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Rossaveal in Co. Galway, where passengers can get the Arranmore Ferry to the Aran Islands. Photo: Christian McLeod Photography for Failte Ireland.

New Aran Islands Ferry Now in Operation

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A new Aran Islands ferry, the largest domestic passenger ferry to operate in Ireland, is transporting passengers from Rossaveal in Co. Galway to the Aran Islands.

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The 40-meter (131-foot) vessel named “Saoirse na Farraige,” meaning “Freedom of the Sea” has the capacity to hold 400 people.

It arrived in Galway Harbor in October 2020 from Hong Kong, where it was constructed.

It began service to the Aran Islands in April 2021. taking passengers to Inishmore in around 45 minutes and to Inishmaan and Inisheer in 55 minutes.

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An aerial view of Inishmore, the largest island of the Aran Islands. Photo: Chris Hill, Tourism Ireland.

This is the sixth ship under the ownership of Aran Island Ferries, whose first passengers were taken to the Aran Islands on a Galway Hooker, a traditional fishing boat.

The ferry company's original journeys were long, with departures at 4 a.m., carrying turf and passengers, and taking up to 12 hours to get to Inishmore.



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The History of the Aran Islands

While little is known about the earliest inhabitants of the Aran Islands, there is certainly evidence of Celtic and Christian heritage on all three of them, given the number of ruins and sacred sites that you will find there.

The rocky terrain in some parts of the Aran Islands. Photo: Three Lions for Photo Images.

Its barren landscape is attributed to a bed of Carboniferous limestone that does not contain naturally occurring topsoil. In fact, that blue limestone, formed about 370 million years ago, is underneath much of Ireland’s soil.

Historically, it has been difficult to harvest anything on the Aran Islands, which is why the earliest settlers used seaweed and sand to enhance growth.

The familiar stone walls of Inishmaan on the Aran Islands. Photo: James Stringer, Flickr.

The early dwellers also built drystone walls to protect the soil. It is why you’ll see so many stone walls here and in other parts of Ireland, created without mortar and by piling stones on top of one another.

What to See on the Islands 

Inishmore

There are seven prehistoric stone forts alone on Inishmore, Dun Aonghasa being one of them. It is considered one of the best examples of an ancient fort in Europe. It dates to approximately 1100 B.C.

The fort consists of three terraced walls surrounding an inner enclosure and a platform that extends out to the edge of a 300-foot (91-meter) cliff.

Dun Aonghasa on the Aran Islands. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

On a clear day, the views from the top are spectacular.

The remainder of the island is replete with castles, ringforts, and monasteries.

The most notable include the Seven Churches, which was once the biggest monastic foundation and center of pilgrimage in the West of Ireland; Teampall Chiaráin, which was founded by St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise; and the 5th century St. Brecan’s Church, among other important sites on the island.

Inishmaan

There are two major forts on Inishmaan, including Ferboy’s Fort and Conor’s Fort.

Ferboy’s Fort, dating from between the first and ninth centuries, is unusual in that it is a square fort unlike most of the others that are round in shape.

Conor’s Fort is the largest stone fort on all of the Aran Islands.

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The Synge Cottage in Inishmaan, one of the Aran Islands. Photo: James Stringer.

Inishmaan is where the Irish writer James Millington Synge spent long periods of time between 1898 and 1902 drawing inspiration from the island’s culture.

One of his notable works, “The Playboy of the Western World,” is centered around a character who sought refuge from the authorities in Inishmaan, only to later escape to America by boat.

“Cathaoir Synge” (translates to Synge’s chair) is a group of stones in the shape of a chair that can be found on the island in honor of the playwright.
There is also a small museum called Teach Synge (The House of Synge), where you will find mementos to his life and work. It is housed in the old cottage where he lived.

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Inisheer

O’Brien’s Castle dominates the landscape on the island of Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.

Not much is known about the castle other than the fact that it belonged to the O’Brien clan, who dominated the area.

Parts of the second and third stories still survive, as well as some of its moss-covered interior rooms.

You can even climb to the top, where you’ll get a panoramic view of Inisheer and the surrounding islands.

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A lonely cottage on the island of Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Photo: Alasabyss for Getty Images.

Other notable attractions on Inisheer include St. Cavan’s Church (“Tiemphall Chaomha”), also known as St. Kevin’s Church, which was built in the 10th century. It has the peculiar appearance of being sunken into the ground due to drifting sands. The church includes an old stone carving of Christ.

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The shipwreck, shown above, is known as The Plassey off the coast of Inisheer. Photo: tiny-at-al, Getty Images.

The Plassey is not an ancient site by any stretch. Rather, it is the wreck of a freighter thrown ashore in 1960. It makes for great photographs and adds an interesting touch to the island’s tourist attractions.

The wreck is featured in the opening credits of the popular “Father Ted” series.

Read more about the Island of Inisheer

The timetable for trips by ferry to the Aran Islands is available here.

Tickets on Aran Island Ferries are as follows: return fares for adults, €30, students and seniors €25, and children €15. Passengers can get a 20 percent discount through Oct. 22 using the promo code #makeabreakforgalway.

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