Guest post by: Katie Minahan
Want to get a real taste for rural Ireland and escape the crowds of the city? Then Inisheer should definitely be on your itinerary. Inisheer is the smallest of the three Aran Islands located off of the west coast of Ireland. Many visitors do not make their way to the Aran Islands, as at first glance appears difficult to get there. But a visit to Inisheer will be a highlight on your Ireland itinerary that can easily be accomplished as a day trip from Galway, having you back in town just in time for a pint in the local pub.
Why Visit Inisheer
Inisheer is the smallest Aran Island with only 260 residents year around. I visited in October, low tourist season and can count the number of people I passed on one hand! According to the bartender at Tig Ned, in the summer months, the population swells to approximately 600 people.
Inisheer (along with the other Aran Islands including Inis Mor) is also one of the best places to hear the Irish language. While you’ll hear English everywhere in Ireland, Irish is actually the country’s official language. According to two Irish lads I met in Killarney, Irish is taught in schools but it hasn’t evolved much since its inception and is similar to Old English. Irish is spoken more on the west coast of Ireland compared to the east and even more frequently on the Aran Islands. Many students and visitors from the mainland will go to Inisheer for Irish language immersion.
If you happen to encounter a conversation between locals on Inisheer, you’ll likely hear Irish! It sounds like no language I’ve ever heard before. It’s very sing-songy and quite beautiful. Keep your ears open for the opportunity to hear it.
How to get to Inisheer
It’s incredibly easy to get to Inisheer. You can reach the island by ferry from Galway (Aran Island Ferries) or from Doolin (Doolin Ferry). I’ve only visited the Aran Islands from Galway using Aran Island’s Ferries. From Galway, your $30 round trip ticket includes a shuttle bus from Galway city centre to Rosaveel, the dock and the ferry across to the islands. Upon your return, a bus will be there waiting to take you back into town. The ferry ride is about 45 minutes and choppy on the way there, but smooth on the way back!
Why it’s Worth Spending the Night on Inisheer
While you can easily see all of the sites below in one day with time to spare for a sandwich and a pint at the pub, you may want to soak in the charm of Inisheer for another day. There are a few options for accommodation on Inisheer including one hostel, however, due to limited accommodation I recommend booking in advance during high tourist season. During low season, many places close up, so it’s best to ensure that you have accommodation on Inisheer booked prior to arrival.
Need a place to stay on Inisheer? Take a look at:
The Best Things to do on Inisheer
Wondering what to see and do on Inisheer? There’s plenty to see you busy including the following:
Hire a Bike to See All of the Sites
The best way to see this tiny island is by hiring a bike from Rothaí Inis Oírr. There are other options, such as horse and carriage, but by renting a bike you can go at your own pace, stopping where and when you please to take in the beautiful views. You can easily bike the entire island in about an hour and a half. According to the lady who rented me the bike, it’s about 45 minutes to see the sites leading to the Plassey Shipwreck and 25 minutes to St. Enda’s well in the opposite direction. Well, I took my sweet time and turned 45 minutes into 3 hours. Sprinting on the bike to see St. Enda’s well at the end of the day so I wouldn’t miss the last ferry back to Galway.
It costs $10 for a full day bike rental. Don’t worry about a lock, you don’t need it here.
White Sandy Beach
The woman at Aran Islands Ferry (the company that provides transportation to the islands) told me that Inisheer has the closest thing Ireland can get to a tropical beach. And when you disembark the ferry, immediately to the left, you’ll see a white sandy beach meeting the frigid turquoise waters. When I arrived on that windy October morning, there weren’t even any footprints on it. I changed that quickly.
Visit the Plassey Shipwreck
Have you ever seen a shipwreck before? A shipwreck where everyone on board survived? One that doesn’t require scuba diving to witness? I hadn’t either until my visit to Inisheer. In the 1960s the Plassey crashed off of the coast of Inisheer. Through the help of the islanders, everyone survived, but the shipwreck still rests where it crashed. It’s a behemoth of a ship with rusted bits and pieces still laying on the limestone rocks surrounding it.
Ireland is filled with ancient sites and Inisheer is no exception. On this tiny island, you’ll find an ancient burial site (Cnoc Raith) discovered after a storm in 1855. Inside they discovered urns and cremated remains dating back to 1500 BC.
In a country not lacking in beautiful ancient castles, doesn’t it make sense that Inisheer has its own castle? Located on top of a hill with 360 views of the island is O’Brien’s castle. It’s more of a watchtower and quite small in comparison to some of Ireland’s other castles but the views are spot on. From this vantage point, I caught my second rainbow of the day. So cliché, but that doesn’t take away from the awe of a rainbow in Ireland.
This is a church ruin that is actually now on private land. However, there is an open gate and there wasn’t anyone around, so I entered to get an up-close look of this tiny church. I’m not recommending trespassing or anything, but if you happen to want a closer look as well, watch your step as the field is likely now used for cows.
Additionally, there is an “underground” 10th-century cemetery, Temple Chaomain, dedicated to the patron saint of Inisheer, St. Chaomain. This cemetery wasn’t always underground, however, over the centuries, sand has blown in so now the temple sits well below ground level. Each year, islanders get together to dig out the temple.
The holy well of St. Enda, is on the opposite side of the island from these previous sites. There are no signs pointing towards it, you simply bike along the beautiful coast and happen upon it. There are two legends associated with this well. The first is that it happens to never run dry. And the second is that it holds healing powers. Legend has it that if you walk around the well seven times, saying the rosary the entire time, then look in the well and see an eel, you will be healed from whatever ails you. I did not see an eel, but I did find a clover in the grass surrounding it and decided that, plus the two rainbows, was my good luck.
From its beautiful rolling green pastures that seem to fall right into the sea, an almost 60-year-old shipwreck, and relics from the past, Inisheer will easily be the highlight of your Irish adventures.
About the Author:
After a life changing solo trip to Ireland in 2015, Katie quit her job packed up a backpack and traveled to South America, Mexico, Cuba and throughout Europe in 2018, ending her trip where it all began, in Ireland. You can follow Katie’s journey from windowless office to window seat on her blog: Just Chasing Sunsets on Instagram and on Facebook!