While Ireland is an island, it also has a multitude of islands surrounding it that are just waiting to be explored.
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Among the most popular for overseas tourists are the three Aran Islands, which can be accessed by ferry from Galway or Doolin in County Clare from April through October.
You can also fly from Connemara Regional Airport, which is located in the town of Inverin, about 19 miles west of Galway City.
Passengers can get flights year-round, courtesy of Aer Arann, to all three islands.
A return flight will cost you €63, with an additional €10 for the bus fare from Galway.
The Aran Islands
Stone walls along with ancient ruins and forts are what makes this trio of islands special.
They include Inís Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the islands; Inis Meain (Inishman); and Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of them.
With a population of about 840 people, Inishmore is the most visited of the Aran Islands. Like the others, the Irish language is commonly spoken here, although natives speak English, too.
There is a wealth of pre-Christian and Christian sites on the island, the most famous being Dun Aonghasa, a prehistoric hill fort that dates from 1,100 B.C.
Some of the other must-see sites include St. Benan’s Church, the smallest church in Ireland that dates from the 7th century, as well as the Seven Churches, a former place of pilgrimage.
There is a lot more to see and enjoy in Inishmore, including great food and music in Kilronan, the island’s main village.
The best way to get around is by bicycle, although many visitors enjoy walking around the island.
Pony trap tours and bus tours are also available, such as the one provided by Inísmor Tours.
Don’t leave the island without seeing the Olympic-sized rock pool known as The Worm Hole or The Serpent’s Lair.
Watch the video below to see competitors diving into the pool at the 2017 Red Bull Diving competition.
If you’re looking for authentic Aran sweaters or other hand-crafted souvenirs from the island, stop at the Kilmurvey Craft Village.
With a population of only 200 people, this middle island seems a lot more remote than its larger neighbor.
There are two large forts to see here.
They include the prehistoric Conor’s Fort, which is the most striking of the circular stone forts that you’ll find on the Aran Islands, and Ferboy’s Fort, which dates from between the 1st and 7th centuries.
Other places of interest include Dermot and Gráinne’s grave from the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age (4,000 to 1,400 BC), which is named after the lovers, Diarmuid and Gráinne, in Irish mythology.
The Irish playwright James Millington Synge once lived on the island and his cottage is now a tourist attraction.
Synge’s Chair, a gathering of stones in the form of a chair and located on the western edge of the island, is another reminder of the famous writer.
If you are thinking of visiting Inishmaan, you should book accommodation beforehand.
The smallest of the Aran islands, this is also a delightful destination if you’re looking for some tranquility.
You can’t miss the island’s village if you take the ferry from the mainland. It is located close to the pristine sandy beach with a castle and a fort behind it.
Churches and Celtic sites to see on Inisheer include St. Caomhan’s Church, which is named after the island’s patron saint, Caomhan, often anglicized as Kevin; O’Brien’s Castle, St. Gobnait’s Church, the Church of the Seven Daughters, and the Plassey Wreck, the remains of a cargo vessel that was wrecked off the island in 1960.
A group of islanders rescued the crew, but during a second storm, it was washed ashore. It is featured in the opening credits of Father Ted, a popular comedy series made in the late 1990s.
Walking or cycling is encouraged on Inisheer.
Many people wonder if they can hop from island to island.
Absolutely! In fact, the islanders themselves encourage tourists to visit all of the islands since each of them has its own unique character.
A regular ferry service is available to make island hopping easy. When you get to Inishmore, you can enquire about connecting ferries.
Other Islands to Explore
Arranmore – this is the largest inhabited island of County Donegal, with about 469 people living there.
It made headlines a couple of years ago when some of the island's residents wrote an open letter to Americans and Australians, inviting them to live there.
A ferry service is available from Burtonport to Arranmore.
Bere Island – this is one of the West Cork islands that is located off the Beara Peninsula.
It has a population of about 220 people. Unlike the other islands on the west coast of Ireland, English is the primary language on Bere Island.
Cape Clear Island – located off the coast of Co. Cork, the Irish language is also practiced here daily.
The most popular event on the island is the annual Cape Clear Storytelling Festival. You can get a ferry from either Schull or Baltimore.
Clare Island – this island is off the coast of Co. Mayo and is located in Clew Bay.
It was the home of the 16th-century pirate queen Grace O'Malley, otherwise known as Granuaile.
About 145 people currently live on the island, which is popular with tourists.
The lighthouse is of particular interest, as well as the Clare Island Abbey. You can get a ferry to the island from Roonagh Pier near Louisburgh.
Coney Island – not to be confused with the popular Coney Island in New York, this County Sligo island can be accessed on foot or by car when the tide is out, or by boat at Rosses Point.
The island has only one family permanently residing there, but the population rises during the summer months.
Dursey Island – this island lies off the coast of County Cork.
Only a few semi-permanent residents live there, mostly during the summer months.
It is a popular tourist destination.
It can only be accessed by a cable car, the only one in Ireland. There are no shops, pubs or restaurants on Dursey Island, so if you travel, bring food and water with you.
Garnish Island – if you love gardens, you must visit Garnish Island, which is situated in Glengariff Harbor.
The island's Italian Gardens contain an array of luscious plants, many of them thriving at various times of the year thanks to the mild effects of the Gulf Stream in this part of Ireland.
Heir Island – another one of the islands near West Cork is Heir Island, which is known for its gourmet food.
Artists are also attracted to this idyllic place.
A ferry service is available from Cunnamore Pier. The journey takes a few minutes.
Inishbofin Island, Co. Galway – this small island lies about 5 miles (8 km) off the coast of Connemara and is a popular tourist destination.
Much of the island is a Special Area of Conservation, given its attraction for crakes and seals.
There are no trees on the island since all of them were cut down and used as fuel over the years. You'll see the ruins of an old monastery there, founded by Saint Colman.
Inishbofin Island, Co. Donegal – this tiny island off the coast of Donegal has few inhabitants.
A great place for walking and bird watching. You can catch a boat from Magheraroarty.
Inishmurray Island – this island, also in County Sligo, contains an ancient monastic settlement established in the 6th century by St. Molaise, complete with churches and beehive cells, as well as an ancient stone fort.
Access to the island has been hampered in recent years due to concerns about getting on and off the island safely by boat.
Long Island – located a few minutes by boat from the West Cork shore, this is a great place to get away from it all.
Sherkin Island – this is the ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan and is also located off the coast of County Cork. Today, there are only 100 people living on the island. You can get to it by ferry from Baltimore.
Skellig Michael – many people associate this popular island off the southwest coast of Ireland with the Star Wars series of films, because the last one, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was filmed there.
But it is much more important for being the site of an ancient monastic site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rathlin Island – located off the coast of Country Antrim in Northern Ireland, this is a wild, rugged island that contains an Iron Age fort, a number of standing stones, a castle, a tower house, a seal colony, and more.
Tory Island – located off the coast of County Donegal, this is Ireland’s most remote island with a population of about 130 people.
Interesting sites include a round tower that once protected monks from Viking raids, the ruins of a sixth-century monastery, and a Tau Cross that suggests a connection to Egypt’s Coptic Christians.
You can get to Tory Island from Magheroarty Pier on the “Queen of Aran” passenger boat, owned by the Arranmore Ferry. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
Download the Tory Ferry app to check on the ferry schedule.
Whiddy Island – another one of the West Cork islands, this one is located in Bantry Bay.
You'll find a holy well, church, and cemetery dating from the 6th century here, as well as three magnificent forts.
Lots to do in this beautiful place, including an exploration of the Bantry Bay Blueway. You can get to the island from the Bantry pier.
Islands Connected to the Mainland
Achill Island – this island, which is part of County Mayo, is the largest of Ireland's islands.
It has become a popular tourist destination because of its pristine beaches and overall beauty and more recently because of its inclusion in the Oscar-nominated movie “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
A castle/tower house that once belonged to the powerful O'Malley clan (Grace O'Malley's family) is still standing on the island.
Inch Island – this island is connected to Donegal by a causeway road.
It is a sanctuary for wildlife, as are so many of Ireland's offshore islands. You'll see the ruins of a castle that belonged to the O'Doherty clan of Inishowen when you visit.
Valentia Island – off the coast of Co. Kerry, this is Ireland's most westerly point.
It is situated off the Iveragh Peninsula and can be accessed by driving across the Maurice O'Neill Memorial Bridge.
The permanent population of the island is over 650 people.
The island is known as the first telecommunications link between Europe and North America.
Be sure to see the Tetrapod Trackway, imprints on the island's rocks that show the presence of four-legged amphibians there around 350 million years ago.