On some days I feel this island as a perfect home and resting place; on other days I feel that I am a waif among the people. I can feel more with them than they can feel with me, and while I wander among them, they like me sometimes, and laugh at me sometimes, yet never know what I am doing.’ – J.M. Synge
First, a qualification – unlike Synge, I only spent a couple of hours on Inishmore, so I can in no way be considered an authority, but those few hours were enough for the island to cast its spell on me.
I travelled over on the 10.30am ferry from Rossaveal (€25 return with a 10% discount if booked online) on a lovely spring morning. The crossing took approximately 40 minutes, and on arrival at the pier in Kilronan, the island’s main village, I hired a bicycle from Aran Islands Bike Hire. This is not the only provider on the island, but it is the first one you encounter on arrival. I paid just €10, plus another €10 deposit, and helmets are included in the price. No booking was necessary. (Note – the bike hire providers only take cash. Cards are accepted in most other retail outlets, but often with a minimum spend so cash is advisable. There’s an ATM in the nearby Spar shop.)
Things to see and do
While there’s a lot to see on the island, I don’t think you could fit it all in in the few hours between arrival at approximately 11am and the evening ferry departure at 5pm, so I had decided that my two main priorities were Dún Aonghus (definitely the highlight of any trip to Inishmore) and Poll na bPéist or the Worm Hole, which I’d also read about on the various websites.
On your bike
I’m not a regular cyclist, but you don’t have to be to get around comfortably – there are some climbs, but at worst you can get off and push the bike! I took off on an uphill climb from Kilronan, but soon returned to the flat, taking a right turn signposted “Dún Aonghus via Seal Colony”. It’s approximately 8km to Dún Aonghus from Kilronan, so walking is also an option if you’re not a fan of the pushbike. Other options include hop-on, hop-off minibus tours which would probably allow you to fit more in to a few hours, and horse-and-trap tours. You’ll find both options easily available from the Kilronan pier.
My route took me past some spectacular scenery, including beautiful white sand beaches and the rock formations typical of this part of Ireland. I didn’t stop at the seal colony, but cycling by slowly, I could see several of the little heads bobbing around in the water. There were enough other cyclists and hikers on the route so that I never felt isolated, but neither was it too crowded – I’m sure it gets a lot busier as the season progresses. Various sights along the way are well sign-posted, and with more time, I’d like to have explored more of these, but reaching the fort was my priority.
There’s a beautiful white beach at the base of the climb to Dún Aonghus, and a sign directs you to the visitor centre. Access to the fort is pedestrian only, and a bike park is provided at the visitor centre. I was a little concerned about leaving my bicycle there unlocked, but I needn’t have worried – it was there waiting for me when I returned. Theft is clearly not a problem here!
There are toilets and a café at the visitor centre, and entry to Dún Aonghus is €5 for adults. The fort is about 1km from the visitor centre, and the climb is not difficult. The websites recommend strong footwear, but I wore my runners and got on fine. (Note – I visited during a dry spell, so it might be different in wet weather).
This pre-historic fort perched right on the edge of the island’s highest cliffs is nothing short of spectacular. The stone walls are well preserved, and it’s possible to go right out to the edge of the cliff and admire the views. I sat down and ate my snack in the sun on the cliff edge, before exploring as much as I could of the site. I’d imagine it would be scary enough on a wild and windy winter’s day up there!
Back at the visitor centre, I had soup with brown bread (€4.20), before heading off on my travels again. It was around 1.45pm at this stage, and I would have spent longer at the fort if I wasn’t so determined to get to Poll na bPéist also.
Good things come to those who… walk!
Unfortunately, this is much harder to find!!! I knew from my research that it was off the beaten track, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get to. One option is to walk down the cliffs from Dún Aonghus, but I don’t know how difficult that trek is. At the base of the path up to the fort was a sign for the Worm Hole, so I took that path (possibly more suited for walking/mountain biking than for my suspension-less city bike!), but I saw no more signs, and the path I started on brought me to another road, which I followed for some distance. Eventually (at the top of a very difficult hill!!) I realised that I had gone too far (I had a rough idea from the map of where I should have been) and I could see in the distance back towards Dún Aonghus the cleft in the cliffs which I thought marked the position of my destination. Hot and tired by determined not to miss this, I turned back again. There didn’t seem to be any other cyclists in the area that I could ask, and more by intuition than anything else, I took a turn towards the cliffs between some houses that led me to what seemed like a narrow pathway, accessible only by walking. I abandoned the bike again and continued on this trail, which led to a stile in a stone wall and into some fields.
I had a fair idea at this stage that I was going in the right direction, but had to cross two fields and climb two stone walls before I reached an area of karst where the traces of a pathway seemed to be visible. Crossing the karst and heading over towards the cliffs, I came to a rocky area which reminded me of what I imagine the landscape of the moon to be like, and I could see some people in the distance so I knew I was on the right track. I arrived at what seemed like an amphitheatre carved out of sheer rock, and in the centre of the amphitheatre was my destination – a spectacular natural rectangular pool. Like the Giant’s Causeway, it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t man-made, and easy to see why it was part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships in 2014. It’s an absolutely breath-taking sight, and well worth the effort it took to find it. A word of warning though – I visited on a fine day at low tide. This area can be dangerous in bad weather and at high tide so take care!
The trek to Poll na bPéist from where I left my bike took about 15 minutes, and time was moving on so again I couldn’t spend too much time marvelling at the beauty of the area. I found my way back to the bike and saw some other intrepid travellers nearby who seemed to have followed a slightly (but not much) easier route, but that one wasn’t signposted either. If you’re visiting, try to maybe get directions from a local or familiarise yourself with a map of the island and you’ll find the site eventually. Don’t miss it, whatever you do!
Back to Kilronan
I cycled back to Kilronan by a slightly hillier route than my outward one, but again with spectacular views and a long downhill stretch into the village. I had an hour to spare, so I cycled over past the attractive-looking glamping site at the pretty Frenchman’s beach, before returning my trusty transport to its base. I walked up around the tourist shops in Kilronan, where some young musicians were playing traditional music outside. There are a number of pubs, restaurants and hotels, but I settled for a Magnum in Spar!
Back to the mainland
Then it was back to the ferry and the mainland, but I will certainly return to Inishmore. The other Aran Islands, Inis Méain and Inis Óirr are also on my bucket list, the former also accessible from Rossaveal while the latter is just a 25-minute journey from Doolin in Co. Clare.
An unmissable experience!
Some useful websites: