Islands in the Northwest
Just off the northwest coast of Donegal, there are plenty of islands where the Irish language thrives. Venture to Tory Island and meet the community of artists whose work is inspired by the wild and rugged landscape, or chat to the islanders of Inishfree who choose to live off the grid. For a peaceful stroll, follow the beachside trail to the island's rocky summit of Árainn Mhór (Arranmore).
For even more coastal views, go island hopping around Gabhla (Gola Island) and Oileán Ruaidh (Island Roy).
Once an early Christian site, the island of Inishmurray a short boat ride from the Sligo coast is now a wildlife sanctuary with a variety of breeding and wintering birds living among the island’s ruins. This island may be small in appearance, but its character looms large to this day. Inishmurray attracts visitors, who come to explore the remains of the homes and structures of a once-thriving community.
Islands in the West
Acaill (Achill Island), the largest of our offshore islands, has welcomed visitors for generations. No need to take a ferry here - you can cycle over on the Great Western Greenway, which runs along the old railway line from Westport, or drive over the bridge from the mainland. Achill has five picturesque Blue Flag beaches and a long history of human settlement with megalithic tombs dating back 5,000 years. Discover the stories of the 15th century fortified tower house, Kildamhnait Castle and the poignant deserted villages at Slievemore and Ailt.
Clare Island is the largest of the 365 islands that dot Clew Bay and is steeped in history from its archaeological remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age to rare medieval wall paintings in the 14th century abbey.
The island has roughly 130 inhabitants and is perfect for hillwalkers who want to enjoy its pristine beaches, rare flora and the dramatic peak of Knockmore. Offshore, the clear waters surrounding the island are known for their exceptional dive sites.
Other standout islands in Mayo include the tranquil Inishturk which sits atop steep hills that drop into the Atlantic, Eagle Island where the British ship Arethusa sank in 1917 and Inis Bigil (Inishbiggle) where small farming and fishing are time-worn traditions.
Within the stunning waters of Galway Bay are the three Árainn (Aran Islands); Inis Mór (Inishmore) - the largest, Inis Óirr (Inisheer) - the smallest, and Inis Meáin (Inishmaan). In addition to the world-famous Aran sweater, the Aran Islands are rich with cultural heritage. Renowned writers Liam Ó'Flaherty and Máirtín O'Díreáin come from these shores, the latter who was described as ‘Ireland’s unacknowledged Poet Laureate’.
The vibrant island of Inishbofin is also off Galway’s coast. There are three different looped walks around this island varying in difficulty, but all have stunning views of the Connemara coastline. See an Iron Age promontory fort, Bronze Age field systems, and monastic settlements or, for a livelier affair, head to the Doonmore Hotel - renowned for its traditional music sessions.
Founded in the early 6th century, Scattery Island is nestled in the mouth of the Shannon estuary, off the coast of Clare. This old monastic settlement bears the ruins of six churches and even has one of the highest round towers in Ireland. Like other islands along the west coast, Scattery Island was also a site of Viking invasions and was largely destroyed in Tudor times. Throughout its long and interesting history, it also served as a place of safe harbour for the Spanish Armada and as an outpost for the English government.
The islands along the rugged coast of West Cork sum up everything about the region that makes it so special. Take a trip to Inishbeg to see the luxurious estate, organic farms and unspoilt shoreline. Birdwatchers flock to Bird Observatory and marvel at birds migrating through the Irish skies from places as far away as Siberia.
Your island hopping days in Cork are easily filled by visiting others such as Whiddy Island, Long Island, Heir Island, Bere Island, Garnish (Garinish) Island, Dursey Island and Sherkin Island. Sherkin Island is a hub for artists where local residents create art, paintings, books and unique craftwork inspired by the island’s tranquil atmosphere.
Two of Kerry’s largest islands have fascinating pasts. An Blascaod Mór (the Blasket Islands), now uninhabited, was once home to many great Irish writers. After many years of hardship and emigration, the last inhabitants left in 1953, and today, you can celebrate the story of the islanders and their unique literary tradition at The Blasket Centre or for the more adventurous you can take a boat trip out to Great Blasket Island. Over the summer months, you can reach the islands by ferry and can stay overnight in one of the local self-catering cottages.
The epic Skellig Islands play an important role in Christian heritage and film history. Its unique, beehive monastery buildings are still intact to this day despite multiple Viking invasions. The lives of the monks who once called this place home remain something of a mystery, but their former settlements offer a glimpse into the old way of life on these iconic outposts on the edge of the world.