The rocky Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer Aran Islands, a reef of limestone stretching underwater from the Burren in County Clare and surfacing in Galway Bay can be reached by air from Connemara regional Airport in Minna near Inverin, by Island Ferries ferry from Rossaveal near Galway City or by O’Brien Shipping in Galway (contact Galway tourist office). There is also an Island Ferry to Inismore from Galway City.
The huge stone forts on the Aran Islands are said to have been built by a legendary Celtic tribe, the Firbolgs who came from Europe. The islands were the stronghold of the Gaelic O’Flaherty and O’Brien families and apart from their increasingly popularity with tourists very little has changed the traditional lifestyle on the islands where rocky farmland is divided up by hundreds of dry stone walls. Some older people still wear bright traditional dress, and people still make and use currachs, light rowing boat made from a wood frame covered in pitch coated animals skins. The Aran jumpers made of unbleached sheep’s wool in elaborate cabling patterns are also famous and sold throughout Ireland.
Inishmore (Big Island or Arainn in Irish)
Inismore is the largest of the Aran Islands at nine miles long and two miles wide. Kilronan where the ferries dock is the main village where there are accommodation, eateries and traditional music pubs. There is plenty to see on the island. Many tourists get around by bicycle and you can also hire pony traps from Kilronan. Places to visit and things to do include the Aran Heritage Centre, Dun Eochla circular ring fort and smaller Dun Eoghanachta ring fort, grey seals in Port Chorruch Bay, kayaking, boating and fishing from Aran Watersports, beaches, camping, beaches at Kilmurvey Cockle Strand in Killeany and the amazing and huge Dun Aengus and Dun Duchathair (Black) Iron Age forts built at the edge of sheer sea cliffs. The semicircular Dun Aengus fort edges 200 metres sea cliffs so that it would only have to be defended on one side and is surrounded by a chevaux de frise of stones to hinder attackers. Saint Enda established a monastery on Inishmore in the 5th century and it became an important centre of religious learning and had pupils including Saint Colmcille (or Columba) who went on to found monasteries in Iona, Clonmacnoise and Kilmacduagh. The ruined site of Saint Enda’s monastery is near the island’s airstrip. Other monastic ruins on the island include Teampall Chiarain (church of Saint Kieran) which has a high cross beside it and Saint Kieran’s Well near Mainistir and the Seven Churches, a series of monastic houses and small churches dating from the 8th or 9th century where Saint Brendan the Navigator’s grave is also marked with a cross. A good example of an Aran dry stone cloghan hut, Cloghan na Carraige is near Kilmurvey. The author of Famine, Liam O’Flaherty who fought in the Irish Civil War on the republican side was from Inishmore.
Inishmaan (Inis Meain, Middle Island)
Irish speaking area, huge Iron Age oval shaped stone fort of Chonchuir, or Conor, brother of Aengus, built on high ground with views over the island, Dun Fearbhaigh 8th century stone fort, Cill Cheannannach 8th century ruined church, high stone walled fields, Tra Leirtreach beach, accommodation, eateries, one pub Teach Osta Inis Meain. Synge’s Chair is a spot where the Irish playwright JM Synge, a key writer in the Gaelic Literary Revival was said to frequented during his time writing on the Aran Islands and his former cottage is near Dun Chonchuir. Synge’s play Riders to the Sea is set on Inismaan and his book The Aran Islands was an important text in the fuelling the Irish nationalist desire to reclaim forgotten culture and traditions.
Inisheer (Inis Oirr Eastern Island)
Smallest of the Aran islands, accommodation, places to eat, bikes for hire, 10th century Saint Kevin’s Church (Teampall Chaoimhain), Inisheer Heritage House, 9th century Cill Ghobnait Saint Gobnait’s church, Well of Saint Enda. The O’Brien ruling family’s 15th century castle is built inside the Dun Formna ancient ring fort.
16th century towerhouse castle of the ruling O’Flagherty clan on the edge of the Lough Corrib off the N59 near Oughterard, caves below the castle.
Battle of Aughrim Interpretative Centre
Near Ballinasloe in Eastern Galway at the site of one of the bloodiest battles ever fought in Ireland, the Battle of Aughrim Interpretative Centre tells about the decisive victory of the forces of William of Orange over the Catholic King James II in 1691, who had already suffered heavy losses at the Battle of the Boyne the previous year.
Beaches in County Galway
Sandy beach at Spiddal, white sandy beaches of Gorteen and Dog’s Bay, Tra Mhoir and Mannin Bay near Ballyconneely, long Omey Strand near Clifden with walk out to Omey Island at low tide, white sandy Glassillaunbeach, Salruck, Gurteen and Lettergesh beaches near Killary Harbour, beaches on the Aran Islands
The 12th century Clonfert Cathedral and monastery near Ballinsloe, was founded by Saint Brendan the Navigator in the 6th century. The Vikings sacked it in the 9th and 12th centuries but a Romanesque doorway and animal and plant carvings figures remain intact.
Well preserved 16th century castle near Kinvara built on what is thought to be the site of the 6th century castle of Guaire Aidhne, King of Connaught, with different period history exhibitions, also hosts medieval banquets May to September.
Galway’s city walls were built around by the Normans in the 13th century to defend their settlement on the River Corrib from the Irish O’Flagherty family from whom they had seized the land. The city was loyal to the English crown and was an important trading port trading with Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, but was sacked by Cromwell’s forces after a nine month siege in 1652. The city also stood on the side of King James against William of Orange in 1691 and was further destroyed. Its current revival has only been in recent decades. Galway is now Ireland’s fourth largest city and one of the liveliest cities for nightlife, shopping and theatre. Theatres include the Druid Theatre, which has its own theatre company, the Town Hall Theatre and The Galway Theatre, which shows Irish language plays. The Galway Arts Festival is hugely popular attracting visitors from far and wide, the Galway Races are in the last week July, the annual Jazz Festival is held in February and the Cuirt Literature Festival at Easter. Places to visit include the impressive colleagiant Church of Nicholas of Myra Protestant Church dating from 1320 and still in use, the small museum at the former home of writer James Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle, St Nicholas Catholic Cathedral, Leisureland Waterpark with slides etc at Salthill, boat trips on the Corrib River from Eglinton Pier. Galway has plenty of eateries, accommodation and pubs, discos and clubs. The City airport is Carnmore Airport. Ferries to the Aran Islands also run from the quay.
Kilmacduagh Monastic Site
Near Gort, the Kilmacduagh monastic site has one of the tallest round towers in Ireland (100 feet high) which leans 2 feet to the south, a ruined 14th century Cathedral and an oratory founded by Saint Colman on land donated by his brother Guaire King of Connaught. It became a bishopric in the 12th century.
Killary harbour is a steep beautiful inlet, 10 miles long and 45 metres deep between County Mayo and County Galway. The routes from Delphi in County Mayo to Leenane past the beautiful Aashleagh Falls (where you can see salmon leaping in the spawning season) and on to Lettergesh on the coast or inland to Kylemore Abbey are very scenic. The Little Killary Adventure Centre near Saluck offers canoeing, sea kayaking, sailing, archery, rock climbing and other outdoor activities around Killary Harbour. The beautiful white sandy beaches of Glassillaunbeach, Salruck, Gurteen and Lettergesh are also near Killary Harbour. Scubadive West on Glassillaun Beach offers diving around the coast and islands.
19th century Neogothic abbey on the wooded scenic shore of Lough Kylemore built by English businessman Mitchell Henry and now inhabited by Benedictine nuns who originally came from Belgium during World War One near Clifden, caf?, craft shop.
Small inhabited island off Cleggan, 4 miles wide by two miles long, with sandy beaches and pretty scenery, Lough Bo Finne (white cow), accommodation, camping, birdlife including the rare corncrake. St Colman exiled himself to Inisbofin in 664 after disagreeing with the English church about the new calendar and established a monastery near the harbour where there is now a small 13th century church. Grace O’Malley the pirate Queen of Connaught used Inisbofin as a base for attacking English ships. Cromwell captured Inisbofin in 1652 and built a harsh prison for priests. One bishop was chained to the Bishop’s Rock near the harbour to drown when the tide came in. Boats to Inisbofin leave from Cleggan from April to October.
Lough Corrib is the Republic of Ireland’s largest lake, which divides county Galway, east to west, and is one of Ireland’s most popular salmon, seatrout and brown trout fishing lakes. Lough Corrib also has over 360 islands including Inchagoill Island, which has an extensive monastic site. There are several religious ruins on the island including the Lia Lughuaedon Mac Menueh (stone of Lughuaedon, son of Menueh) obelisk gravestone which has the oldest Christian Latin carved inscription in Ireland, a small oratory church Teampall Phadraig (Saint Patrick’s Church), the 10th century Romanesque Teampall na Naoimh (Saint’s Church). Boats to Inchagoill Island run from Oughterard and from Cong in County Mayo. The Oughterard boat also goes to Cong with its fine ruined abbey. On the Eastern shore of Lough Corrib near Headford, Ross Errilly (or Ross Abbey) is the largest and well persevered Franciscan abbey in Ireland.
Lough Inagh Valley
Wild scenic valley running north from Recess past Lough Inagh and the Twelve Ben mountains. Scenic Lough Derryclare is just west of Recess.
Aquarium and museum at Derryinver Bay at Renvyle near Letterfrack
Patrick Pearse Cottage
Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) was a key player in the Gaelic literary and cultural revival and led the 1916 Easter Rising which he knew would be doomed to fail as he said Irish blood sacrifice was needed to kindle republican spirit in Ireland. He was executed after the Rising.