Things to do on the Aran Islands
Things to do on the Aran Islands
Planning on visiting the Aran Islands?… Here you can find all the details you need to plan your trip. The Aran Islands are easily accessable via Ferry from Rossaveal in Connemara Co Galway, and Doolin Ferry which is very close to the Cliffs of Moher. You can also take an 8 minute flight from Connemara. If you are looking for bike rental click here.
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The Aran Islands have grown to attract people more and more to have as their wedding venue. In the past, people came to the Islands for their honeymoons. I have met many people who have now been here 20-40 years who came for their honeymoons but now there is an increasing number coming out for their wedding ceremony. The people on Inis Mor have in recent times promoted weddings on the Aran Islands and offers itself as venue with special packages for weddings such as the Hotels.
Myself, Dara Molloy, offer Celtic weddings to people so they can be outdoor ceremonies with a Celtic flavor drawing on the Celtic traditional weddings like hand fasting, or a blessing at the holy well within your ceremony. Weddings are very attractive on the Islands and the numbers of people getting married is growing every year. Additionally you have vowel renewals, people who come to renew their vowels at a sacred place on the Island which is a very nice thing to do as they are on holidays. People are also coming to have their babies christened or a naming ceremony for their children. All types of ceremonies take place on the Aran Islands. There are also regular groups who come to the island for Hen Parties of Stag parties. This whole area of life is well catered for on the Aran Islands
Being that the Island is on the edge of Galway bay, the swells generated make for good surf in certain parts of the Islands. In these times surfers congregate from all parts of the country to take advantage of the big waves. The numbers seem to increase each year with increasing popularity of the sport in Ireland.
The Aran Islands landscape makes an ideal setting for walkers of all levels. It is relatively flat although there are some relatively modest higher points so one can can get a good vantage of the entire Island. It is a good idea to wear strong shoes if you are venturing towards the cliff face areas as the terrain is rocky or gravel. There are few signposted parts of the island where one needs to walk such as the Blackfort which is about 30 minutes walk from Kilronan Village and is more or less a flat walk.
St Benans church is a little further out past Kileney village and is about ten minutes walk up a small hill. Many people walk from the Black Fort along the cliffs to the bottom point of the Island which takes about an hour, and then around 40 minutes walk back to Kilronan Village. Other walks include venturing up to the lighthouse which is the highest point of the Island. Here you can get a very good view of the Islands. Many people then walk towards the centre of the island and back down to Kilronan. This particular walk is not signposted and is a matter of following the roads.
Another suggested walk is to walk down towards the wormhole when at Dun Aonghasa. This is a walk along the cliff-edge and presents dramatic views. The Worm Hole has recently become more popular since it has become a venue for the Red Bull Cliff diving competition. If one were to do a walked loop of the entire island it would probably take an entire day (roughly 16km ) as the island is 8km long.
Walking on the Aran Islands is one of the most popular activities. With miles and miles of small thin roads criss crossing each other most people just venture out and explore. However for those who wish to cover the islands distinct features, there are a few suggestions that will cover almost everything. The island is not well signposted so make sure you print this page. Its also important to mention to wear strong shoes as the surface is not entirely flat.
The South of the Island Walk: Time 3 -5 hrs
Features: The Black Fort, The Puffing Holes, View of Synge's Chair, Isolated beaches, St Benins Church, close up action of large waves crashing against the rocks, cliff face walking.
This walk starts at the main village of Kilronan.The first port of call is the Black Fort which will take around twenty minutes to get to. If you are waiting a few hours for the boat then this would be an excellent prelude to a trip. From the village, follow the road south. Then turn right at the beach adjacent to the fishing port. You now will be walking towards the other side of the island which is about 800 metres wide. Once over the slightest rise there are wide degrees of open fields covered in rock and the view is most unique and powerful.
The sight of the fort is in view the whole way so its just a matter of walking towards it. People have been known to spend a whole day relaxing here, many have gone for an afternoon sleep and certainly everybody leaves it having it in the "wow factor" category.
Walking towards the Puffing holes: Walking towards the puffing holes at the complete bottom of the island is a walk of majestic isolation and complete intrigue as the landscape of Inis Mor completely unravels itself. This walk is an adventurous one as there is no path. Its just a matter of walking south along the cliffs and paddocks where you will see giant boulders and idiosyncratic stone fences. The closer you get to the bottom of the island around 30-45 minutes, the closer you will get to the waves from the Atlantic as they crash into the rocks. This has a strong ocean roar and is a dramatic sight. Once at the bottom of the island you will come across the Puffing holes. These are holes in the ground at the top of the cliffs and have tunnel like channels that lead down to the water. On days when the seas are rampant, water will rush up and create a spray on the mainland in a similar fashion to the puffing of a whale. If you look further south you see the island of Inis Meain and the cliffs where Synge got his inspiration to write his famous plays.
Walking back to the Village If you follow the natural line of the islands southern tip around , the view of the main village of Kilronan will come into sight once again. This is about 40 mins to an hour to get to walking. but there's a lot to see on the way. Including three isolated beautifully clean beaches.
Teaghlach Éinne( St. Enda’s Household) This is in reference to the graveyard which has a peculiar church that has sunken into the ground. The site of this church is most dramatic.
As you are walking back to after the graveyard you find will be in full view of a small hill that has a church standing at the top of it. This is the smallest church in Ireland and is set in beautifully scenic spot. There is a track leading up to this church and it take around twenty minutes to walk up to. It also has a romantic element to it with its isolation standing over the southern part of the island.
The Ring of Aran: Time 3-6 hrs.
The Worm Hole, Dun Aonghasa, The light House, The seal colony, Kilmurvey Beach, The Craft Village, Panoramic Views, Cliff face walking, The Standing Stones.
This is perhaps one the best walks ever designed by nature. Starting at Kilronan Village you will walk to the bar of Joe Watties. This is likely where you will end up for a traditional music session at the end of the walk. Turn right down the road., This is actually known as the forest of Aran as its the only area that has a lot of trees in one area. As you are walking down you will see the 12 pins of Connemara in the distance across Galway bay. The first stop is a monestary of the Tempahll Mainistir. This is about 30 mins after the start of the walk.
At this point the sight of Dun Aonghasa comes into view. This is where the walk will take you to. As you are walking, the lower ridge area will come next to the seal colony which is just past the island's only lake which has swans in it. The sight of Kilmurvery beach will come into view which is another 10 mins.
Once at the Kilmurvery beach, just follow the sign posts to Kilmurvery craft village and Dun Aonghasa. Once spending around an hour in this incredible place, you maybe ready to go off the beaten track completely. On the way down, go over one of the stone fences and walk down along the cliff face. This is a particularly dramatic scene. You will see the view of Dun Aonghasa all the way and its cliff face front on.
The waves also come up to the top of these cliffs on a blustery day and the cliff is 300 ft high so its quite dramatic. On a really rough day the waves go to the top of Dun Aonghasa as well.
If you keep walking down below on the cliffs you can see the worm hole. This is a very peculiar sight and completely made by nature. If wish to walk down to the bottom follow the the walk down to the lower ridge.
From here its walk up to the lighthouse which is at the highest point of the island and has dramatic panoramic views of the Islands and Galway Bay. It is in sight the whole way and its a matter of weaving your way through the thin roads up until you reach the lighthouse. Once you have visited the lighthouse you walk down to the road and then follow it back to the village.
Geneology is the search for family history records for past generations. Genealogy has long had an important position in Irish society. In recent times it has been made more popular with the Man of Aran Film and the growth in the popularity of the Aran Sweater which has a unique pattern or stitch on it which identifies a family name.
The Aran Islands has long held a fascination with Archeologists who are attracted to the artifacts and stone structures on the Islands. Dun Aonghasa is of particular interest as its inherant nature is still somewhat of a mystery to academics. There are occasionally archeology digs on the Islands which reveal more depths of the Islands intriguing history.
Because of the Aran Islands interesting history and rich cultural traditions, many books have been written about the Aran Islands as well as Films/documentaries been made. Furthermore, the locals on the islands have a rich understanding of the history and happy to share historic tales.
Fishing on The Aran Islands has always been a key part of the daily way of life. Many Islanders today work on fishing boats which go out into the Atlantic for lengthy periods of time to trawl for fish. When arriving in Kilronan Pier there are always fishing boats docked which present a welcoming sight.
On the Aran Islands you are likely to also see the Galway Hooker which is a distinctive boat to the Galway region and characterized by its curved hull and large red sails. It is a very beautiful sight to view a Galway Hooker and the various Galway Hooker festivals attract international attention.
The Aran also plays host to many casual yachtsman, enjoying Galway Bay especially over the summer months where Kilronan harbour sometimes can resemble the Mediteraiean resorts with its turquoise clear water. It is a very popular stopover indeed!!!.
Casual fishing is also popular on Inis Mor. The pristine beaches, rockside coastal areas are perfect for anglers and are as good as anywhere on the West of Ireland. Deep sea angling is very popular with many local fisherman from the Galway region whom base themselves on the Aran Islands for fishing trips to take advantage of 25 different species of fish including the Blue Shark.
The Aran Islands has established itself as a bit of a boutique festival destination especially with the growing popularity of the Father Ted festival which amounts to a lot of fun and laughter. The Aran Islands bars are electric with fanfare, fun and laughter over this weekend. There are also a growing amount of groups coming to the islands attracted by the warm sea air of summer, beaches and just general place to have fun. The Aran Islands is great to get away from it all!!.
The Aran Islands has long been a destination for Rock Climbers and Cliff Divers due to its dramatic cliff faces. In recent times Cliff Diving has become hugely popular as Inis Mor Island has become a venue for the Red Bull Cliff Diving series. Located at the Serpaints Lair or 'worm hole' which is a naturally occuring square which looks like it is cut out of the rock is where the divers dive into from the cliff. It is a very dramatic sight.
Inis Mor Island has had an energy committee for many years and residents are very interested in making the island a more sustainable place to live in and getting rid of oil, gas and coal as well reducing energy consumption. One of the reasons historically for this interest is that islanders pay about 20% extra for oil and gas and coal than people do on the mainland of Ireland because of the extra cost of carriage over sea . Islanders don’t get the bargains that you can sometimes find on the mainland. As there is no competition you have to buy it whatever price it is at so it is 20% higher than on the mainland.
Energy is very expensive and yet when you see around there strong wind blowing, lots of sunshine, a tremendous energy from the power of the sea. We wonder why we cant harness this energy. So at this point of time we now have our community owned energy co-operative representing all three islands and everybody on the three islands to promote this whole idea. We have become very ambitious because not alone do we want to replace oil, coal, and gas with our own renewable energy generated on the island, we want to own the sources of that energy generation, own our own wind turbines, our solar pv panels. We wish to be able to sell this not only to ourselves but to outside sources.
The Aran Islands wants to make itself an example of a community can get its act together in terms of renewable energy. Not just to be self sufficient but also to create an industry and employment. If the Aran Islands can generate our own electricity, get it cheaply and offer it cheaply, then it may attract industries to the Island and generate jobs. This is already being done with the sea salt distillery and an alcohol distillery which use a lot of energy. All the energy they will use will be renewable energy generated on the Aran Islands which will be sold to them. It will also create jobs for people on the islands. Through all of this the hope is that the local homes will become more comfortable and energy become more affordable. Also to create a better employment system for island community which will encourage people to stay here and rear their children and families and to attract tourists to see what we are doing. There are lots of spinoffs from these efforts.
One of the main things we are doing at the moment is that we are insulating peoples homes. In 2014 a quarter of the homes will be completed , bringing them up to a much higher level of insulation than what they would had prior to now. This includes attic, wall insulation, windows and doors, new heating systems, heat pumps instead of oil stoves, solar panels (both water and pv). This gradually removes the dependance on carbon based fuels.
If you are interested, get involved. Get in touch with us.
Considering that the Aran Islands are a native Gaeltacht (Irish Speaking) area, many people choose to attend language courses on the Aran Islands to brush up or learn the Irish language. This is a key feature of the culture of the Aran Islands and their daily life.
Cycling on the Aran Islands has been the main method for tourists to get around the islands, and certainly the 30 minute bike ride from the Pier on Inis Mor Island to Dun Aonghasa is established as the most popular cycling route in Ireland. The islands are perfectly suited to cycling with gentle roads and relatively flat circuits. Their small size makes cycling accessible to people of all fitness levels. It is also very easy to explore the island and find complete isolation, as well as being able to visit the historical sites with only the chirping of wild birds to keep you company. Checkout www.aranbikehire.com .
The islands attract many artists and craftspeople of all types. Inis Mor regularly has groups who come who are photographers. I deal with a number of them and I give them some input about the island , about its history and it helps them to focus on a theme for their photographic exploits.
There are regular creative writing groups that attend workshops every year . The island inspires, it is full of stories . Every house, location , mark on the landscape has a story attached to it and there is people here who could tell you those stories and that can enrich your own imagination and get you writing creatively . There is so much room for artists because the light on the island is wonderful. Apart from attracting artists there are a lot of resident artists on the islands. There are also few poets resident on the Island.
People also come to the islands to learn crafts especially the crafts that have practiced on the islands over the centuries. Basket-making is very popular on the Aran islands and there are well established teachers of it running courses. Knitting and its associated crafts are also extremely popular including weaving and spinning wool. Lots of different people on the island practice different crafts and are willing to teach them to others so there is a great opportunity.
Music is also popular and a whole artistic pursuit on the Aran Islands. There is music in bars at night and a lot of music in the children and the adults of the island particularly if you are interested in traditional music, traditional singing, dancing, folk dancing, playing instruments such as the fiddle or violin, accordion, flute. These are the sorts of instruments you will find here and are practiced here. People are attracted here for all sorts of reasons to do with the arts.
In line with the Aran Islands inherant spiritual nature is the practice of Yoga and Meditation. The islands are an ideal place to provide a venue for these activities. There are many arranged meditation and Yoga retreats as well on the island and it is not uncommon in the summer months to see people outside partaking in their chosen spiritual activity.
The Aran Islands is an amazing place for wildlife.
The Cooku can be heard from the end of April onwards through to May and June. You not only have a good chance of seeing the cooku but hearing them together in unison. You will also witness Swallows at the start of summer, the House-Martins, Curlus, plenty of Pheasants, along with different types of Seabirds along the cliff edges, including Gannets. There are also Lapwings which are also called Plubbers, including golden Plubbers which are in an area of the Inis Mor island all of their own. You will also find the smaller Plubbers, ringed Plubbers, Herrons and a Herron league where they all nest in one place on the island. You might occasionally see a Perawinged Falcon whom breed on the cliffs on Inis Meain, and you might see other types of bird of prey as well. It is an amazing place for wildlife in itself.
There are other types of living beings on the island, The butterflies are various here and there are some experts who may be able to help you if you require more information . If you are lucky you might also see a Stote. Otters who live along the coastline are hard to see as they come out at night. You will find pleanty of rabbits (no Hairs or foxes) . You will also come across lizards sunning themselves on the rocks in summer whom are a very ancient species of animal.
We have the most amazing wild flowers because the landscape is similar to the Burren. The beautiful Gentian comes out in April, as well as not only the primroses but the cowslips and even the oxalic , the bloody cranes-ville, birds for trefoil, and beautiful examples of fuchsia growing all over the island. If you are into flowers the Aran Islands is a mecca especially if you come in May. So all in all the wildlife is wonderful especially if you get the fine weather and have a good look around. Bring your binoculars with you or your magnifying glass or camera and make the most of it.
These islands have always had a spiritual association for people who lived in ireland . We know that because even 5000 years ago they were putting dalmonds on the islands. These are places where they bury their people in a sacred ritual. Also the ring forts which are all over the three islands are evidence that these people regard the islands as having some type of spiritual energy to them.The location of the forts , particularly Dun Aonghasa and the black fort are just an amazing energywise.
Sacred Places over the Centuries and their changing purpose –
Today, pre Christian sacred places on the islands are often what you see , pre christian sacred sites. But other pre christian sacred sites have morphed into christian sites, Celtic christian, and in some cases moved on to be roman christian. So you get the sort of continuity in the time-line from 500 years ago through to the present day with the site continuing to be used .
Teample Ciaron and its amazing timeline
An example of this would be Teample Chiaron in Mainisitr which is about a mile outside of Kilronan. Today you see a ruin of a church . If you look around carefully you see a standing stone at one end of the church on the outside. On the other end, going to the field next door on the west side, you see a holy well. If you go on the east side onto the fields you see more standing stones. This whole area is a sacred location and the fact that there is a well and an ancient standing stone suggests it was a sacred location even before Christianity.
The holy wells were initially regarded as an entrance into the whomb of the goddess of the earth and she was land on which you walked. So you are walking on her body and when you came across a well you were coming across an entrance into her womb. Thus it was a very sacred place and one which symbolized fertility. That is where the rounds of a well as a tradition began because people started doing the rounds of these sacred places in imitation of the sun going around the earth. There is a whole mythology behind these holy wells. This is where the history of the sacred site of Teamplall Ciaron would have begun.
Furthermore, prior to Christianity, the Celtic Monks arrived and decided to build monastery Ciaron. This Monastery was built in the 6th century and was to be a Celtic Monastery. So this was very Irish in its expression of Christianity. This remained a Celtic monastery until the Norman Invasion of the 12th century so that is 600 years. Then was switched over, whilst continuing to be a monastery but now following more European Roman Catholic rules of Christianity. And it continued then on to the Chinese reformation in about the 16th century. It then went on to ruin and everything closed down. Even today people still go and visit it, prey at it, go to the holy wells. So there is a continuity to it the whole time that it started 5000 years ago and continues to this day.
A unique concentration of Sacred Places
The Aran Islands doesn’t just have one place like teampall ciaron to visit which has this amazing timeline, but you have over 50 of these places. You will never get to see them all because some of them are difficult to find but there are quite a number which are clearly visible on the landscape such as teampla ciaron. These include the 7 churches which are monastic sites, the remains of the monastery of St Enda itself, the Monastery of Kilmurvey , St Colmans church.
All the way across Inis Mor Island, about every 200 metres you will find the remains of some monastic presence, either a hermit cell, a beehive hut, a stone cross carved on it, a burial place, a holy well , or a church . It is a wonderful place to visit if you are interested in sacred sites, pilgrimage and everything along with it. It is the right place to come learn about celtic spirituality especially if you have a guide with you who can bring you to these locations and talk about the spirituality that was lived in those places.
You don’t have to be on pilgrimage and you don’t have to be focused on Christianity or Celtic Spirituality because the islands have a spiritual energy about them no matter what your spirituality is or where you are coming from in terms of your beliefs.
Inis Mor Island plays host to a zen Buddhist group who visit every summer for a retreat of up to 2 weeks. They live here and they do all their meditation in a building on the island that is dedicated to spiritual purposes, Killeany Lodge. Other various accommodation options are also available. People come to the Aran Islands for their own reasons, some are shamanic in their orientation, others might be interested in walking in nature and finding the sacred places on the island and tuning into it. There have been groups who have come for revision quests. These would be native American in background and they bring people to the islands as a place for them to go on a vision quest so they go out into the wilderness of the islands, and there are plenty of places on the island which are totally isolated where you won't see a sole or anything like an electric cable or car or bike, totally out in the wild and you can get in touch with your inner self.
There are plenty of people living out on the Islands who have been attracted here because of this spiritual energy of the place who approach spirituality from many different angles such as meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices that wouldn’t fall neatly into any one religion or religious tradition. So no matter what your orientation is the island might have something to offer you in terms of a spiritual resource.