Árainn Mhór or Arranmore is an island 5 km off the west coast of County Donegal. It's a Gaeltacht community where Irish is the official language (in its Ulster dialect) though English is universally understood. The population continues to decline, being 469 in 2016, and in 2019 the islanders wrote an open letter urging the people of Australia and the United States to relocate: "There are less people here than would fit in a couple of Amtrak carriages . . . " There wasn't much response so this threat to the viability of Amtrak has been averted.
An Chúlturlann the Community Centre has visitor information. It's next to the Holiday Village, see Sleep.
Arranmore has no flights, and there are no plans to build a bridge, so you take the ferry from 1 Burtonport. Local Link Bus 271 runs from Letterkenny via Dungloe to Burtonport 3 or 4 times M-Sa, taking 1 hr 40 min. By road head for Dungloe then follow R259 / R260. Parking at the harbour is limited but free, and reasonably secure in such a small village. Burtonport has a pub and couple of eating places but no accommodation.
The two ferry companies have almost identical names but are better known as the Red and the Blue. (The subtle difference is the "Arranmore Ferry" is red and "The Arranmore Ferry" is blue; duh, or is it the other way round?) Fares are identical: in 2021 an adult return is €15, student €10, child €7; a car and driver is €30. Tickets are not transferable between Red and Blue. Off-peak you can just turn up and pay at the kiosk by the pier, but in summer you ought to book.
The ferries are small ro-ros carrying cars, trucks and foot passengers, with toilets and indoor and outdoor seating. They sail year-round: in summer departures are hourly. The crossing takes 20 min, threading the strait between Rutland Island (south) and Edernish and Inishcoo (north), then a short stretch crosses the open Atlantic. 2 Leabgarrow is the island ferry pier and main settlement.
The farthest points are 5 km from Leabgarrow, so an hour's walk will reach them. Your accommodation may offer a pick-up from the landing pier. The main reason to bring a car is for carrying stuff, especially if you're self-catering and need to bring a few days' supplies, or have baby items or sports gear. And it gets you out of the wind, rain and midges.
There's no island taxi / minibus service. The Community Centre may have bike hire.
- 1 Arranmore Lighthouse at the northwest point was built in 1798; it was decommissioned in 1832 but re-activated in 1859 and is still in use. It's automatic and the keepers' cottages have been converted to self-catering accommodation. Nearby is the shell of the former coastguard station, burnt out in the 1921 War of Independence. 500 m east is the EIRE 75 aviation marker, one of 82 set out during the Second World War to indicate that this was neutral Ireland.
- 2 Beaver Island Monument is in Lough Shore along the lane to the lighthouse, looking like an inundated sheep pen. Of the multiple islands of that name, this refers to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan USA, some 15 km long by 5 km wide. It was already settled by Irish immigrants when a Mormon sect arrived in 1848: these were the followers of James J Strang and feuded with the majority following Brigham Young, and with everyone else. Strang proclaimed himself king and ruled as an autocrat, but was murdered in 1856 and his sect were ousted. The island was then populated by Irish fishermen, many from Donegal, and became a Gaetacht community until 1900 when the lake was fished out and they dispersed.
- 3 Green Island off the southwest tip is a wildlife reserve. Boat trips cruise by but landing is neither permitted nor feasible, as it's ringed by cliffs with no safe landing cove.
- Bird life everywhere includes Arctic and Great skua, chough, fulmar, gannet, kittiwake and shags.
- Walking: the trail around the island is 14 km, mostly firm track but allow 4 hours. It's way-marked as Arranmore Way / Slí Árainn Mhóir.
- Fishing: the freshwater lakes have Brown trout and Rainbow trout. Sea-angling yields cod, ling, conger eel, pollock, wrasse, skate, turbot and plaice, see boat operator below.
- Diving: you need to be self-sufficient, there are no support facilities such as gas. There are several secluded beaches where you can shore-dive, and Arranmore Charters run boat trips for divers, anglers and sight-seeing.
- Boating: Cumann na mBád is the local boating club, based by Leabgarrow pier.
- Rock climbing is on the sea cliffs of the west coast, more than a little adventurous, as devising access is half the fun.
- Practise your Irish: there are no courses, but any attempts to converse in Irish will be appreciated.
- Phil Bán's 200 m south of the pier is the main island store. It's open M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 11:30-13:30. Phil runs a bar next door.
- Neily's store and bar is in Gortgarra 1 km south.
- There are no banks or ATMs on Arranmore or at Burtonport, the nearest are in Dungloe.
- The Only Plaice is a yellow double-decker bus that acts as a fish & chips van by Leabgarrow pier. It's open May-Sept daily 12:00-20:00.
- See below for the pubs and hotel, which are your best chance of a sit-down meal.
- Phil Bán's. Phil's store is open, but this trad pub remained closed in 2021.
- Early's Bar, Leabgarrow (100 m from pier), ☏ +353 74 952 0515. Daily 12:30-23:30. Friendly pub with decent food, often has live music.
- Smuggler's, Leabgarrow (200 m north of pier). Behind the standard bar is a late bar / night club. They're not open in 2021.
- Neily's, Gortgarra (1 km south of Leabgarrow). Daily 12:00-23:00. Run by a charming couple, this bar is next to a grocery store.
- Glen Hotel, Leabgarrow F92 HD99 (100 m west of pier), ☏ +353 74 952 0505. The only hotel on the island, it was built in the 1800s and was the original home of the English landlord John Stoupe-Chorley during the Irish famine. They also serve meals to non-residents.
- The Cove, Leabgarrow F92 HTP6 (100 m from ferry pier), ☏ +353 87 119 9066, email@example.com. Mid-range B&B with 8 bedrooms including double, twin and family rooms. There's also a pleasant cafe. B&B double €90.
- Arranmore Hostel, Leabgarrow F92 HR74 (300 m south of pier), ☏ +353 87 805 4246. Clean friendly place.
- Claire's B&B is right by the pier. It didn't open in 2021.
- 1 Arranmore Holiday Village, Fallagowan, ☏ +353 74 952 0533. This is a cluster of self-catering cottages towards the south of the island. They weren't available in 2021.
- 2 Muldowney's B&B, Upper Illion, ☏ +353 87 908 1277. Clean welcoming B&B. They also run the Pods. B&B double €130.
- Arranmore Pods are glamping pods and cabins at Gortgarra, sleeping two. A 7 night stay is €1000.
- Killeen's Guesthouse at Aphort has closed and is for sale; as of 2021 it hasn't found a buyer.
Mobile coverage is very patchy. As of Aug 2021, Three has the best signal: you might even get 5G on the route from Dungloe to Burtonport, and 4G here and there on Arranmore. Eir only covers from Dungloe to the island landing at Leabgarrow, and Vodafone has no signal west of Dungloe.
Back to Burtonport it must be.