The Aran Islands: One Day Isn’t Enough

In March, I flew from Spain to Ireland with two main goals in mind: experience St. Paddy’s Day in Dublin and settle down for some peace and quiet. Through one of the work-for-accommodation websites, I found a promising job: working in a hostel on the Aran Islands. Set up for two weeks, I arrived to peaceful Inishmore, the largest of the three islands, and picked out my bunk bed for the next two weeks.

Wikipedia’s beautiful map of the Aran Islands.

Now, most people who visit the Aran Islands arrive on the early ferry around 10 am to the island and leave again at 5 pm. When the boat lands on shore, groups of young people pour out onto the dock and most head directly to the bike rental place next door. For two hours the roads are filled with tourists, all heading the same direction, towards the old stone fort of Dun Aengus. And by the end of the day they’re gone. They’ve “done” the Aran Islands. Saw what needed to be seen. Time to move on.

Having been there for two weeks and not even setting foot the other two islands, I find it truly hard to believe one day could be enough.

Why?

A million reasons. Two million reasons! Soooo many reasons.

Six Other Forts

Dun Aengus is a really cool fort. It’s big, it’s set on a breathtaking part of the coast and it’s SUPER old, as in before-Jesus old, and some of that stuff (like the outer defensive rocks) is still standing. But did you know that the Aran Islands actually contain seven forts overall? They are less popular and don’t have visitors centers and tourist infrastructure set up already, so when you head there it’s like your own private hike and treasure hunt. Four are on the main island of Inishmore, two on Inishmaan and one on the smallest island, Inisheer. While the forts are all similar in construction (round and made out of rocks), they’re in a few pretty cool locations. In my opinion, the landscape around them is the biggest reason for you to go take a look, in particular the cliffs near the Black Fort. Breathtaking, people.

Watching the sunset from the Black Fort.
Watching the sunset from the Black Fort.

Crazy Beautiful Cliffs

Speaking of landscape, let’s talk about cliffs on the Aran Islands. Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, the striking ocean cliffs on the islands are all free to look at and without barriers (aside from those that are part of Dun Aengus), so you can really feel the reality that if you just walked three more steps, you would be dead. (Please, no one do that.) There is no feeling in the world that can compare to being surrounded by silence and listening to the ocean beat against the huge stone walls while you look down from above. You could spend several hours working your way down the coastline, contemplating your own life, and not tire of the landscape.

Nature's orchestra. #Ireland #AranIslands

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The Seals

The Aran Islands have seals! And they aren’t always out to play. You have to be lucky to see them lying out on the rocks, sunning themselves, and if you’re only around for the day, then you’re likely to miss them. Heck, I have friends that tried three times to see the seals and still weren’t lucky.

Nightlife With The Locals

I can’t really guarantee that locals will talk to you (unless you’re an attractive female, then I just can’t guarantee that you’ll like it). But if you’re in the right place at the right time, AKA in the right Irish pub with the right drunk people, then you’ll have nothing but a blast. There is no culture like the Irish pub culture, and the Aran Islands are one of the most authentically local places to do it. Maybe you’ll end up with some new Irish phrases under your belt, as nearly everyone speaks Gaelic.

I didn't have any photos of locals from my stay, so this picture of some German dudes will have to suffice.
I didn’t have any photos of locals from my stay, so this blurry picture of some German dudes will have to suffice. The one guy had been to the Aran Islands three times already, so that totally counts. Right?

It’ll Probably Rain

Okay, so this is a bit of a downer, but let’s face reality: you’re in Ireland. It’s probably going to rain several times while you’re there. And if you plan out your trip to the Aran Islands and it rotates upon a single day when you can explore, you could be rained out and be one sad puppy. It’s best to plan for a few days and then an afternoon of rain (or two) won’t ruin anything.

Cows Galore

I’m kind of a cow freak, and I know it, so the Aran Islands were a little slice of paradise. Cows are everywhere, of all different colors, of all different ages, and you can often get pretty close to some of them and really gaze into their big ol’ eyes and then take pictures. Some of them have adorable tufts of hair on top of their head. Some of them might be walking down the street with you. Lots of them have babies. If you like cows, you’ll love the Aran Islands, and I haven’t even touched upon the chickens, goats, horses, ponies, donkeys and other assorted animal life all around you. And let’s face it: one day with cows everywhere is just several days too few!

Cow butt! Happy day!
Cow butt! Happy day!

Hidden Old Ruins

In addition to the super old forts, there are also several church ruins that you can find scattered across the island, along with graveyards and a few informative signs posted if you’re lucky. The tourist office can tell you where to find them, or you could just take your bike. head out and see what you run into. I personally have a fixation with graveyards and love looking at all of the different headstones used around the world, and stumbled upon the ruins of a 6th century monastery while I was walking around one. Pretty cool.

Peace and Quiet

Why do you go to Ireland? For nature. (Okay, and Guinness.) Why do we seek out nature? Because it gives us a little respite from the busy world around us. If you want to find that on the Aran Islands, especially during the busy summertime, you need to stay over for a few days and use those early morning times (before the first ferry arrives full of people) to take a walk and breath in the fresh air. When you’re busy doing your day trip from fort to old church to lunch and back in time for the ferry, you’re not able to sit back and really relax, listen to the ocean and enjoy everything the Aran Islands has to offer.

No, I didn't make this picture up. This is real.
No, I didn’t make this picture up. This is real.

What do you think, have you ever been to the Aran Islands? How long would you stay?

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