If you’ve read any of my recent posts about living abroad, you’ll know that my summer holidays now generally consist of trips home to Newcastle and my girlfriend’s hometown in Ireland, thus escaping the consistently brilliant sunshine of the Costa del Sol for the erratic and usually disappointing weather of home.
On the agenda this summer, as a special surprise for an important birthday for Aisling (I can’t say how old she was exactly but it was the major one after 21, and before 40) was a trip to the Aran Islands with, and courtesy of, the in-laws.
An island just off Ireland (two words I’m assured should be pronounced differently), Inis Mór makes up one of the three islands of the Aran Islands to the west of Galway. Its comparison to Craggy Island was lost on me as a Father Ted novice, but suffice is to say it’s a ‘proper’ island and therefore requires a ferry crossing to get there. It is a Gaeltacht region which means that Irish is the first language.
For anyone who has seen The Guard with Brendan Gleeson, you may recall Don Cheadle’s character struggling to get by speaking English in the ‘wessshhht’. Everyone does also speak English but it can be an interesting experience hearing local people communicate in Irish particularly from a tourist’s perspective.
My initial disappointment at not visiting Inishbofin (because it sounds like ‘in his bottom’) quickly dissipated as our ferry arrived to the docks of Inis Mór – it looked to be everything I miss when I’m in hot, sunny Malaga; green rolling fields separated by dry-stone walls synonymous with the west of Ireland, a scattering of pubs (not bars) no doubt stocking Guinness, moody weather and beaches where swimming in the sea is not a leisure activity but a challenge to your masculinity.
What to do and see:
Rent a bike – Whilst I am sure all of the major sites can be accessed during a vigorous hike, there is no real need to do so unless you specifically want to. Bikes can be rented for € 10 a day at numerous shops near to the dock and provide the perfect outlet to visit all the island has to offer.
Dún Aonghasa – I’m not going to insult anyones intelligence and waste my time googling what this actually is just to rehash it, so I will give my perception of it. It is an old castley/fort kind of thing located at the top of a cliff. For me the most impressive thing about it was the 100m sheer cliff face that it straddles. For anyone who has visited the Cliffs of Moher, the height is similar but slightly more bearable and with an impressive archaelogical site at the top.
There are a lot more ruins and forts to be visited for any enthusiasts, and still all accesible by bike. I would be lying if I said I went to see any more though. Apologies for my lack of historical knowledge but I was made to choose between Geography and History when I was 14 years old so I only know flags and capital cities.
The Wormhole – This was the main attraction for me, one of the locations of the Red Bull cliff diving series. The videos of this extraordinary event slightly overhyped my expectations as upon arrival it is what it says on the tin – a naturally formed pool with cliff diving access. However the day in question was quite cold, and there was nobody else there so we weren’t really sure what to do when we got there. My battery had also died as I had been massively snap-happy on the way there so I couldn’t even salvage a photo of The Wormhole itself.
To see it in all of its Red Bull glory check out this video: http://www.independent.ie/videos/sport/watch-red-bull-cliff-diving-world-series-2017-kicked-off-on-picturesque-inis-mr-ireland-35862252.html
Access to the worm hole involves some marginally challenging terrain and be sure to go towards the right after crossing through the farmer’s field (these directions will make sense to anyone visiting), and not so far to the left that you almost circumnavigate the whole island to get to something that was ten minutes to your right.
Seal colony – this is on the way to the other sites. I bet you can guess what it involves.
Where to eat and drink:
Joe Watty’s – This seemed to be the busiest spot on the island and was perfectly located near our B&B. The food was excellent, the staff friendly and there was traditional live music both of the evenings that we visited. Most importantly, the Guinness was beautiful. In short, it is everything you want from a pub on a small Irish island.
Kilronan Hostel– The sort of place where the only sound upon entering was my Gavin’s apple gulping loudly. However, by the second round the locals at the bar actually broke the ice and engaged us in conversation, although not always understandable. Slightly less charming or catered towards tourism, but for anyone who loves authenticity then you couldn’t deny this place is genuine.
Teach Nan Phaidi – A cafe with an incredibly photogenic exterior, not far from the access point to Dún Aonghasa. The menu boasts local products, the food is great and the service friendly despite how busy they must be every day during the summer months.
There are a range of other restaurants around Kilronan, and Spar for any snacks and essentials.
Where to stay:
There are an abundance of B&Bs around Kilronan, which is where the action is on Inis Mór.
We stayed in An Crugan B&B, and the rooms were comfortable and the location ideal for Joe Watty’s. They also collect your luggage on arrival from the ferry. Like all B&Bs in my experience, the breakfast was enjoyable and included the awkward intimacy of sitting in a dining room with people you don’t know whom you can overhear and can overhear you, so everybody whispers and doesn’t want to be the one to take liberties on the shared orange juice.
There is also a relatively new option of ‘Glamping’ or for those travelling alone or on a budget, a hostel.
The ferry journey itself from Rossaveal (20 miles or so from Galway) is around 45 minutes and provides excellent views of the west coast of Ireland, with the option of standing out on deck if you’re feeling brave.
There is also a ferry from Doolin or the option of flying if you’re feeling flush.
Check out times and prices for the ferry here: http://www.aranislandferries.com/times_mor.php
Passengers are advised to arrive at the ferry terminal 30 minutes before the departure time. My girlfriend’s mother adjusted that to telling our group of 9 that departure time was actually 1 hour earlier than it was. This meant that we arrived just too late for the earlier ferry and too early for our targeted ferry.
Is this an Irish thing or specific to my girlfriend’s family? For example, if the optimum time to leave for something is at 11.00am, a family commitee will designate 10.00am as the departure time, however those in the know won’t be ready to leave until 11.30am and we will arrive slightly late.
The Aran Islands make up part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Take note – pack for rain, wind, and sun regardless of the month that you visit. My amateurish mistake of packing the same clothes for Ireland and my following trip to Italy is the reason that I am wearing an ill-fitting bright red jacket in the majority of the photos.
If you’re susceptible to travel-sickness, come prepared for the ferry and again take note of the adjective Wild Atlantic.
I am a huge fan of the west of Ireland, from what I have experienced of it so far and I would certainly add Inis Mór to that list. In terms of solitude and atmosphere it reminded me of La Isla del Sol in Bolivia, but with live Irish music in the evening and Guinness! Cycling around the island you will constantly be stopping to take Instagram-worthy photographs.
I would highly recommend anyone visiting Ireland to add it to their itinerary, and it is so close to the hugely popular Galway, Cliffs of Moher and Connemara. Anyway, let the remainder of my snaps persuade you.
As for visiting with the in-laws? What better way to spend time together than a leisurely family bike ride around an island (my girlfriend’s mother is one of my three readers so I have to be nice!) My girlfriend happily declared it as one of the best things she has done, and as someone who has travelled to more than 20 countries that is a bold statement.
If you have any specific questions about Inis Mór, or getting to the Aran Islands in general then feel free to comment below. If it’s anything to do with historical guidance – Google is your friend.
Our trip was in the first week of September 2017.