“A storm is coming, better go on Thursday, we may cancel the ferries on Friday.”
Said the woman behind the counter at Aran Islands Ferries as I booked my Aran Islands day trip from Galway to Inisheer. Three years ago on my first trip to Ireland, I did a day trip to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. I celebrated my 28th birthday cycling around the island in the rain. It’s one of my favorite birthdays to date.
This visit, I wanted to recreate the magic on a normal October day and visit Inisheer, the smallest of the three Aran Islands. I heeded the advice of the helpful woman and booked my round trip ferry for Thursday morning.
The ferry journey out while rocky was not as rough as I remembered that rainy May day three years ago. As we approached Inisheer, the sun was trying its best to break through the clouds.
Awaiting the ferry were a handful of horse-drawn carriage hoping to pick up tourists arriving from Galway and Doolin. I passed by those and headed toward Rothai Inis Oirr, a bike rental shop. For 13 euro the lovely woman fitted me for a bike, handed me a map and described the best route to take. I asked about a bike lock and she smiled, “there’s no need for that here.”
Before we go any further, I need to let you know that there are a few affiliate links in this post. This means that, at no additional cost to you, should you decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a little bit of money.
As I was saying…
So I headed off in the direction of the Plassey shipwreck. But not before soaking in the white sandy beach next to the pier! This beach made me feel like I landed on a tropical island, until the strong wind knocked my camera over into that pristine sand.
The sandy beach gave way to rolling green hills, squared off by stone walls, that seemed to lead straight into the Atlantic. Just as gorgeous as I remembered. From one the hills, the massive rusted remains of the Plassey shipwreck came in to view. I parked my bike along the road and made my way across the limestone towards the wreck.
The ship crashed off of the coast of Inisheer in 1960. Thanks to the help of the islanders, everyone on board survived the crash. The waves eventually lifted the ship to its current location on the limestone rocks. Mike Tobin, the only crew member still alive today, tells his story here.
I spent over an hour exploring the shipwreck and taking photos. I discovered various parts of the ship in their whole laying around the rocks. Closer to the ship, there are tiny rusted fragments that look like pebbles. No doubt they’ve fallen from the rusted wreck over the last 60 years. As I moved to the side facing the ocean and saw the massive hole in the middle of the ship. I imagine this is where the ship hit the rocks that fateful night.
Off in the distance, a lighthouse stood tall on the coast, that I made my next destination. I followed the road uphill through the twists and turns of the island countryside. About 15 minutes later I arrived at the lighthouse only to discover there is no admittance! There were a few horses hanging out in their fields, I tried to get some photos of them, but they were more intent on eating, which I totally understood as my stomach rumbled.
I whizzed down a hill and as I looked up from the pavement (where I’d been staring to make sure I avoided any holes or stray rocks) I witnessed a magnificent rainbow off in the distance. The breaks squealed to a stop as I quickly set up my camera to make sure I didn’t miss this view! A rainbow over the ocean as seen from the green Irish pastures, so cliche. I love it!
Then, I got a bit lost. The map showed the route I was on made a circle that would bring me to O’Brien’s castle. I’m sure if anyone was watching me from their homes they got a good chuckle as I rode back and forth before realizing I was supposed to turn onto the dirt path I’d been riding by. There were also arrows directing that I missed the first few times. It’s amazing I haven’t gotten seriously lost in the past year of traveling! The path became a very steep hill and I’m not ashamed to say I walked the bike up as an older Irish gentleman laughed at me huffing and puffing!
O’Brien’s castle is quite small compared to the other castles I’ve seen in Europe, but its hilltop perch does have an excellent view of the ocean. And would you believe it, another rainbow appeared off in the distance as I sat there taking in the view! Talk about prime real estate.
Three hours ago as I set out on this bike ride, I’d made it my goal to visit every marker on the map. I now only had an hour and a half left before the ferry back to Galway and I wanted to eat something! It was time to get down to biking business.
Ancient Ruins on Inisheer
Down the hill from the castle, I double backed to the graveyard where the 10th century Tempall Chaomhain lies, seemingly underground. It wasn’t always below ground, but sand blown in over the last thousands of years covered it. Each year, the islanders dig it out as St. Chaomhain is the patron saint of Inisheer. Above the stone altar, I discovered an ancient engraving of Christ on the Crucifix.
There is also an ancient burial ground that I’d accidentally biked right past just a few hours earlier. This burial ground dates back to 1500 BC! It was discovered in 1855 after a storm uncovered it from the sand. They discovered urns with cremated remains.
I accidentally whizzed by another ancient site, Cill Ghobnait, even though this time I was looking for it. It’s a small church ruin without a sign. There was a tiny open gate that I passed through and narrowly missed stepping in a very large cow pie. The field surrounding this church must be used as a cow pasture these days as the field was riddled with cow pies. I quickly I explored the tiny remains of this church, completing the first leg of the bike ride!
The lady who rented me this bike told me that the portion I’d just completed would only take 45 minutes. Well, 3.5 hours later I finished and headed off for the 25-minute portion. I considered skipping it in favor of a few drinks at the local pub, but I figured, “when is the next time I’ll be on this island?”. I cycled off into the headwinds to find a drastically different island.
St. Enda’s Well
This side of the island is much wilder. There are no houses and the waves roll in strong and consistent, crashing against the very rocky shore. Along the shore, there is a memorial stone for those lives lost at sea. With the intense crash of waves behind the stone, I can easily imagine this fishing village has seen its fair share of loss. Just beyond this stone, and up a hill against the wind, is St. Enda’s well. This well was built in honor of St. Edna, the patron saint of Inis Mor. On my way out of the small stone “gate”, I noticed two clovers growing amongst the grass. This was the first time I’d seen a clover in Ireland. Quite pleased, I headed back to town, just 25 minutes later.
Two rainbows and two clovers. Sunny, blue skies. Enough time for two Jameson & Ginger Ales and a grilled sandwich at the local pub. And a smooth sail back to Galway.
I woke up Friday morning and my hostel roommate told me her ferry to the Aran Islands was canceled due to the storm.
Thursday was a magical day for a trip to Inisheer.
Have you ever been to the Aran Islands? Which one did you visit and what did you do? I’d love to know in the comments below!
Getting to the Aran Islands from Galway?
Visit Aran Island Ferries either in person or online to book your ferry out of Rosaveel to any of the three islands. They also have a bus that will take you from Galway to Rosaveel.
How much does the ferry to the islands cost?
The round trip ferry to the Aran Islands is 25 euro. If you opt to take the bus, which I highly suggest even if you have a car, it’s 9 euro round trip. This brings your total cost to 34 euro for a round trip to the Aran Islands.
How long does the ferry ride take?
The bus ride from Galway to Rosaveel is about an hour. The ferry ride to Inisheer takes approximately one hour. This is a different ferry from the one to Inis Mor and it stops first at Inis Meain. So, it’s about 40 minutes to Inis Meain and 15 from Inis Meain to Inisheer.
Each time I went, the ferry ride out to the islands was fairly turbulent, so be prepared with motion sickness pills if you’re prone to getting sick on rocky passages. A hangover would not be fun on the way out. The ride back has been much smoother each time!
What is the weather like on the Aran Islands?
Expect wind and rain and be pleasantly surprised if the sun decides to shine! When I visited Inis Mor in May, it rained all day and was very windy. But in October, a cloudy gray day turned into sunny blue skies!
What should I wear?
Layers! I wore leggings each time but since I was biking my legs stayed pretty warm. On top, I wore two long sleeve shirts and a waterproof coat. A warm hat, gloves, and a scarf would be a good idea to pack!
Is there food?
Yes, there is food! Inisheer has two pubs and a cafe, but if you go in the offseason, it’s best to call ahead as they may be closed. I went on October 11th and the bartender told me that while the pub stays open year-round, their kitchen was closing that weekend.
Can I stay on the island?
There are a couple of B&Bs and a hostel on Inisheer. Again, double check for off-season openings.