Island Hopping – Irish Style
As the dark days of January set us dreaming of new adventures to enjoy for when the snow clears, the winds die down and the light returns it is the perfect time to make plans for some Irish Island Hopping later in the year. It is fascinating to think that this small island of Ireland has some 80 smaller islands off its coastline, just waiting to be explored. Twenty of these have people living on them all year round while other wild and unspoilt islands remain uninhabited all year long. Many others have holiday homes to attract a seasonal population who spend the summer months avoiding mainland madness but never brave the winter winds on these secluded spots.
Most island hopping tourists chose to queue for the ferry to Ireland’s wonderful and scenic islands, ( Aranmore, the three Aran Islands and Clare Island, for example) there are others who opt for the path less travelled, or the sea less traversed, and seek out the unusual and lesser known islands. Dreaming of intrepid treks to some of Ireland’s remote and secret islands is the perfect antidote to the wild winds and the sideways rain.
We list just five of these special places, to whet your appetite for an upcoming Spring and Summer of island hopping, hiking and trekking to the least known of our gorgeous islands off this gorgeous big island.
This beautiful island is one of many off the coast of Gweedore in County Donegal. The last of its inhabitants reluctantly left in the mid-nineties, but they still maintain their houses on Gola and often spend time there in the summer months. An area of spectacular views with fantastic walks and clean beaches, Gola also provides some of the best rock climbing in a wild, remote and amazing setting. Check out some guided rock-climbing with these amazing adventurers: uniqueascent.ie and your ferry service is here gaothdobhair.ie. A ferry service operates during the holiday season and on request for the remainder of the year.
The furthest of the islands off Mayo, Turk is the lesser visited. Most day-trippers and tourist pile on to the Clare Island Ferry, leaving Turk to the more adventurous. Both islands are well worth a visit but the longer boat ride to Turk will reward you with empty beaches, not a whiff of a stag or hen weekend and a calm, quirky island which is a joy to hike. Perfect for snorkelling and swimming, Inishturk has a community owned shop and pub where you can enjoy a bowl of chowder while gazing at the miraculous Mayo Galway coastline. A birdwatcher’s delight and a great spot for families wanting an easy walking trail that is just that bit off the beaten track. There are several B&Bs open for business and the Island is Irish speaking. Ferries are from Roonagh Pier in Mayo.
Ok we agree that an island off the coast of Dublin can never offer complete seclusion and a trip away from the all of the maddening crowds. But you will have a lesser crowd if you opt to visit this stunning isle in the Irish Sea just 4km from the north Dublin coast, near Skerries. Four people call this island home. The most amazing fact about Lambay, is that it is home to a happy family of wallabies. Yes, you read that right. Dublin Zoo ran out of space and the marsupials were brought to the island by the Barings Family. Apparently, they have adapted well to life on the island. Home also to the only grey seal colony on the East Coast. Lambay is considered to be one of the most amazing places on the East Coast for walking trails. It is perfect for Dubs who don’t want to go too far to have a really different experience. skerriesseatours.ie run the ferries to the island.
Sherkin Island is only 10 minutes offshore from Baltimore in West Cork, but it is a whole world away from mainland worries and mundane life. A beautiful place of wild natural scenery and unspoilt nature. There are good fishing spots on the rocky headlands and if you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of seals, otters and the odd school of dolphin or porpoise. It is actually used as a base for whale watching! An easy walking trail leads around the island. Sherkin Island Horseshoe and the best thing for walkers, is that this wee part of the world is said to attract a warmer micro climate. Not sure if this is true, but it would be worth the boat ride to find out. Sherkin is also famous for its magical sunsets, so it’s ideal for a perfect overnight camping experience.
You don’t have to go too far to explore the magic of Skattery Island. A few kilometres off the coast of Clare and in the estuary of the Shannon River, this small uninhabited island, offers plenty to see and do. From the monastic ruins to the amazing views it is unsurprising that Skattery has been deemed a European Destination of Excellence. Walk in the footsteps of the 6th Century monks who once lived here in solitude. The ruins of the monastery and a modern church make the tranquil pathways an interesting and unique walk. There is an abundance of birds and wildlife and fantastic views. The ferry takes just 30 minutes from the mainland and tour details can be found here
Islands promote a feeling of freedom and pure escapism. Ireland is blessed to have so many little gems of isles just begging for exploration. It seems as if you leave all your daily drudge behind and enter a place where time has stood still. Spending time on these lesser known pathways, perched out in the sea has many benefits. The unspoilt beauty of these remote areas abounds in nature, no litter, no crowds and while getting there can be part of the challenge, the rewards are many.
Once you board that ferry and head out to sea, watching the mainland receding into the mists and looking ahead to the new and exciting land to explore, you will become hooked on Island hopping Irish style.
So, start planning those short breaks, or long weeks spent on Ireland’s lesser known islands.