Aran Islands, Ireland

An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983

Aran Islands, Ireland

Inisheer
Inisheer, Aran Islands.

The Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland – not to be confused with the Isle of Arran in Scotland – are a rugged archipelago in Ireland’s wild Atlantic, visible from the west coasts of County Galway and County Clare. An easy day trip from the mainland, the Aran Islands have long drawn visitors for their stark beauty and strong preservation of Irish traditions, language, and life ways from another era. 

The Aran Islands form part of the same limestone escarpment as the Burren in County Clare, with small amounts of grass, flowers, and other fauna dotting the rocky terrain. It is unknown what brought the first people to the islands – only that it is likely they were fleeing attack – but ancient forts here are among the earliest structures in Ireland. Dún Aonghasa, on the largest island Inishmore (IrishInis Mór) is Ireland’s best preserved ancient fort, dating back to the 10th century BC. Nearby Dún Dúchathair – meaning ‘Black Fort’ – is believed to date back to the Iron Age or Early Middle Ages. 

In the early Christian Era, the remoteness of the islands brought monks and other mystics, who sought to remove themselves from the broader world of sin and wealth. Saint Enda established the first monastery in Ireland on Inishmore in the 5th century AD. Later in the Middle Ages there were over ten monasteries on Inishmore alone, while most of Ireland’s early saints had a connection with the islands. Among the most atmospheric ruins are those at Na Seacht dTeampaill, with two churches and several high crosses, and Teampall Bheanáin, a tiny hermitage believed to be from the 11th to 13th centuries. 

Inis Mor
Ancient Christian structures on the Aran Islands.

Historians believed that the islands became more populous in the 17th century, when in the aftermath of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell confiscated the lands of Irish Catholics east of the Shannon River – an incident that went down in Ireland’s history as Cromwell telling the Irish to go ‘to hell or Connaught’. The newcomers adapted to their harsh lands, developing a system of agriculture in which they mixed sand and seaweed on top of rocks to create fertile soil, a technique used to grow potatoes and other vegetables and graze sheep and cows. 

The isolation of the islands meant that the Irish language and ancient Irish traditions held on here in a time in which the majority of the country was speaking English. Even in the late 20th century, a number of older islanders were monolingual in Irish, and the islands remain an official Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region today.

In the late 19th century, the islands attracted Irish nationalists and cultural figures associated with the Gaelic Revival, who sought an unbroken heritage of Irish language, beliefs, and culture. Patrick Pearce, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising that proclaimed the Republic of Ireland, lived on the islands in order to learn Irish. The islands were also visited by writers such as W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and J.M. Synge, and inspired many of their Celtic Revival works. Like the similar Blasket Islands in County Kerry, a number of the most acclaimed Irish-language writers come from the Aran Islands, including Liam O’Flaherty and Máirtín Ó Direáin.

In 1933, the filmmaker Robert Flaherty aimed to record the islands vanishing way of life in his film Man of Aran, though it was later revealed that his documentary distorted many facts in order to portray a romantic, ‘primitive’ way of life, that even then was disappearing. 

Aran jumpers
Traditional Aran jumpers.

Inishmore, the largest island, attracts the majority of tourists, but the other two islands are equally interesting. Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), the middle island, is the most traditional and the most thoroughly Irish-speaking, while tiny Inisheer (Inis Oírr) is home to some pretty beaches. 

The Aran Islands also gave their name to the intricately woven woolen Aran jumpers. Traditionally knitted by hand in order to keep fishermen warm in the harsh winds of the Atlantic, the Aran jumper has since become a symbol of Ireland, worn around the world. 

Odyssey Traveller visits the Aran Islands as part of our Tour of Ireland. While most visitors come to the islands on a day tour from Doolin or Galway City, we stay overnight on Inishmore, so that you can soak up the fascinating traditional culture of the islands. 

If you’re interested in visiting the Emerald Isle, why not join an Odyssey Traveller guided tour? Our tour of Ireland is designed especially for mature and senior travellers who want an informed, in-depth experience of their destination. Beginning in Dublin, we delve into Ireland’s history at Trinity College (home to the Book of Kells), St Patrick’s Cathedral, and Dublin Castle. We also learn about Dublin‘s literary history on a walking tour of the city; and make time for a tasting at the Guinness Storehouse. Outside Dublin, our escorted tour takes you to important cultural and historic sites, including a number of Irish castles – Kylemore Abbey, Blarney Castle (and the Blarney Stone), Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel, Muckross House (accessible by jaunting car from Killarney) and Ross Castle in Killarney National Park. We also head to Glendalough, a monastic site in the Wicklow Mountains, and enjoy traditional Irish music in Galway City.

Our coach tour also travels through the stunning cliffs and beaches of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: the Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula, and Connemara National Park, before ending our tour in Northern Ireland, with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Giant’s Causeway and a historic walking tour of Belfast.

Odyssey Traveller’s tour of Ireland is all-inclusive, comprising accommodation, meals, and entrance fees for all attractions. Our coach tour doesn’t whiz from place to place – Dublin to the Moher Cliffs to the Giant’s Causeway on a day trip/day tour – but instead, takes the time to let you really get to know each travel destination included on the guided tour. We move in a small group, led by a local guide chosen for their knowledge of Ireland’s history and culture. If that sounds appealing, click here for more information. We also welcome followers on social media – click here for our Facebook profile.

Articles about Ireland published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Ireland:

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