staghorn beetles.
The annual Omey Island Races are held every Summer between the tides – Known as “the Other Galway Races” they are a fun day of horse racing, sea and sand and provide young jockeys with the opportunity to show off their talent.
Getting there: It is possible to drive or walk across to the island at low tide every day by crossing acres of the firm sandy beach. Make sure to check locally for the tide timetable before you make the crossing and take care not to get stranded as high tide could cover a car.
Inis Mor, County Galway.
The Aran Islands in Galway Bay are one of the most popular island destinations in Ireland. Inis Mor is the largest of the Aran Islands, with a population of around 800. Considering it’s 12km (7.4 miles) in length and 3 km (1.8 miles) wide, there are plenty of historical sites such as Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus), Na Seacht dTeampaíll (The Seven Churches), and a round tower.
Inis Mor hosts many festivals, including the annual “Tedfest” held every March, a festival celebrating the TV programme Fr. Ted. Take a mini bus tour of the island or hire a bike and cycle to Dun Aonghasa Fort, which is over 3,000 years old.
If you bring your swimsuit and you are able to swim maybe hop into the “Poll Na bPeist” (The wormhole) – You’ll find Poll na bPeist around 1.6km south of the magnificent cliff side fort of Dun Aonghasa, on the west side of Inis Mór Island. This natural rock formation looks like a never ending hole in the ground. When the tide is in, water rushes into the hole through an underground cave and forces the water over the edges filling the hole – A natural phenomenon unique to the West.
Getting there: You can travel to the Aran Islands by sea or by air – You can find information on Aran Ferries; Doolin Ferries and Aer Arann. You can travel to Inis Mor, Inis Oirr, or Inis Meain by passenger ferry from Rossaveal in County Galway or from Doolin in County Clare.
Achill Island, County Mayo.
Ireland’s largest island located on the west coast of County Mayo, boasts 40km of dramatic coastline, incredible scenery on walks and hikes, and tucked away gems. One such gem is Keem Bay, Achill’s most remote Blue Flag beach. Situated on the western end of the island, the golden sands sit at the foot of steep cliffs and is known for it’s quiet isolation.
If you drive to the beach from Keel village, you can take in expansive views from across the water. Or if you want more history than scenery, visit the Slievemore Deserted Village. You get a sense of eeriness when you visit this village of more than 80 deserted homes at the foot of Mount Slievemore. No one knows why this area was abandoned by its residents – Was it a move to the mainland? Was it the potato famine? Or maybe it was a curse? Why not come explore and ponder what happened here. No trip to Westport and to Mayo would be complete without a visit to Achill Island.
Getting there: Achill Island is connected to the Curraun Peninsula by the Michael Davitt Bridge at Achill Sound. Explore the island by car.
Tory Island, County Donegal.
In a tiny pocket of Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland, on the most remote of Ireland’s inhabited islands, just 5 km long and 1 km wide, you’ll find some 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. Tory Island is an Irish speaking island, where time seems to have stood still.
Enjoy a walk around the island and take in incredible scenery on the Tory Island Loop Walk, including the Tau Cross and the 6th Century ruins of Colmcille’s monastery. Experience the rugged beauty, dive into the crystal clear waters and enjoy the island’s traditional crafts and Irish music. With a population of around 130, a trip to Tory is an excellent excursion from the Wild Atlantic Way.
Getting there: The Tory Ferry leaves for Tory Island from Magheraroarty pier in County Donegal, which can be driven to through the towns of Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy.
Island Hopping in the West of Ireland.
Ireland’s many islands are a rare adventure for any traveler. Why not get away from the hustle and bustle and experience “the wilder” side of Ireland by exploring Ireland’s outposts and peaceful hideaways in the Wild Atlantic Ocean – an ocean of fascinating tales and where the next stop is America….
Specialized Travel Services look forward to welcoming you to the Emerald Isle. We’ve lots of Deluxe Irish Tours to offer when you’re ready to explore the Wild Atlantic Way and you hop along to any of the islands along the way. Have a look at some of our luxury private chauffeur drive tours for further inspiration on what to explore in Ireland.
Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of the Blasket Islands from Dunmore Head – Tourism Ireland © Chris Hill
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