Inis Mór (Inishmore) is the largest of the Aran Islands of County Galway, off the west coast of Ireland. The name simply means "big island" and there are half-a-dozen such places in Ireland, but this one is by far the biggest and most populous of that name. Its port Cill Rónáin (Kilronan) is the main settlement, with (in 2011) 845 of the Aran Islands total population of 1200. It's a short ferry ride or flight from the mainland and the chief visitor attraction is Dún Aonghasa prehistoric fort.
Inis Mór along with the other Aran Islands is an extension of the Burren limestone country of County Clare. The terrain has been scraped bare by glaciation and lacks natural topsoil, so it's a poor prospect for farming. People probably fled here from prehistoric turmoils on the mainland, and the oldest remains are the line of forts that go back to 1000 BC. The rock-strewn fields were gradually cleared by heaping the rocks into walls, seaweed was heaped on for fertiliser, and dirt from cracks in the limestone was gathered for topsoil. The result is a green and grey treeless mosaic, ending abruptly in cliffs. Tourism is nowadays the main industry.
Inis Mór and the two other islands are Gaeltachtaí, where Irish is the primary language. Everyone is fluent in English, but place names and other signage are in Irish. However this page gives more prominence to the English (and unofficial) versions of names, simply because it's the English version of a multilingual travel guide, and most Anglophones need a bit of help with pronunciation. How would you ask the way to Cill Mhuirbhigh? - it's Kilmurvey, simple once you know.
Tours and travel packages from Dublin are often available, and there's even a day-trip starting from Dublin Heuston at 07:30 to connect with a flight to Inis Mór.
There are two ferry routes from the mainland, from Rossaveel 40 km west of Galway year round, and from Doolin in County Clare in summer. Of old there was a ferry from Galway city itself, and there's occasional talk of resuming this, but to date just talk.
From Rossaveel Aran Island Ferries sail at least twice a day year round, with six a day at the height of summer. The crossing takes 40 min and a day-trip is feasible. In summer 2020 an adult return fare was €30, booking advised. A shuttle bus from Eyre Square in Galway connects with all sailings, return fare €9. Cars can be carried on some sailings but you don't need one on the island, park at Rossaveel anywhere that won't inconvenience residents or harbour users.
Between the islands both the Rossaveel and Doolin ferries call at Inis Oirr and Inis Meain on their way to and from Inis Mór, but not on all sailings. Inter-island day trips are possible most days in summer but seldom in winter.
1 Inis Mór ferry pier is on the sheltered northeast bay by the settlement of Kilronan. The grassy islet in the harbour is Straw Island - the structure there is a harbour light rather than a lighthouse.
Aer Árann fly several times a day from Connemara Airport at Inverin, 31 km west of Galway city. There are at least a couple of flights daily year round, rising to eight in the August peak season. In summer 2020 a return fare was €50. Flying time is just 10 min and a day trip is always feasible. The aircraft are a pair of rinky-dinky BNF Islanders that only take 9 passengers; they rattle around in the breeze and are often cancelled in bad weather. Aer Árann also fly from Connemara to Inis Meain and Inis Oírr but all their flights are turnaround trips, there are no inter-island flights.
2 Inis Mór airfield is at Killeany near the east tip of the island.
A paved lane leads from the airfield to Kilronan then three lanes run west to Kilmurvy. Most traffic takes the central "Main Road". There's a slower scenic "Low Road" along the north coast, and a meandering no-hurry-no-worry "Back Road" towards the south coast.
There are no taxis, car rentals or scheduled buses on any of the Aran Islands.
Aran Bus Tours do 2-3 hour sightseeing tours of the island.
Thomas Faherty Tours will take you round in a pony and trap.
Aran Bike Hire are based near the ferry pier. Daily rates (as of 2020) are €30 for mountain or road bikes and €10 for a trailer or tag-along. They're open daily 09:00-17:00.
Walk if you've got the legs and the boots for it. But once you leave the paved roads, you are on very rough rocks.
- Most tourists head straight from the airfield or port to Dún Aonghasa - try to time your visit to miss them.
- 1 Puffing Holes or blow-holes (Na Poill Seideáin) are found in several places but the two best are near the east tip. The sea gloops and sploshes deep within them, and in rough weather the wave action hurls spray, sand and seaweed high in the air. Take care, they're unfenced.
- 2 St Enda's Monastery (Teaghlach Einne) lies beneath the ruin of a 9th C church. Enda (c 450-530) was one of several early Christian saints associated with the island. There are many old graves and crosses: one cross inscription depicts the Horseman of the Apocalypse, who was expected to show up in the year 1000 AD.
- 3 Teampall Bheanáin (Benen's Church) is said to be the world's smallest church. But at 3 m by 2 m it's obviously not the smallest, and it's not a church but an oratory, where monks chanted prayers for their founder Benen, aka Saint Benignus of Armagh, a disciple of Saint Patrick. He died in 467 AD and is presumably buried here, so the tomb-shrine was spared while the monastery here was obliterated in Cromwell's time. The present building dates from 11th century and is aligned north-south, while church orientation east-west was standard by that date. You mainly come for the striking position, with its high gables etched against the skyline.
- 4 Arkin's Castle is a Cromwell-era fort at Killeany that replaced a 16th century castle. There's not much left of it but the seaward wall. There wasn't an occupier called Arkin, but arcin means a natural harbour - in the days of small vessels Killeany had as much sea traffic as Kilronan.
- 5 Dún Dúchathair (The Black Fort), Killeany. A walled enclosure surrounded on three sides by cliffs. It's of unknown date but has many resemblances to Dun Aonghasa, including scraps of chevaux-de-frise. There are intricate designs in the stonework, and ruined clocháin which may be of much later date. Free.
- St Ciaran's Church is a medieval ruin at Mainistir near the hostel. At the foot of the nearby cliff is a natural holy (or healing) well. Saint Ciarán (circa 516-549) studied on Inis Mór before founding the monastery at Clonmacnoise.
- 6 The Signal Station is a sturdy rectangular tower on the highest point of the island, at 122 m. It was built 1806-08 to watch for Napoleonic attack, within sight of similar stations on Inis Oirr and Lettermullan. Signals were exchanged by flags. It was abandoned circa 1814 but in 1818 Inishmore lighthouse opened here, initially using the station tower then a purpose-built cylindrical tower adjacent. But being on high ground it was often wraithed in clouds, and captains complained that they needed to find the rocks in order to locate the lighthouse. And it didn't mark the ends of the island chain, which was what shipping in and out of Galway Bay most needed to know. It was replaced in 1857 by lights at either end: on Inis Oirr to the east and by Eeragh lighthouse on the rocks to the west; the harbour light of Straw Island was added later. You can stroll around the station and tower exteriors free, but beware crumbling masonry. The site has been nominally "closed for restoration" for ever and a day.
- Dún Eochla ring fort is 150 m east of the Signal Station, you'll have to hike across the fields. Built 550-800 AD, it has two sturdy circular walls, restored to their original 6 m. It's free and always accessible. Satellite imaging also reveals a mysterious circular structure another 200 m east . . . no, it's just a modern water tank.
- 7 Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus) (7 km west of Kilronan), ☏ . Daily Apr-Oct 09:30-18:00, Nov-Mar 09:30-16:00. A stone fort dating back to 1100 BC and perched on the edge of a sheer 100 m cliff. It's in a D-pattern with three ring-walls and an unusual outer chevaux de frise: a barrier of sharp upturned rocks of the kind used by the Frisians against cavalry charges. (It is not known what prehistoric military genius was expecting an attack by cavalry from Frisia.) There's also a huge stone slab, of unknown but presumably grisly function. The walls have been reconstructed to a height of 6 m and are up to 4 m thick. It's possible the fort was once oval and lost half to cliff erosion, but true D-pattern forts are found elsewhere. Visitor vehicles and bikes come as far as the visitor centre, then you hike 1 km uphill to the fort, the trail is hard rock and slippery when wet. There is no fence at the cliff edge, and strong winds, so grasp small children with a grip of steel. The site gets very touristy when all the day-trippers disgorge from their minibuses. Adult €5.
- 8 Serpent's Hole or Worm Hole (Poll Na bPéist) is a rectangular pool connected to the sea by a submerged passage, so the water within it slowly heaves up and overflows then subsides. Chisel marks suggest that a natural feature was enlarged at an unknown date. The pool is 15 m deep, so you can swim or snorkel, and divers can go through the passage. In 2017 the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series was held here. Approach either along the lane from Kilmurvey or along the clifftops from Dún Aonghasa.
- 9 Liam O'Flaherty Commemorative Garden recalls that writer, born on Inis Mór in 1896; he died in Dublin in 1984 and his ashes were scattered here. He wrote mostly in English, and censorship by the Committee on Evil Literature helped his fame no end.
- 10 The Seven Churches (Na Seacht dTeampaill) is an ancient religious site, with only two churches, the rest are outbuildings. St Brecan's Church (Teampall Bhreacáin) was built 8th-13th C and the ruin still has an impressive arch, nave and chancel. The smaller Church of the Hollow (Teampall an Phoill) is 15th C. Various monks' and pilgrims' cells, crosses and inscribed gravestones surround the churches, but the two holy wells have disappeared. The site is free and always open.
- 11 Dún Eoghanachta is a ring fort from perhaps 500 BC, containing remains of clocháin, drystone beehive cottages. The site is free to enter.
- 12 Eeragh lighthouse perches on the Brannock Rocks off the west tip of the island.
- Swim at any of the quiet, sheltered Atlantic beaches. There are several in Kilronan and one in Kilmurvey, freely accessible. You'll need a hot drink after!
- Scuba dive at the many dive sites around the island. There are no diving facilities so you'll have to bring a self-sufficient trip. Dry suit recommended.
- Ted Fest is held annually on Inis Mór by admirers of the Father Ted TV sitcom, first screened on Channel 4 1995-98. Most of the TV locations were on the mainland, though the opening sequence of "Craggy Island" depicts nearby Inis Oirr. The next Ted Fest is Th 4 - Su 7 March 2021.
- Shops near the pier sell Aran Island handmade wool sweaters. So does Man of Aran Cottage near Kilmurvey House; it's no longer a B&B.
- Spar near the pier has various essentials. It's open M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 10:00-18:00.
- Pier House Kilronan (see Sleep) does good Irish breakfasts.
- Bayview, Krusty Krab Rd, Kilronan, ☏ . Daily 10:30-21:00. Decent restaurant near pier. Service can be slow so don't plan around a quick meal before taking the ferry.
- Tigh Nan Phaidi is a cafe with a good selection of food. It's next to Kilmurvey House 6 km west of Kilronan, see Sleep.
- Aran Islands Hotel has a public bar, see Sleep.
- Tigh Joe Mac, Kilronan, is the cosy pub where the locals drink. Great views.
- The Bar (formerly American Bar), Cottage Rd, Kilronan, ☏ . Daily 10:30-00:30. No longer thatched but still going strong after a century, has okay pub grub. It was formerly nicknamed the "American Bar" as emigrants might take their last pint here before leaving Ireland. (An embellishment of the legend has the transatlantic liners calling here, as if you'd trust your life to any eejit of a captain that tried to bring a 20th century liner into this tiny harbour, he'd be sure to find an iceberg further west.) The Bar for a time had an American theme, till the penny dropped that far more American visitors wanted to eat Irish than Irish visitors wanted to eat US.
- Joe Watty's, Cottage Rd, Upper Kilronan, ☏ . Daily 12:00-00:00. Comfy pub and seafood restaurant, live music most nights, the picnic tables at the front are great for al fresco beer and eats.
- Wild camping is possible, as the island is covered by metre-high stone walls, so you can slip into the fields and camp for a night. Anything left outside will be wet in the morning.
- Aran Camping & Glamping, Frenchman's Beach, Kilronan, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A newly built glamping & camping facility by Frenchman's Beach. Camping €10 ppn, pods €120 / night.
- Kilronan Hostel, Kilronan (100 m west of the pier), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Comfy friendly hostel by pier. Dorm €24 ppn.
- Pier House (Teach na Céibhe), Kilronan, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Comfy guesthouse overlooking the harbour.
- Sea Crest is in Kilronan by the harbour, B&B double €80.
- Aran Islands Hotel (Óstán Árann), Kilronan (1 km southwest of pier), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Friendly hotel, most rooms are in the chalets with sea views. B&B double £130.
- Claí Bán, Kilronan, ☏ , fax: . Cosy B&B near pier. B&B double €90.
- Árd Mhuiris, Kilronan, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hospitable B&B near pier.
- An Crugan, Upper Kilronan, ☏ . Modern B&B with six rooms, also has self-catering cottage.
- 1 Árd Éinne, Killeany, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Quiet B&B near airfield B&B double €100.
- Tigh Fitz, Killeany (1.6 km south of Kilronan), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. A small guesthouse and bar close to the airstrip.
- 2 Kilmurvey House, Kilmurvey, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcoming B&B in 18th C stone house with 12 rooms en suite.
- 3 Mainister Hostel, Mainister, ☏ . Quiet place, good breakfast, mixed reviews for cleanliness.
As of June 2020, you'll get a mobile signal and 4G in Kilronan with Eir or Three. Most of the rest of the island is dead though you might catch a mainland signal on the higher ground near, appropriately, the Signal Station. Vodafone has nothing here and 5G has not reached this area.
- Inis Meain and Inis Oirr are the other inhabited islands.
- On the mainland at Rossaveel, head east for Galway city or west for the Connemara coast.
- At Doolin see the Cliffs of Moher and the sparse limestone scenery of the Burren.