Inis Mór was once little more than a lifeless rock on the edge of the Atlantic. Its inhabitants have, over the years, created life where there previously was none, making things grow in their fields using dirt dug from cracks in the rock, combined with composted seaweed. Now all the fields are green, with low stone walls both dividing the fields and keeping the thin layer of soil from blowing away.
Today, tourism is a major industry on the island, but, unlike some parts of the country, it doesn't seem to override the local culture. Aran Islands Website
Cill Rónáin (Kilronan) is the largest settlement in the Aran Islands, but it is still little more than a hamlet. You can find most amenities here, including a grocery store, the ferry port and several hostels and B&Bs.
There are two main roads across the island from Cill Rónáin to Cill Mhuirbhigh (Kilmurvy), a hamlet near the island's star attraction, the prehistoric fort of Dun Aonghasa. The busier and shorter of the two (c. 7km) crosses the centre of the island, while the longer and more scenic of the two (c. 9km) follows the northern coast.
All three islands are Gaeltachtaí, areas of Ireland where Irish is the primary language. English speakers will have no problem, as all islanders are fluent in English. However, very few signs are in English, so it's best to know the Irish name of your destination.
Island Ferries operate from Ros an Mhíl (Rossaveal) in Connemara with bus connections to Galway City. Both offer return trips for around €25 (plus €7 for the bus to/from Galway) and there is little to distinguish between the two. There are around 6 departures per company per day in the July-August high season, going down to as few as two in the winter.
Ferries are operated from Doolin in Co. Clare by 3 companies. Return fares in 2012 were from €15. Parking at Doolin pier is free. For ferry information visit the Aran Islands information Ferries Page.
For those short on time, but not on money, Aer Árann operates flights from Minna Airport in Connemara to the airstrip at Cill Éinne (Killeany), a 20-30min hike south of Cill Rónáin. At €23/45 one-way/return with hourly departures in the summer peak season, it's actually surprisingly affordable, but the aircraft are small and services are frequently cancelled if the weather is bad.
Railway package deal
Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) offers a 2-day package including train, ferry or plane and accommodation starting at €109.
Although there are mini-bus tours and taxis available on the islands, and you can even go clip-clopping in a horse-drawn cart, the best way to see the islands is on foot or by bike. Wear good hiking boots though, as once you leave the paved roads, you are on very rough rocks. If you cycle, wear a helmet and be aware that there is quite a lot of traffic on the roads so stay safe and stay on the left
- Dún Aonghasa Dun Aengus is a prehistoric fortress dating back to 1000 BC, perched on the edge of a 100m cliff plunging straight into the Atlantic Ocean. It's also Inir Mór's best-known attraction, and regularly inundated by tour groups. However, there are plenty of other ancient forts on the island, and the only feature unique to this one is its cheveaux de frise, an area of upturned rocks similar to defences used by the Friseans to defend against cavalry charges. All visitors must disembark at the visitor centre and hike the remaining 1km up the hill to the fort, and there is no guard rail at the cliff edge, so this may not be the best place to bring small children. Admission €2/1 adult/student.
- Dún Dúchathair (The Black Fort), a walled enclosure surrounded on three sides by cliffs with intricate designs in the stonework. This, more than any of the others on Inis Mór, raises the question of whether its use was defensive or ceremonial. When you get off the ferry most tourists head straight for Dún Aengus, which makes the Black Fort a much more enjoyable experience.
- There are two other stone forts on the island, Dún Eochla, is made up of two almost perfectly circular walls standing at the highest point on the island. You'll have to hike through some fields to get up to it. The final fort is Dún Eoghanachta, located south of the main road near Sruthán, most interesting for the remains of the clocháin (dry-stone, beehive huts) that it encloses.
- Na Poill Seideáin (The Puffing Holes) are two large, circular holes about 100 yards from the cliff edge, where the sea water will "puff" up through frequently as waves crash into a cave beneath the cliffs.
- Na Seacht dTeampaill (The Seven Churches) is an ancient monastic site, with two churches and several out buildings. The Aran Islands have long drawn religious people seeking solitude and isolation.
- Poll Na bPéist (The Serpent Hole) is a perfectly rectangular shaped pool, located near the village of Gort na gCapall, which is connected to the Atlantic by an underground channel.
- Bike out to the far end of the island for a view of the lighthouse, wild waves and barren rocks.
- Hire a bike near the docks; the charge is about €10 for up to 24h. Dún Aengus is about a 30min ride from Cill Rónáin. (The coastal road, which runs along the northern side of the island, takes slightly longer but offers ocean vistas with less traffic than the main road.)Aran Bike Hire
Ionad Árann (To the right of the main road as you head north out of Cill Rónáin), ☎ , fax: +353 99 61454, e-mail: email@example.com. An interpretive centre focusing on the island's geological and human history. There is a separate admission charge to see Robert Flaherty's 1934 movie Man of Aran.
- Swim at any of the quiet, sheltered Atlantic beaches. There are several in Cill Rónáin and one in Cill Mhuirbhigh, all free and open to the public.
- Several shops by the pier sell Aran Island handmade wool sweaters for about €90. They come in a variety of styles particular to each clan.
Places to eat are concentrated in and around Cill Rónáin, with a few simple cafes near the entrance to Dun Aonghasa.
- Ostan Oilean Aran, Kilronan. Phone +353 99 61104, Mandy will be happy to help with all enquiries. With 22 rooms it is possible to book the whole hotel for your wedding.
- Mainister Hostel, (10 minutes north of Cill Rónáin on the main road), +353 99 61169, serves a "Vaguely Vegetarian Buffet" nightly at 20:00. Cost is €15 for a soup starter, main course buffet, dessert, tea/coffee and is worth every penny. You must sign up for dinner in advance. The seating arrangement also allows for a lot of socialization, so this dinner is really more of an event.
- Pier House Within 100 yards from the Pier, Excellent Irish breakfast, Open Year Round.
- O'Malley's at Bayview North of Pier near Aran Sweater shop. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Excellent pizzas, pastas, and other irish fare.
- American Bar, (Visible north of the pier) serves American-style food (at ridiculous prices), good for rich homesick Americans.
- There's a Spar supermarket up the road past the American Bar
- Tigh Nan Phaidi, located at the foot of Dun Aengus, 6km west of the main village, is a family run café/restaurant with some of the best food on the island. Everything is home made here and the cakes are a must try!
- Ostan Oilean Aran Kilronan 099 61104
- Tigh Joe Mac, Kilronan
- The American Bar, Kilronan
- Tigh Joe Watty, Kilronan, (10-15min walk along the main road towards Dun Aeongus) is a comfortable Irish pub where you are likely to meet some locals who are keen for a chat. There is live music every night (sea conditions permitting!!!) impromptu sessions are not unusual. A few picnic tables at the front of the bar make for an enjoyable al fresco drinking experience in good weather. After a few nights in Tigh Joe's you start to feel like a local.
Artists Hostel, ☎ . This small intimate and cosy 10 bed Hostel and self catering, hosted by Marion and Jonny it has a distinct creative energy about it. Just metres from the Islands most popular traditional music bar and three minutes walk from the main village of Kilronan. A generous self serve breakfast is included and the general level of service is first rate.
Mainister Hostel, Mainister (10 minutes north of Cill Rónáin on the main road), ☎ . Offers standard hostel accommodation at a standard hostel price (€18 in 2008). Inis Mór Ferries has, at times, had promotional deals that included a reduced rate for one night here. What makes this hostel stand out is its included breakfast, which is vastly superior to that of any other hostel. Includes, cereal, toast, and, most importantly, hot oatmeal. See "Eat" for details on their even better dinners.
An Aharla Hostel, Cill Rónáin (To the right of the main road, at the north end of town), ☎ . A small hostel, with space to sleep only a dozen people in a converted farmhouse. Beds start at €12.99.
Bed and Breakfasts
The island is covered by hundreds of miles of rock walls, some up to 4 feet high, so it is possible to hike unnoticed into the fields and camp for a night. Be aware that if you leave anything outside, it will be damp in the morning. There is also an official camp site, which is limited in facilities but not in character.