Death-defying feats are part of the history of Inis Mór, the biggest of the three sea-battered Aran Islands in Ireland’s Galway Bay.
Inhabitants used to make a living by bird-catching on the 300ft cliffs, fishing off the sheer drop and – as depicted in the film The Man of Aran (for which British Sea Power recorded a soundtrack, indie fans…) – hunting huge basking sharks to get oil for their lamps. You’ll be relieved to hear things have changed a bit, though not too much. There’s more on the menu than seabird (Atlantic oysters washed down with a pint of Guinness are a favourite) and the main settlement of Kilronan has a grocery store, port and several hostels and B&Bs. But the island still only has about 900 residents, the road signs remain proudly in Irish, and its attractions are those of an ‘outdoor museum’ – lots of historic monuments and the savagely beautiful landscape itself. Perfect for a dive into ancient history.
Please note that the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series stop on Inis Mór is an all-ticket event due to limited capacity.
In summer, Aer Arann operates hourly return flights from Minna Airport in Connemara, 15 miles from Galway, to the airstrip at Killeany for 45 euros (weather permitting, which it often isn’t). Iarnód Éireann offers a two-day package including train, ferry or plane and accommodation starting at 109 euros. Or approach those cliffs head on and get a return ferry ticket from Ros an Mhil in Connemara to the island’s main harbour at Kilronan for 25 euros. There is a good bus service from Galway City to Connemara, with around six trips a day for seven euros.
WHERE TO STAY
The Artists Hostel is a cosy 10-bed hostel set in the island’s only forest, just across from a traditional music bar and three minutes' walk from Kilronan. Handier for arrivals by plane is Tigh Fitz in Killeany, a small guesthouse with its own bar.
REMEMBER TO PACK
Your sea legs, a head for heights, and a map (preferably Tim Robinson's meticulously drawn map of Oileáin Arainn). The locals may all speak English as a second language, but the roadsigns don’t.
5 PLACES TO VISIT
This Iron Age fort (four massive concentric stone walls on a towering cliff) offers a killer view and a spine-tingling sense of mystery since no one’s quite sure exactly what the site was used for. Druidic bonfires, possibly, or as a departure point for souls leaving the island for Tír na nÓg, the mythical land of eternal youth.
Cliffs of Moher (pictured, above)
Visible from Inis Mór and reachable by boat, these stunning cliffs (are you sensing a theme here?) were filmed as the ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ in Rob Reiner’s 1987 adventure flick, The Princess Bride. Rising to 702ft in some places, they’re pretty awesome at sunset. There’s also a tourist centre with a multimedia show.
Tigh Joe Watty
What more Irish way to start your visit than in the pub? In Inis Mór’s main hub of Kilronan, this friendly watering hole is the place for impromptu nightly music sessions and banter with the locals.
In Kilronan alone there are several, all sheltered and with beautiful white sand.
The Puffing Holes
Sea water crashes up against the cliffs, is forced into a cave and puffs up through these two circular holes 100 yards from the cliff edge in the south of the island near Killeany.
5 FAMOUS ALUMNI
The Lawrence of Arabia star, who has been nominated for eight Oscars and joined the Hollywood Walk Of Fame last year, was born in Galway before being brought up in the north of England.
Robert O'Hara Burke
The Aussie explorer, and leader of the first (ill-fated) expedition to cross the continent from north to south, was actually born in Galway.
The Edwardian Irish dramatist, best known for the tragi-comic masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World, spent time on the Aran Islands, where he was seduced by the ‘resilient, hard-bitten people and their fierce cultural independence’.
Nora Jane Noone
Galway is also the birthplace of the amusingly-named actress of The Descent and The Magdalene Sisters semi-fame.
Another Galway man – the Irish-American boxing champion and winner of the world heavyweight title in 1885 (who lost it to the great Bob Fitzsimmons the following year.)
WHAT TO DO WITH...
Hire a bike for half a day (you’ll be beset with offers when you step off the ferry) and head out along the coastal road. It’s a half-hour’s ride from Kilronan to Dún Aonghasa.
Buy a couple of ferry tickets for the daytrip to see the Cliffs of Moher and other Aran Islands. Or kit yourself out in a hand-knitted Aran jumper (protection against the harsh Atlantic spray doesn’t come cheap). The story is that each Aran Island family had its own knitting pattern, so the bodies of washed-up fishermen who had died at sea could be identified by the pattern on their sweater. Who needs dental records?
Well, that’s one hell of a lot of prehistoric ruins. (500 euros is also, incidentally, the amount raised for the local lifeboat charity by fans of surreal cult Irish sitcom Father Ted, who set up a swearbox at the island’s annual Father Ted Fest. So you could always splash out on ‘fecks’, ‘fups’, ‘grassholes’ and ‘backstards’…)