One of the more fascinating places we visited while in Ireland was the tiny island of Inisheer (Inis Oírr in Irish). The smallest in size of the three Aran Islands and second in population, Inisheer is just over seven miles (eleven and a half kilometers) from the town of Doolin and the west coast of Ireland. Inisheer is often overlooked for the more touristy Inishmor, the largest of the three Aran Islands and the closest to the more populous city of Galway. The roughly three hundred locals on Inisheer speak Irish in their daily routine, and it is still a living language on the islands. The signage is all in Irish first, then English, as if an afterthought.
It was our second day in Ireland, and we decided to go to Inisheer on a suggestion from our amazing b&b host, so we bought a ticket at the Doolin harbor from the Doolin2Aran ferry ticket office just moments before the next boat left. For € 30 per person, we decided to take the ferry that goes to Inisheer and, on the way back, detours alongside the Cliffs of Moher. The journey out to the island was a smooth thirty-minute ride, during which we sat inside and prepared ourselves for the unexpected.
As we disembarked at Inisheer pier, we were met with our options for touring the island. The different ways to see the island are: exploring by foot, renting a bicycle, hopping in a horse and trap (buggy), or climbing into the back of one gentleman’s Volkswagen bus for a personal tour. The crowd favorite was definitely the horse and trap, but Emily and I chose to rent a bicycle. At €10 per day, the only request we had was that one of us desired a basket on the front of her bike.
We mounted our two-wheelers and began to pedal along the road following the route set by the horse and trap drivers. We reasoned that if they were taking a cart full of tourists someplace, it must be worth seeing for ourselves. Almost immediately we said goodbye to the pavement and hit the dirt road. Leaving the village of Baile an Lurgáin, we passed the airport, which is just a simple landing strip, and worked our way southeast towards our first stop.
We marveled at the seemingly endless amount of stone walls along the roads which led us to the rusted hull of a shipwreck. The Plassy (or Plassey), a steam trawler turned cargo ship, sat high and dry on the limestone rocks, where she had been since March of 1960. The story goes that on March 8th, 1960, during a terrible storm, the Plassy ran onto Finnis Rock on Inisheer. The ship’s crew of eleven men were saved by villagers who were trained maritime rescuers. Eventually, over the course of many years and several more storms, the Plassy was pushed higher aground where she sits today. The power of the sea is truly amazing and the Plassy remains a silent witness to the destructive nature hidden within the dark blue waters around it.
By the time we arrived at the shipwreck, the large group of visitors were climbing back in their horse and traps which gave us time to explore by ourselves. My camera and myself were fascinated with the rusted hull, so we spent quite some time shooting it from different angles.
Leaving the Plassy to rust in peace and quiet, our next goal was to bike down to the lighthouse on the island’s southernmost tip. We were never able to find the correct path, which would have taken us there, but we made some animal friends along the way back into town. And isn’t that what travelling is all about? The journey is more important than the destination, but we do not always see that at the time.
Passing by Loch Mór (Big Lake), the only natural source of freshwater on the island, on our way towards town, we made a few wrong turns, but eventually found our way to the Signal Tower and the more impressive O’Brien’s Castle.
The Signal Tower was built in the 18th century (so a relative youngin on the island) and is a very common structure found along the west coast of Ireland.
Built in the 15th century, O’Brien’s castle is a three-story ruin that sits perched above the town of Baile an Chaisleáin (translated to Castle Town). The O’Brien clan ruled over the Aran Islands for almost five hundred years before losing to the O’Flaherty Clan in 1585. From high on the hill by the castle ruins, one gets a great view of the entire island below.
The weather took a turn for the worse, so we began making our way back to the bicycle shop. Before we got there we stopped off at Teampall Chaomháin (the Church of St. Keevaun). The church is surrounded by an earth mound, so if you did not know it was there, you could easily miss it. We were able to spot it because we were travelling on bikes and were curious why the grass covered mound had so many headstones around it. Saint Keevaun is believed to be the brother of the famous St. Kevin (founder of the Glendalough monastery complex in Wicklow) and is the patron saint of Inisheer.
A few drops of rain fell on us as we delivered the bicycles back to their shop. We walked around the village for a while before returning to the pier, where we boarded our ferry back to Doolin. The ride back was a bit rougher; the rain came down pretty hard at times, but by the time we arrived at the base of the Cliffs of Moher, the rain had relented enough for me to step outside and take a few pictures.
The weather began to clear up as we stepped off the boat. We explored around Doolin harbor before we got back in the car and drove to McGann’s Pub for a hearty lunch.
Our second day in Ireland was such an improvised, but truly amazing experience. We found beauty around every corner and in unexpected cracks and crevices while on Inisheer. I cannot wait to go back someday.