Inisheer also known as Inis Oírr, is the smallest of the three Aran Islands located off the north-west coast of Ireland. The 1,400-acre island is a great day trip from Galway, Doolin, and the Cliffs of Moher off Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coast. From lovely flora and fauna, the landscape similar to the Burren in County Clare, maze and rows of stone fence pastures, bird watching, and even beautiful beaches Inisheer is a great getaway for anyone looking for a quiet, beautiful getaway.
Besides being incredible scenic and unique, Inisheer and the Aran Islands are one of the only areas where locals practice and speak the Gaelic language on a day to day basis. With only 300 inhabitants on the island, you will find Inisheer is a lovely escape or getaway for a day trip or even a few days for the ultimate remote seclusion.
We took a day trip to Inisheer from Doolin Pier and discovered everything one could discover within a 6 hour period on the island from walking down the narrow roads lined with man-made stone wall pasture after pasture to listening to locals speak in Gaelic to meeting a local woman who hand knits Aran wool sweaters out of her home.
Our day was incredibly rewarding and unforgettable and is why we think that Inisheer is an amazing choice to spend a day while visiting Ireland. Check out our guide for the best things to do at Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.
Rent a Bicyle
The best way to get around the island of Inisheer is by foot or bicycle. There’s actually no other way to get around unless you’re a local with a horse or tractor actually. While the island is walkable, if you’re only coming for a day we recommend renting a bicycle to ensure that you will hit all the spots to see on the island.
You can rent a bicycle directly across from the pier when you arrive. If you’re visiting offseason, like we did, you can still rent a bike even if the rental shop looks closed. The owners even ask on their website to come and knock at the door to the house at the rental shop, they will kindly help you out with your bicycle rental and even give you a map.
Check out the Seal Colony
One of the best stops on Inisheer, whether you explore the island by bicycle or foot is to head over to the seal colony. Easily a 10 to 15 minute walk from town or the pier. The easiest way to find the seal colony is to make a right turn from the pier on the road and follow the road past town. Once you get past town continue walking along the road until you reach the flat rocks that meet the shoreline. You can walk on here to see the seal colony.
The best way to see the seals would be during low tide when the seals are basking on the rocks probably after hunting for salmon or pollock in the ocean.
Check out the White Sand Beach
We were shocked to see that there was a beautiful, pristine white sand beach and azure waters on Inisheer. The Atlantic coast of Ireland is known as the Wild Atlantic Way for a reason. The wind, weather, and waves truly make it wild. So it was very surprising to see this small stretch of a paradise-like beach that looks like it was from some sort of tropical island here in Ireland.
While people do swim here, it can really only be enjoyed during the peak summer months. If you do happen to be here on one of those summer days do pay close attention to the current. Even on a blustery, chilly autumn day, the beach was remarkable to look at.
Located on the eastern side of the island is the Plassey Shipwreck. The shipwreck was from 1960, the cargo ship was passing through Galway Bay when it hit Finnis Rock during a storm. Locals from Inisheer went to rescue the entire crew while the ship remained in its spot for weeks until another storm came in and swept it ashore.
The Plassey ship contained items some of the islanders had never seen before such as modern toilets and cookies. Also on the ship was whiskey, stained glass, and yarn. It is said that the locals salvaged parts of the ship as souvenirs to remember this strange and rare event.
Located on the far side of the island and used to navigate ships and boats in the Galway Bay, this is one of the main sites to explore when visiting Inisheer. We sadly missed this site because we explored Inisheer by foot. The lighthouse is best reached by bicycle but can be reached by walking if you make visiting here a priority and schedule it in before your ferry leaves.
While there isn’t much to do here other than enjoy the view and snap a few photos you also get a great view of the Cliffs of Moher off in the distance across the ocean.
O’Briens Castle Ruins
While exploring Inisheer you can’t miss the castle ruins perched on the hill. The castle dates back to the 14th century and the fortress was a key player in controlling the Galway Bay from the Aran Islands. The O’Brien clan from County Clare controlled Inisheer from as early as the 13th century helping keep Galway Bay free from pirates and a clear shipping route. Eventually, the O”Flattery clan from Connemara took over the castle from the O’Briens in the 1580s.
Today, you can visit the ruins easily by foot. You can walk inside the ruins and from the hilltop vantage point on a cloudy day like the day we visited see as far as the Cliffs of Moher in the distance.
Cill Ghobnait Church Ruins
More ruins on the island include Cill Ghobnait, the small church ruins. The current structure you see dates back to the 11th century, however, the site dates all the way back to the 6th century.
Ghobnait was a saint of bees and beekeepers who fled to Inisheer from Clare County. She is famous for curing the ill with the honey of the bees thanks to honey’s antibacterial properties.
Find an Aran Wool Sweater
One thing that made me really excited about visiting the Aran Islands would be trying to find an authentic Aran wool sweater. I knew I wanted to get one the moment we landed in Ireland and what better place to get one than at the source, the Aran Islands. While there aren’t too many shops to choose from on Inisheer and the one shop that carried many sweaters was swarmed with people frantically looking for their perfect sweater, I ended up lucking out by walking next to a home that had a tiny sign that read, “Crafts for Sale, Hand Knitted Aran Sweaters.”
This area of town seemed like a ghost town and I thought my chances were slim. I peeked around the corner of the house to the front door and low and behold an elderly woman opened the door hoping for a customer. I was invited into her home where I was escorted to a tiny room right off the entryway with a few hand knitted items including a selection of 3 hand knitted sweaters.
I was nervous about the fit since there was no tag and or a specific size. I tried on the classic white cable sweater and it was a fit! In a store on the mainland, you can easily pay 60-120 Euro for an Aran Sweater made in a factory. I paid 100 Euro and felt like it was a great value since it was handmade and the money went directly to the woman who made it.
After striking up a conversation I learned that her name was Maura and she had been knitting these traditional fisherman sweaters for so many years she couldn’t even remember. She told me it takes her about 3-4 weeks to make each sweater. That blew my mind and I couldn’t believe she was selling them for so little considering how much time and care went into making each one.
In the end, we both left happy, I had my Aran fisherman sweater and she had a happy customer. It was also a pleasure getting to know the actual woman who made my sweater and gave it more of a sentimental travel memory and souvenir that will last for years.
While you may not luck out like I did, I recommend trying to find a handmade sweater at the source if you’re looking for an Aran Sweater while in Ireland.
How to get to Inisheer
You can book ferry tickets from either Ros a’ Mhíl in Galway city or from Doolin Pier. We were already in Doolin and took the quick 15-minute ferry ride from Doolin Pier on the Doolin Express with Doolin Ferry. You can just show up 10- 15 minutes before a scheduled ferry departure and buy your ticket on the spot. We were told by our hotel that we could even try to negotiate a price, however, the tickets were already so inexpensive and we were running late we didn’t bother. We paid 15 Euro each for round trip tickets.
Make sure you pay for parking before you leave to avoid a ticket.
Inisheer is really a beautiful place to visit and explore. Don’t come looking for tons of activities to do, come to explore and just enjoy the quiet island life. We found the island to be fascinating from the Irish speaking locals to the endless maze of stone wall pastures, some empty some filled with animals. The locals are friendly and welcoming happy to share their little island they call home with visitors. Be sure not to miss this experience when visiting Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Want to see more great stops along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way? Check out our articles featuring a perfect weekend in Sligo, the best way to see the Cliffs of Moher, Kilkee Ireland’s best kept secret, how the Dingle Peninsula stole our hearts, and why Connemara is the most interesting place in Ireland.
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