Inisheer (pronounced Inish-ear) is the smallest of the Aran Islands found just off the coast of County Clare. For an island that is only 8 km2, Inisheer has many things to see and is perfect for a long weekend away when you are looking to escape the busyness of being in a city.
Inisheer is close to the Burren and the famous Cliffs of Moher, which is perfect to explore along the way to Inisheer.
If you are interested in listening to and learning some of the Irish language, Inisheer is part of the Gaeltacht (primarily Irish speaking region). Inisheer is a popular choice for Irish families to send their children to brush up on their Irish skills on a summer camp.
To get to Inisheer or back to the mainland, you can take a ferry from either Doolin or Galway. There are only passenger ferries to the island and no car ferries. You won’t need a car when you get to Inisheer! Most of the ferries will allow you to take your bicycle if you have one to bring. There are fast ferries and slow ferries to choose from.
2. Rocky remainders
The first thing that visitors will notice on the island is the sheer number of hand build, rough stone walls surrounding small fields. Inisheer’s landscape comprised of the same rocky landscape as found in The Burren, found just off the Inisheer coast on the mainland.
The Burren is a karst landscape (rock layer under limestone which has been eroded to form a distinctive landform) which looks like a jagged rocky pavement which covers the landscape. Early farmers on Inisheer found arable land underneath the rock layer and started the laborious task of cutting, lifting, sizing and packing the rectangular cut stones into walls which divided the small farms.
Sheep were the most commonly farmed livestock on the island and are the origin of the famous Aran wool, of which the traditional wooly garments are made. Today you can find Aran wool garments across Ireland.
Today a lot of the rocky walled small farms stand empty or are occupied by a few cattle or horses. I managed to catch sight of a small number of sheep while I was there.
For a biological interest, the island holds some interesting species. Plants found on the island include arctic, alpine and Mediterranean species. Animals found on the island include rabbits, various butterflies and bird species, otters and lizards.
3. Teampall Caomhán
Pronounced tem-pawl kwee-vawn in Irish, known as St Cavan’s church, is a ruin of a church built in the 10th century. The church was almost burried by drifting sands and has been excavated by the islanders. The saint’s grave is found near the church building.
4. Plassey shipwreck
If you watched the Irish TV series Father Ted you might recognise the shipwreck which appears in the intro of the series.
The Plassey which was launched in the 1940’s was a steam trawler carrying whiskey, stained glass and yarn. The ship ran aground on it’s journey from Galway Bay after crashing into the rocks on the island in 1960. The residents of the island were able to rescue the entire crew, while the ship remains on the Finnis Rock of the Island.
The lighthouse was opened in 1857. It reaches up to 37 meters high and radiates over 20 nautical miles. Visitors are only able to reach up to the walls surrounding the lighthouse and aren’t able to visit the lighthouse itself.
6. Tobar Einne
Tobar Einne is a well preserved sacred well of St Enda which is said to have been a well used for healing.
7. O’Brien’s castle
The castle is believed to have been built in the 14th century which would make it one of the oldest ruins on the Aran Islands. There is a steep ascent to the island with the castle being built near the highest point of the island.
The castle was built by the O’Briens who controlled the shipping routes of the are and were tasked with protecting and guarding the bay and harbour against pirates and plunderers. In 1582 the O’Flahertys sieged and took possession of the castle. In 1652 the castle served in the Cromwell invasion and was decommissioned in 1652.
8. Inisheer Airport
Another way to travel to and from the island is taking a plane. It offers a scenic alternative if you don’t have the stomach for the ferry trip!
9. Getting around the island
Since you aren’t able to take your car for your trip to the island, there are alternative means to getting around the island rather than on foot! There are bicycle rentals available and if you feel like a more traditional mode of transport, there are horse-drawn carts around the island.
10. The beach
Inisheer has a really great beach just near the harbour, with calm turquoise waters.
Besides all of these outdoor activities, there are cafes, restaurants and pubs and craft shops on the island. Perfect if the weather takes a bit of a turn!