The Aran Islands: Inishmore
I’ve been slowly but surely describing a couple of possible itineraries for your visit to Ireland, the southern and northern loops. So far, I’ve described things to experience, places to stay, and restaurants for day 1 and 2 in Galway. Where day 1 was your arrival day in Ireland and travel to Galway, and day 2 was a tour of Galway City. For this blog I will branch out to a part of Galway County that is IMHO the most beautiful part of Ireland, the Aran Islands, and in particular the island of Inishmore (Inis Mór in Gaelic), the largest of the three islands.
I’ll describe places to see, stay, and eat; just as I did for Galway, but this should be one blog since the island is rather small (population of 840 and about 12 square miles). For Inishmore, I need to start with a description of how to get there, since it is not that obvious.
Getting To Inishmore
The primary way to get to Inishmore is by ferry. There are two ferry lines that service Inishmore:
I have a lot more experience with the Aran Island Ferries so I will concentrate on that path or route. I’ll defer the Doolin Ferry to Inishmore to a later blog on Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. (And after I have done the transit later this visitor season.)
You have three transport choices for Inishmore via the Rossaveel Ferry Terminal:
Ferry Bus Shuttle to Rossaveel Ferry Terminal - Ferry to Inishmore
Private Car to Rossaveel Ferry Terminal - Ferry to Inishmore
Bus tour bus from Galway (or others) to the Rossaveel Ferry Terminal - Ferry to Inishmore (this may also include a tour of the island.)
The ferry and bus tickets are available on-line or in storefront offices in Galway or at the Ferry Terminal. The Ferry is currently €25 and a bus transfer runs €7. These are return tickets (round-trip). If you buy on-line, you will receive a 10% discount and you can collect your tickets at the Galway offices on either the previous day or the day of your departure. If you elect to drive to the Ferry terminal, you can collect or buy your ticket at the ferry terminal ticket office.
The Ferry Office is to the right behind the van
The bus/shuttle to the ferry leaves about 1.5 hours before the sailing time. The stop is just off Eyre Square on Queen Street. To find the stop you must exit Eyre Square at the AIB bank corner and follow Queen street as it turns the corner near the Victoria Hotel. The stop will be 20 yards from the turn. Yes, you are correct to note …. there is no sign. The bus ride is about 1 hour and will get you there in plenty of time for the ferry.
Exit this corner of Eyre Square (AIB Corner)
This pull out is where you catch the bus
I usually do not recommend driving unless there are more than three passengers and/or you already have a rental car and/or you are staying at a B&B or hotel that is not convenient to Eyre Square. When you arrive in Rossaveal (Ros à Mhil in Irish) there is plenty of parking before and after the terminal. The cost is €5 per day. If you stay overnight as I recommend, the charge will be €10. The drive will take about an hour and should not be attempted without a navigation system (unless you are living locally and have previously made the trip 😉).
If you are not sure which of the ferries transit to Inishmore (Inis Mór), then just ask. The ticket takers/checkers are very friendly. Your ticket will consist of a white and yellow copy of your ticket. The white is for the trip to Inishmore and the yellow is for the return.
Most of the ride to Inishmore is in protected waters but the last few minutes are not, so if you don't have a good "sea stomach", come prepared. There are two ferry sizes for Aran Islands Ferries, but both are large enough that I've never seen anyone experiencing any discomfort on the ride.
The Smaller Ferry
The Larger Ferry
I recommend the early morning ferry to Inishmore (10:30 am), staying the night, and return on the mid-day(noon) or evening ferry(about 17:00) the next day. I have booked the return evening ferry, decided to come home early, and taken the noon ferry “space available”. There has always been space. The winter schedule is slightly different but my general recommendation still applies.
You may want to return to your original B&B or hotel in Galway City for the night after your visit to Inishmore so that you can pack a subset of your luggage for the island, and leave the rest of your baggage for your return.
What To See and Do
To see the sights on Inishmore, come prepared for at least “the odd shower”. If it doesn’t rain, the rest of the visitors can thank you for coming prepared and preventing the rain. If it does rain, you're prepared. You can’t let rain stop you during your visit to Ireland.
Inishmore is all about the scenery. You can take a guided tour via a van or a horse drawn carriage for €15-25 per head. Bicycle rentals are also available for about €8 a day. I have not found a need for a reservation. Just find a cart/wagon or van and negotiate with the driver. Walk up to the bike rental stalls and rent a bike. The tour guide will not collect his fees up front. It is a small island and your word is good enough for them. In general, they only work in cash, so it is good to hit the ATM machine before arriving on the island. but the island does have ATM machines.
One of the Pony and Traps
Another, but Motorized Vans are Available
Here is a map of the island. For me the primary sights to see are Dun Aonghasa and the Black Fort. I’ve enjoyed the beehive hut, probably from an early monk (or monks), and I will see the Worm Hole on my next visit. They are all an easy cycling distance. Walking can be a little more challenging, but doable for the farthest destinations. I would recommend taking a guided tour to see Dun Aonghasa and several of the other sights. If you are doing an “out and back” (not staying the night) or leaving on the 1st ferry in the morning, I would do the tour immediately, even before eating. If you are staying the night, I would find your B&B, drop your stuff, have lunch, and walk to the Black Fort or walk/ride to the Worm Hole. Then take the guided tour before the first ferry arrives the next morning (about 11:15 am). You will then have Dun Aonghasa to yourself.
Dún Aonghasa (also spelled Dun Aengus) is a significant pre-historic sight and IMHO the second best view in Ireland. The fort or communal dwelling (they’re not quite sure which) was probably built around 2000 BC (yes, before Christ). This is an OPW location and charges a €4 entry fee (unless you have an OPW Heritage Card … for a later blog). There is about a 1/2 mile hike up hill on a path to the top. The path has 20 yards of fairly steep climbing (think irregular stairs), but hand holds are available. The rest is a slight incline.
The Walking Path to Dun Aonghasa
A View from Dun Aonghasa
The Black Fort (Dún Dúchathair) is only accessible by walking, about 2 hours round trip from the pier. The tour guide might be willing to drop you close to the end of the road for a small fee (or no fee). This will cut the walk by 30-40%. The path is mostly a gradual up-hill. IMHO this is the best view in Ireland and well worth the walk. This is another historically significant sight, but has not yet been developed. There is a chance that the only people at the fort will be your party and a few sheep or cows … and a great view.
View on the Way to The Black Fort
Approaching The Black Fort
Inside The Black Fort
The Aran Sweater Market is a must for the shoppers in your group. This market has the largest selection of wool products that I've seen. For the non-shoppers, a pub called The Bar is less than 20 yards away.
Aran Sweater Market
There are plenty of places to stay on Inishmore. I am usually very laid-back and willing to go without pre-arranged accommodations, but a small island doesn’t seem to be the place to do this, so I’ve always had pre-arranged accommodations. There are plenty of accommodations to be found on booking.com. Here are a few that we have tried:
Hotel at the end of the pier. A great view onto the small port. The restaurant is good and convenient. A great place to have an Irish Coffee while waiting for the ferry. Apartments with multiple bedrooms are available for groups of four-to-six, or families.
Within 20 yards of the sweater market; very convenient to the pier (about 1/4 mile walk). Breakfast is good and the rooms are comfortable.
A little bit further from town, also and excellent view. Similar distance to Joe Watty’s and Aran Islands hotel for dinner or drinks. Most tour guides will drive you to this B&B and give you a few minutes to check-in and drop your luggage.
I have not stayed at this hotel, but I have eaten dinner and enjoyed their extensive whiskey selection.
If these are full, you may want to ask the proprietor if they know of anyone with open rooms for your date. They will be happy to recommend other B&B’s on the island.
Eating and Drinking
is a great place for a dinner of pub food and a few pints. There is usually music in the evening on the weekends. Occasionally there is a Irish music review/variety show, just ask.
Food is good and the whiskey selection is great. Again, usually music in the evening on weekends.