If you’ve been doing some research on where to go in Ireland chances are you have come across the Aran Islands; a group of small islands in the Atlantic off the west coast of Ireland known for their ancient sites and for offering a truly Irish experience. Yet few people make it there during their Irish vacations; daunted by the fact that it is a little out of the way. However, as someone who’s been twice, I think that a visit to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, is a must. To me, Inis Mor the ‘real’ Ireland and one of my all-time favourite places in the country. Here are seven reasons why you should definitely go to Inis Mor on your next trip to Ireland.
Discover One of Europe’s Most Important Archaeological Sites
Ireland has no shortage of archeological sites, and Inis Mor is home to quite a few of them. The best known and perhaps more impressive is Dun Aonghasa (Dun Aengus); an ancient cliff top fort. Spreading over 14km there are three terraced walls and stunning views across the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Excavations have shown that people lived here are fat back as 1500BC. There is an entrance fee (2 euro) and guided tours can be provided free of charge upon request.
Check out one of Ireland’s Coolest Natural Wonders
If you have looked into Inis Mor at all you’ve probably already heard of the Worm Hole. It’s a natural feature in the rock cliff on the westen side of the island. A large rectangular pool the fills and empties with the swell of the ocean. It’s cool to see, though be careful as you don’t want to go during high tide.
Fun fact: The Worm Hole is also known for being one of the venues for the Red Bull World Cliff Diving Series.
Hear the Gaelic Language
Irish Gaelic may be Ireland’s first official language but ask any young locals, especially in the east, and most will tell you that they only know a few words. While it’s more common along the west coast, it’s still not regularly spoken on the main island. But, on Inis Mor, its often the language of choice. If you walk by a couple of locals mid-conversation, chances are you won’t understand a thing they say because it’s Gaelic. It’s a beautiful language and definitely adds a unique factor to your Irish experience.
Learn More About Ireland’s Folklore and History
The first time I visited Inis Mor I went on my own by bike. The second time I went was with Tourism Ireland who hired a local guide to show us around and tell us about the history and mythology associated with Inis Mor. As a sucker for myths and legends, I absolutely loved it. Not only did I get more detail about Dun Aonghasa and learn about the Coptic Monks, but our guide, Cyril, also took us to hidden gems that I never would have found on my own such as the mythical Salmon Well which is said to have saved the locals from starvations. And the raggedy bush; almost a good-luck charm where those leaving would tie a piece of their clothing to a branch as a promise to one-day return.
For those interested, the company we used was Aran Walking Tours.
Photograph its Natural Beauty
Inis Mor is strangely beautiful. Mostly grey and green, it’s not the most colourful place, but it definitely has some appeal. The jagged stone fences that dictate farming fields, the moss-covered rocks that are revealed when the tide pulls away, and the curious seals bobbing in the waves. Quiet beaches, thatched cottages, and local livestock all add to the charm. Trust me, you’ll want to make sure your camera batteries are fully charged.
Get Away from The Crowds
The Aran Islands really aren’t very busy compared to the main island, especially during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) which makes it perfect for travellers looking for a more authentic local experience or a chance to escape the crowds. To really get away from fellow tourists, skip the horse and buggy carriage and rent a bike to cycle and explore on your own.
Buy Some Authentic Aran Island Wool Products
Chances are you’ve heard of Aran sweaters; cozy Irish wool sweaters that promise to keep you warm in the damp weather. Unsurprisingly, they come from the Aran Islands. While you can buy them on the mainland as well, there’s something special about purchasing one from a wool shop on Inis Mor. The Aran Sweater Market is the best place to go. They offer authentic sweaters in a number of different styles and colours. If a sweater isn’t quite your thing you can also pick up beautiful wool scarves, blankets, and more.
Want to Go?
Getting to Inis Mor is actually pretty easy. From Galway, you can take a bus to Ros a’ Mhil Port which is where the ferry leaves from. Keep in mind, the ferry does not run back and forth regularly. During the summer months it has a couple of runs, but in off season it’s usually just once a day so keeping an eye on the time is crucial. Having done both a day trip and stayed overnight, I highly recommend the second option. Staying overnight will allow you to see more of the island from a more local perspective as most travellers only come for the day. Plus, Inis Mor has some pretty cute B&Bs and great pubs for pints and dinner (Ti Joe Watty’s is my personal favourite).
Inis Mor is an amazing place and offers and experience that I think every traveller to Ireland really should have.
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