Having enjoyed my visit to Inis Mór so much last year, my heart was set on getting to see the other Aran Islands, and this year, it was the turn of Inis Óirr, the smallest and most easterly of the three. It’s just a thirty-minute ferry ride from Doolin, and the trip cost me €30 when booked online, including a cruise under the Cliffs of Moher on the return journey. A direct return journey is just €20, and I was also able to bring my bike at no extra cost. The ferry goes from Doolin Pier several times a day, where it’s €5 to park for the day – there’s a coin machine but you can also pay by card or ParkMagic parking app. I travelled on the 11am ferry to the island and came back on the last boat at 4.45pm. NB: It was VERY busy on the outward trip and even though I was queuing at 10.35am, I didn’t get on to the first ferry and had to wait till around 11.20 for a second one to arrive.
Slight exaggeration… okay, okay, major exaggeration, but there was quite a swell and passengers sitting on the port (or left, I think!!) side of the upper deck were warned as we took off that they could be hit with spray from the waves. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the first wave splashed over, and by the time we landed, some people had moved downstairs to drier conditions and those brave souls who remained had covered up well! I was on the dry side, but still got a splash or two. All part of the fun…
A beautiful silvery beach greets you on arrival on Inis Oírr, but to get there, you must walk a gauntlet of cafés, bike rental stands and worst of all, a kiosk selling hand-made fudge. That was difficult to pass… so of course, I didn’t! My first stop was at Café Una, a quaint and charming café with a small but delicious-sounding menu and some mouth-watering home baking (and a toilet!). Unfortunately they didn’t have any hot chocolate that day, so I moved on to the Man of Aran Fudge stall – I’ve never seen such a selection of fudge… I had my hot chocolate there, accompanied by some chocolate orange fudge, and then it was time to get the sight-seeing under way.
The Smallest Island
Inis Oírr is the smallest of the three Aran Islands, and while I brought my bike (and you can easily hire bikes on the island), it’s an ideal size for hiking. A point to note if you’re cycling – I was there in early August, high tourist season, and the narrow roads near the pier/beach area were very busy with horse-drawn and tractor-drawn cartloads of tourists. I would suggest that you follow these rather than travelling against them as the roads are so narrow it can be difficult to pass at times and the drivers tend not to give way!
Seeing the Sights
The landscape on the island is very similar to the Burren, with limestone pavement, karst and similar rock formations to those I’ve seen previously on Inis Mór and on the coast of Clare. The fields are tiny and drystone-walled, similar to those seen on the mainland in north Clare and Galway. My first stop was the Plassey shipwreck, the giant rusting skeleton of a cargo ship wrecked here in 1960 and now standing in sharp relief against her limestone resting place. There’s something truly fascinating about this contrast of rusty metal, grey and white stone and blue sea, and I must have taken a hundred photos. (Yes, yes, I’m exaggerating again, but not by much!) From the Plassey site, you also have a lovely view of the lighthouse, and you can see across to the Cliffs of Moher. Interesting fact: The Plassey apparently appears in the opening credits for the TV series, Fr. Ted – I say ‘apparently’ as I haven’t seen an episode myself in quite some time so can’t verify this!
It’s a beautiful cycle back to the pier and beach area, where there are a number of restaurants and accommodation options within walking distance, but I plumped for a burger and chips on the beach for my lunch (freshly made pancakes were also available). The sun was out and it was lovely to sit on the silvery sand and enjoy the view. I should mention that the GAA pitch is right near the beach (yes, even this tiny island has a GAA club), and there’s also a campsite and toilet facilities.
After lunch, I headed off in the opposite direction (going right at the pier rather than left), and cycled around the west coast of the island, a flat, barren area with views across to Inis Meáin (my next target!). It’s so open to the elements that I couldn’t help imagining how bleak it must be in winter, and thinking about times gone by when people rowed in currachs between the islands and over to the mainland. There’s seal colony on that side of the island but there weren’t any to be seen that day. I did find the holy well of St. Enda, Tobar Éinne, and there were far fewer tourists the farther away I got from the main village. You’d need a few days to explore all the little lanes and find all the historical ruins, but you can see quite a lot in a few hours.
On my return journey (it’s hilly!), I visited the ruins of Cill Ghobnait, where St. Gobnait apparently lived for a time before she eventually travelled to Baile Bhúirne in Cork. You can see the remains of the church, of her hermitage cell and several flat-topped stone structures, the purpose of which remains unclear.
Then it was time to visit the island’s main historical site, O’Brien’s Castle, which looms on a height up over the beach and village area. This 16th century tower house was built on the site of a much older settlement and has panoramic views over to the mainland. While the youngsters climbing all over the ruins, even the highest parts, definitely brought out the teacher in me (I had to restrain myself!), it was lovely to see a site so very free of restrictions so you could get close enough to touch the stone and imagine what living there might have been like.
With about an hour to spare until the ferry, and a shower coming in (I’d had a lovely dry sunny day until then), it was back to Café Una for a cup of peppermint tea and some chill-out time. I queued early for the ferry but the crowd was much smaller this time so I needn’t have worried!
The Cliffs Cruise
The journey back including the Cliffs of Moher visit takes about an hour, and what with the choppy seas and my delicate stomach, an hour was quite long enough! (I was on top of the cliffs the following day looking down with envy at those on the boats below as the sea was like glass!!) It was absolutely breathtaking, however, to see those majestic cliffs from the sea, and to get up close both to the large sea cave which features in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and to the majestic sea stack, An Branán Mór. I’d highly recommend this trip, but bring your sea-legs…
And that was it – back to Doolin Pier by 6pm, a wonderful end to a really enjoyable trip. While not as spectacular as Inis Mór, Inis Oírr has a charm all of its own and a really beautiful beach.
Next on my list is Inis Meáin!
Some useful websites:
Doolin Ferries: https://www.doolinferries.com/
Doolin2Aran Ferries: https://www.doolin2aranferries.com/
Inis Oírr on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inisheer