Inis Oírr (or Inisheer) is the smallest of the Aran islands and a little gem of a place, it’s easy to get to for that real off-the-mainland feeling and some proper wild Atlantic way energy and beauty.
Fancy getting off the mainland for a day out or a couple of nights but don’t want to spend a lot of money or time doing so, then this little gem of an Island, Inis Oírr (meaning East Island), is an ideal choice.
It is also the closest of the Aran Islands to the mainland and just a short 20/30 minute boat ride from Doolin Pier in Co. Clare, which is up the road from the world-famous Cliffs of Moher. Indeed, you can include a boat trip by the cliffs from Doolin as part of your island adventure.
If you are further north in Galway there is also a ferry from Rossaveal (Ros a’ Mhíl) in Connemara to Inís Oírr, it’s a longer trip, up to an hour. The island is an extension of the Burren karst limestone landscape and this adds to its beauty and wonderment. This limestone was formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago.
Some Oírr island facts
Inis Oírr (Inisheer in English) is a native Irish speaking island and part of the Gaeltacht. It is magical to hear our native tongue spoken by the locals. It adds to the island’s other-worldliness for us mainly English-speaking mainlanders, coupled with the dynamic landscape and sea.
The island is about three kilometres long and wide and has a permanent population of about 160 people. This swells to several times that during the peak summer season.
Like the Burren, the island is home to similar flora and fauna with an array of Mediterranean and Alpine plants.
Despite being only a couple of miles from the coast of County Clare, Inis Oírr is in Co. Galway, that said the island is a bit ‘more Munster’ than the other two larger Aran Islands of Inis Méain and Inis Mór which are more Connemara-like.
The island garnered some TV fame back in the 1990’s when it and ‘An Plassey’ the old rusty ship marooned on its rocks, appeared in the opening credits of the sitcom Father Ted. Inis Oírr masqueraded as the fictional Craggy Island.
Plan your trip
Like I said, Oírr is very doable in a day, so take the early ferry from Doolin (9.30/10am – check ferry websites below for exact times), you get picked up again around 4 pm. This is enough time to walk around the island and see all the sites, have a picnic or lunch in the village. There is also the option to hire a bike near the pier. You can also get a pony-and-trap jaunt around the island if you don’t feel up to walking or cycling, again from the main pier.
Most of the walking is done on small roads or well-worn paths so comfortable footwear is fine. However, if you fancy going off-track a bit to explore the craggy and boulder-strewn coastline to the south (past the Lighthouse) and West of the Island (with views of neighbouring Inis Méain) I would suggest more robust footwear like hiking boots as it can be tough on your ankles.
If the weather is good, pack a picnic and have it on a limestone slab by the Atlantic, the views are stunning and the fresh air and peace are what it is all about here. Remember it’s the west of Ireland so always pack a rain mac! (Be sure and pack everything that you bring with you away again. We have to preserve our wild places of natural beauty).
Alternatively, you can plan your walk and do one side of the island, say the East first, to the Lighthouse and The Plassy shipwreck then return back to the village and have a spot of lunch there.
We ate the restaurant in Óstán Inis Oírr (the local hotel). They serve Chowder and other basic dishes. All fine fayre for lunch. The Guinness was good too. During the summer the local pub Tigh Ned also serves food and the crab is their top dish. Ned’s is also a good place for traditional music sessions during the summer months.
After lunch take the road west from the village along the coast and westerly Inis Méain will come into view. Along the coastline, locals can be often seen harvesting seaweed for use as fertiliser in their fields and gardens. This tradition goes back generations as these small stone-walled lined fields were literally created by hand and minded through the generations.
Things to see and do
For me, the best thing to do is just walk and explore this gem of an island along the wonderful maze of stone-walled lined boreens (narrow country roads) that all radiate out from the village where you get off the ferry.
Immerse yourself in the picturesque karst landscape in all its forms, the island’s flora and fauna, which are especially vibrant in Spring/early summer, like the famous Gentian, the flower of the Burren. You may also get to see seals and other sea life if you’re lucky, and the island is home to a large variety of seabirds and land-dwellers like the Cuckoo and the Curlew that are becoming rare on the mainland.
If it’s a nice day in summer there’s a lovely sandy beach next to the pier that’s good for swimming. There are also places to surf and kayak on the island too.
- The rusting cargo ship PMV Plassy of Father Ted fame which was shipwrecked in 1960, it is also on the east coast at Carraig na Finise, where it sits today above the tideline. The Islanders famously rescued all its crew during a raging Atlantic storm.
- Teampall Chaomhain Caomhan, the island’s graveyard contains the ruins of the 12th-century Church of St. Caomhan the patron saint of the island. A festival is celebrated on the 14th of June each year in his honour.
The 14th century O’Brien’s castle which can be seen above the village on the summit of Inis Oírr.
- Tobar Éanna, or St. Enda’s holy well, located near the west coast. Locals still carry out a ceremony (or pilgrimage) called Turas to the well, which is said has healing powers and never runs dry.
Staying on Inis Oírr
If you want to make a night or a weekend out of it better still, to make the most of this lovely place. There is a variety of accommodation – a hotel, a hostel, a number of B&Bs and a campsite on the island.
There are a number of ferry companies operating from Doolin Pier to choose from, see which one suits you timewise, there is not much difference in cost, but no harm to ask anyway if there. See the links below as most offer discounts for online bookings.
From Doolin, Co. Clare:
From Rossaveal (Ros a‘ Mhíl), Connemara:
Inis Oírr is a magical place for a day trip or a couple of nights, a short hop from our shores to a different world this wee craggy magical jewel in the Atlantic.
See: http://www.aranislands.ie/inis-oirr-inisheer/ for more details.