Celebrating all the very best of Ireland’s language, culture and traditional way of life, a trip around Ireland’s many offshore islands is a must-do for the traveller who is looking for a truly unique getaway experience. From beautiful Sherkin Island in County Cork to the famous Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, Ireland islands have something for everyone. From ancient ruins and unrivalled bird watching opportunities to sandy beaches and spectacular sea views, these island escapes are ready and waiting to be enjoyed and explored.
Dubbed ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’, Cork’s Spike Island was recently awarded the prestigious title of ‘Europe’s Best Tourist Attraction,’ beating The Eiffel Tower and The Colosseum on its way to the prize. Haven’t heard of Spike Island? You are not alone. The island was closed for many years, before undergoing a major redevelopment, after which it opened to the public in 2016. Ireland’s most notorious offshore island, Spike Island is known for the star-shaped Fort Mitchell, which held more than 2,000 prisoners in its time. Nowadays, the island is free of convicts and open to visitors, many of whom greatly enjoy an ‘After Dark’ tour of the abandoned fortress. Spike Island can be reached via ferry from Cobh, a town famous as the doomed Titanic’s last port of call in 1912.
A short ferry trip from neighbouring Baltimore in County Cork, Sherkin Island is a wildlife haven that is well-known for its whale and bird watching opportunities. Like many of Ireland islands, the population of Sherkin is small, averaging a year-round population of just one-hundred people. However, this population soars during the summer months, due to an influx of visitors and a host of events, such as Sherkin’s popular Arts festival and sailing regatta, which take place during June and July respectively. One of Sherkin Island’s most beautiful spots is Silver Strand, an unspoilt sandy beach, with views that stretch for miles out to sea. To reach this beach, take a stroll along Sherkin’s winding wildflower-scented roads, where all paths lead to beauty.
A Gaeltacht island that truly embraces Irish tradition, Cape Clear, as Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island, has a wild and rugged beauty all of its own. Lying eight miles off the coast of West Cork, this island where history lurks around every corner offers views that stretch as far as Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point. On the island itself, you will be greeted with a warm welcome by locals who are fiercely proud of their island and of their heritage. Many Cape Clear locals speak the native language on a day to day basis, while traditional Irish storytelling is embraced on the island to such an extent that an International Storytelling Festival has been held on the island every year since 1994.
A truly unspoilt beauty, Bere Island in West Cork holds the honour of being voted Ireland’s tidiest Ireland for multiple years in a row. An island with a unique history, on Bere Island you’ll enter a world were the standing stones and ring forts of Ireland’s ancient past sit alongside reminders of Britain’s imperialistic presence on the island. Many of the attractions on Bere Island are water-based, ranging from dolphin-watching to diving. One of the most popular attractions among visitors to the island is the Sea Safari, which offers a spectacular sea-view tour of the Beara coastline, while taking in a multitude of secret beaches and hidden caves along the way.
The Skellig Islands
Before becoming world famous due to an appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Skellig Islands of Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) and Little Skellig, were better known for as UNESCO World Heritage sites of outstanding universal value. Skellig Michael, home to an ancient monastic site which includes a number of beehive-shaped huts, is set two hundred meters above the sea, and can be reached via a climb of over five-hundred stone steps. Don’t feel like climbing? Visit the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre on nearby Valencia Island, where you can learn all about the ancient history of the Skellig monks via a series of multi-platform recreations, which includes film presentations.
The Blasket Islands
A group of six islands set off the coast of Kerry, The Blasket Islands are as well-known for their literary heritage as they are for their wild, untamed beauty. The most well-known and arguably the most beautiful of the islands, The Great Blasket Island was inhabited until 1953, though its population had been decimated over the years, due to many factors, including emigration. With just twenty-two inhabitants left on the island, the decision was made that the remaining islanders should leave the Great Blasket and move to the mainland. Though the island remains uninhabited today, it retains a literary legacy that can be found in the works of writers such as Peig Sayers, who documented the often harsh and unrelenting ways of island life. If you truly want to get back to nature while getting away from it all, then a visit to the beautiful Blasket Islands is a must.
The Aran Islands
Located just off Galway Bay are the islands of Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, collectively known as The Aran Islands. Perhaps the most famous of Ireland islands (though Skellig Michael is gathering pace!), people travel from all over the world to immerse themselves in the beauty and tradition of these islands, where the Irish language is spoken and the purchase of authentic Aran cable-knitted sweater is a must. With a population of approximately nine hundred, Inishmore, the largest of the islands, contains several must-see sights, including the ruins of the Seven Churches and Dun Aonghasa, an early medieval hill fort that sits right at the edge of a cliff. For a great night out on Inishmore, look no further than Joe Watty’s Bar. Named one of the ten best pubs in Ireland for traditional music by Lonely Planet, Joe Watty’s Bar offers a menu of fresh seafood, craft beers and traditional music all year round.