- Not to be confused with Inishbofin Island in County Donegal.
Inishbofin Island is an island 8 km off the coast of Connemara in County Galway. It's some 5.5 km long by 3 km wide and has a population (as of 2016) of 175. It's low-lying and treeless, with heathland sprayed by the sea.
Inishbofin's name derives from Inis Bó Finne - Island of the White Cow. In legend, it was not a fixed island but wandered at will, and the legend itself wanders in a similar way. Its people couldn't scratch much of a living from the land and they depended on fishing and whaling. The island started to become important when London rulers sought to control the waters of the British-Irish archipelago. It was eventually occupied by Elizabethan forces and became a Royalist stronghold, so Cromwell had to subdue it, and he built the fort that still overlooks the harbour. Inishbofin became part of County Mayo and its population peaked at around 1500 just before the Great Famine of 1845-49. It was never to recover, and another famine in 1872 / 73 prompted the island's transfer to County Galway, as relief could be organised better from Clifden than from Louisburgh. Tourism is today the main industry but hasn't led to a population revival.
A foot-passenger ferry sails from Cleggan on the Connemara mainland, three times a day Jun-Aug and twice Sept-May. Adult return is €25, bicycles €5. The crossing takes 30 min and a day-trip gives you five hours on the island. Buses from Galway and Clifden connect with some ferries.
You can't bring a car to the island. Park at Cleggan anywhere that won't cause inconvenience to residents or other harbour users, or pay €4 in one of the private parking areas.
Inishbofin's facilities are all close to the 1 ferry pier.
That includes the island airport, built and maintained since 2009 at the taxpayers' expense and lying deserted. Even private aircraft aren't allowed to use it. It's a similar story at Cleggan, the mainland end of a planned air link, and the whole debacle has cost €10,000,000 so far, with more "management fees" still being paid.
Walk or cycle. Hotels and B&Bs usually pick up arrivals at the pier.
There's a bike hire shop by the pier.
- 1 Cromwell's Barracks stand on tidal Port Island facing the village. It's a star fort built from the 1650s to protect the harbour from pirates and the hostile Dutch; it also came in handy as a jail for Catholic priests. The bay just east was once an anchorage, so ships could moor and unload near the fort, but this area has silted up.
- Gun Rock just west had an artillery point, but centuries of storms have left little of this. The white tower is a daymark and never had a light. A modern light was placed next to it to guide shipping: this was swept away by a storm in 2014 but soon replaced.
- 2 St Colmán's present church is from 1910, but the site dates to the 7th century. Saint Colmán (605-675) was educated on Iona and was Bishop of Lindisfarne 661-664. He quit when the Synod of Whitby ruled in favour of the Roman (or Nicaean) method of calculating the date of Easter over the Iona method. (This has been portrayed as the subjugation of a "Celtic Church" at the hands of Rome. It's doubtful there was any such distinct church, but religious practices varied all over a far-flung Christendom until gradually ironed out. The Whitby "Easter wars" may also have been a proxy feud among Northumbrian royal factions.) Colmán and his allies left in a huff for Iona then came to Inishbofin in 668, founding a monastery. His Saxon and Irish monks quickly fell out, so he and the Saxons moved to the mainland and founded Mayo Abbey, but he returned to live out his last years here. The ruins you see today are of a 14th C abbey over the same spot: the graveyard has many old crosses and inscriptions but is deep in nettles.
- 3 Dún Gráinne has views across the harbour, but no visible remains of the castle held for Gráinne Ní Mháille or Grace O'Malley (1530-1603). She ruled Mayo during a period of Tudor encroachment in Ireland, and in 1593 she met Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace to petition for the release of two of her sons; they conversed in Latin. A castle was shown on charts here as late as 1776 but physical evidence has been sparse, though a doorway stone turned up in 2016. O'Malley herself lived on the mainland and was probably buried on Clare Island 25 km to the north. Her trade and power were all seaborne so she's been mythologised into a "Pirate Queen", which sounds like a movie role played by Johnny Depp.
- 4 Dún Mór is the fragmentary remains of an Iron Age ring fort. Dún Gráinne and the earliest fort on Port Island were probably of similar date but built over in late medieval times.
- Memorial crosses near Dún Mór mark two tragedies in the channel between Inishbofin and Inishark, which has tide races and is strewn with rocks and islets.
- 5 or stacks are seen off the northwest coast. The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) colony here is declining, for unknown reasons, but another on Inishgort seems to getting along.
- 6 Inishark (Inis Airc) has been uninhabited since 1960. It lacks a harbour and is exposed to the Atlantic, so in winter its inhabitants might be unable to come and go for weeks on end. After one young man died of appendicitis the last couple of dozen residents were relocated. The island was the abode of 7th C St Leo, who founded a monastery; a 19th C church, now ruined, was built on its site. Leo is also said to have meditated in a cave on the south shore. There are no ferries to Inishark but occasional boat trips visit. Inishgort is the islet further south and Inishskinny is just east.
- 7 Inishlyon (Inis Laighean) is an uninhabited tidal island with a small lighthouse at its east point. There are remains of an ancient village and midden among the sand hills, but these are being lost to coastal erosion, as is the strand connecting to Inishbofin.
- 8 Inishturk is the island visible 10 km to the northeast. It's in County Mayo, inhabited and is reached by ferry from Roonagh.
- Dark skies: walk away from the village on a clear night and give your eyes 20 min to adjust, and the Milky Way and other sights will shine as never before.
- The most sheltered beach is Dumhach on the east coast by the strand to Inishlyon.
- The Pier Shop doubles as a local heritage museum. It's open M-F 11:00-13:30, 15:00-18:00, Sa 11:00-17:00.
- Inishwallah serves Indian food from a double decker bus parked near the post office.
- The Galley is a café near East Beach.
- The Beach Cafe with Day’s Bar and B&B are on the waterfront.
- The hotels have bars, it's too small a place for a standalone pub.
- Dolphin Hotel, ☏ . This has 11 rooms and is open Apr-Oct, with restaurant.
- The hostel has dorms €16 ppn, private rooms €50 per room and glamping pods €50. Camping is €14 ppn.
- Other accommodation includes Inishbofin House, Doonmore Hotel and a couple of B&Bs / self catering cottages.
As of June 2020 the island has no mobile signal from any carrier. But your accommodation probably has Wifi as their business depends on it.
- Back to Cleggan is the only transport.