Everything you need to know about Visiting Inis Mór!
I aim to give you a complete guide to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, off the West Coast of Ireland. I will give you an honest review of everything on Inis Mór to help you plan your trip! Have a read about the attractions, the history and the scenery that this fantastic place has to offer. For some more inside tips to help make the most of your visit, have a read of my 11 Top Tips for Visiting Inis Mór. Come on, embrace your inner Notions and explore Inis Mór with me!
There are a few different ways to get to Inis Mór. Aran Island Ferries operate year round services to and from all three of the Aran Islands from Rossaveel in West Galway. You can also get a bus (as part of a single package) from Galway city in time to meet the ferry. There are two companies that offer seasonal ferry trips the islands from Doolin in Co. Clare. They are the Doolin Ferry Company and Doolin2Aran Ferries.
I travelled with Aer Arann Islands from their airport in Inverin, Co. Galway. The flight time was just under 10 minutes and a return flight cost €49. When you arrive on Inis Mór, there is a shuttle bus that will bring you to where you’re staying and back to the airport for €5 return. Make sure to confirm your pick up time well before your scheduled collection time by calling Inis Mór Airport on 099-61109.
The planes are typically eight passenger seats. Both you, and your luggage, will be weighed so as to best position you in the plane for the flight. On my outbound flight there was only two other people travelling with me. Whereas, on my return to the mainland, I was the only passenger! I essentially had a private plane!!!
I would strongly advise visiting Inis Mór for a few days in order to get a full appreciation for the delights of the island. The island boasts a large variety of Bed and Breakfasts, I chose the Claí Bán. The owners, Marion and Bartley were amazing! They were so chatty and friendly! The breakfasts there were both delicious and they were enough to fill me for a whole day of top notch touristing! They really were the perfect hosts! The room I had could sleep three, there was a really comfy double bed and a single bed.
It’s a 2 minute walk from the best pub/restaurant on the island, Watty’s, and approx. 500 m from the main village, Kilronan. The Claí Bán is easy walking distance to the shop. It’s also uphill from Kilronan. This is hugely important when you have to cycle everywhere! It meant that when you set off in the morning, you already had a hill conquered!
The main mode of transport around Inis Mór is a bicycle that you can rent for the duration of your stay from Aran Islands Bike Hire in Kilronan. My B&B advised me to lock it when leaving it in the busier locations. This isn’t necessarily to prevent theft (sure where could they go with it), it’s more to ensure that you use the same bike and that you/someone else doesn’t accidentally take the wrong one.
The bike costs €15 per day and there is a small extra charge if you choose to keep the bike overnight.
The only cars on the island belong to Islanders (people who are lucky enough to call this place home). There are shuttle bus services and pony and trap style tours that are mainly aimed at people day-tripping to the island. Still, if you’d rather not cycle, they might be the answer to your prayers!
Inis Mór’s main attraction (and rightly so!) is the breathtaking Dún Aonghusa. Situated atop the highest cliffs on Inis Mór, this ancient stone fort attracts virtually every visitor to it for two main reasons, the history of this extraordinary structure and its incredibly scenic location!
Dún Aonghusa is situated in the West part of Inis Mór, about 20 to 30 minutes by bicycle from Kilronan (where the ferries dock). There are two main routes across the island to it, the main road (essentially one big hill) which is a shorter, but tougher cycle or the low road which is much flatter and a little longer. You will need to leave your bicycle in the designated parking area near the Visitor’s Centre and hike up to it by foot. The hike is easy enough and should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
So What Am I Looking At?
When you get up to it you will notice a few things. Firstly there are what looks like loads of jagged stones outside the walls. These are an ancient defensive measure, known as a Cheveaux de Frise. They were built in around 700 BC. There are four walls, all constructed of dry stone (this means there was nothing used to bind the stones together, such as mortar). These walls are taller than you’d think (about 6 metres!) and quite thick (up to 4 metres in places!). They must’ve been exceptionally formidable to any attacking force.
The best defence the fort has is the 100m (Approx. 330 ft) high cliffs upon which it sits. There is a sheer drop from the fort to the sea below so exercise extreme caution when you’re near them, especially in high wind or heavy weather. If you wish to look over the edge, do so with the utmost care and only lie down in order to peer over. It is theorised that the fort was originally built hundreds of metres from the sea and that it’s current state is due to costal erosion.
Excavations have dated Dún Aonghusa (the oldest of the island’s four large forts) to around 1100 BC with some of the outer walls constructed later in around 500 BC. Other studies have shown that although the solid structures weren’t yet built, people were living on this site as far back as 1500 BC.
When you can eventually pry yourself away from the amazing views and the breathtaking Dún Aonghusa, make sure to appreciate the views of Inis Mór on the walk back to your bicycle! There are a few beautiful little shops and a café near the bike park for you to peruse and refresh after crossing this amazing spot off your bucket list!
West Inis Mór
As well as the headline attraction of Dún Aonghusa, the Western end of Inis Mór has loads more to offer. There isn’t much in the way of tourist attractions when you go beyond Eoghancht, but if you do cycle the remainder of the island, you’ll find a collection of islands and a peaceful shore that is a good spot to indulge in some fishing. Have a look at this Guide to West Inis Mór!
Na Seacht dTeampall
Na Seacht dTeampall, The Seven Churches, a actually consist of two churches and five domestic buildings. This collection of beautiful ruins are located in a roadside graveyard, just North of the main road. This is possibly one of the most accessible sites on the whole island. Very important to note if you don’t want to hike too far, or if you have limited time on Inis Mór.
Teampall Bhreacáin, at the centre, was originally built in the 8th Century and was later extended in the 10th Century. The second church, Teampall an Phoill, was a later addition, built in the 15th Century along with the most recent of the outbuildings. I think it’s crazy that, apart from the headstones, the “newest” building here is well over 500 years old! The site also boasts an 11th Century High Cross and penitential beds called “Leapacha”.
Clochán na Carraige
Clochán na Carraige, the Beehive Hut, is a dry stone house that has larger than you’d think! The entire structure is literally made from stones without mortar of any description! There are two doors and a window built into the sides. From the outside, it looks almost circular, but inside it’s pretty much rectangular.
Dún Eoghanachta is the Westernmost of Inis Mór’s four large stone ring forts. It’s an easy enough 10 to 15 minute hike from the nearest “road” (if you can call it that!). Because it’s in the middle of relatively fertile fields there’s often loads of wildflowers surrounding the fort. For this reason, and because of it’s relative isolation in some of the larger fields, Dún Eoghanachta is incredibly peaceful!
Poll na bPéist
Poll na bPéist, the Wormhole or Serpent’s Hole, is a large rectangular pool in the rock along the Inis Mór cliffs. Believe it or not, it’s actually naturally formed! The water enters and leaves the pool via an underwater channel. Because of this, the pool is tidal. There are some step-like formations in the rock in one corner. If you do decide to swim there, make sure you do so at high tide ONLY! The tidal range (amount by which the water changes height between high and low tide) is much bigger than you’d think. There have been numerous rescues here when people have been unable to get out because the “steps” were out of reach.
The site was made famous by the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competition, which took place here on two occasions, 2014 and 2017. If you decide to follow in their footsteps, do so carefully, poor technique from that height can result in severe injury or death. For the safety of you, and of others, when you swim here, do so in groups and try to keep a least one person on dry land incase anyone runs into difficulty. For example, the Irish Coast Guard had to send their helicopter here when I was along the cliffs at Dún Aonghusa. I saw the whole rescue take place from there.
Poll na bPéist is not the easiest to find. The best way to get there is to cycle for a small village called Gort na gCapall where you should see some signs to hike across bare limestone. The way will be marked by red paint on the ground or on other large rocks, so keep an eye out for it.
Central Inis Mór
The centre of Inis Mór is essentially a big hill! Many of the sites are just off the low road with more off the main road. It is possible to go between the two roads without having to go to Kilmurvey or Kilronan, but be warned, these roads are poorly surfaced and are much steeper than you’d think. Believe me, my thighs felt the burn dragging my bike up one of them! So plan your touring of the central part of Inis Mór so that you don’t have to use them! Have a look at this Guide to Central Inis Mór!
Teampall Chiaráin and the Standing Stones
Teampall Chiaráin, The Church of St. Ciarán, is just off the low road that brings you across Inis Mór, from East to West. It’s very easy to access, just park your bike off the road, walk a little up a lane and hop over a low wall. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter the same really friendly horse that I did! It followed me right up to the ruin of the church and waited there for me to come out again!
Sections of the ruin indicate that parts of it were built in the 8th or 9th Century and later added to, around the 12th Century. It was dedicated to St. Ciarán, who founded the famous Clonmacnois, because he had spent seven years on inis Mór as a pupil of St. Enda. There’s a pretty cool standing stone to the East of the church with a hole in the top. I’ve yet to find out what it signifies.
Seal Colony Viewpoint
The Seal Colony Viewpoint is a good sized seating area on the side of the low road looking out over Galway Bay towards Connemara. There’s an area of rock and shingle just in front of it that a seal colony call home! They tend to come here to rest when around low tide, but be aware that they are wild animals and don’t always appear. For the same reason, it would be foolish to try and approach any of them, unless you’ve been specially trained to do so.
While I sat there, taking in the view, I was lucky enough to see a seal or two pop their head above the water or lie on rocks, just under the surface, to rest. There was a few incidents of people stopping and audibly point out and take photos of what they thought were seals that were actually just rocks! So make sure what you look at is actually a seal before you take a photo for social media!
Teampall an Chearhrair Álainn
Teampall an Chearhrair Álainn, The Church of the Four Saints, is just up from the main road. The path isn’t the easiest to follow and it will briefly feel that you’re in the back yard of a house at one point, but keep going and you’ll get there! Make sure to note landmarks to get back too as the path worn into the grass is unclear at best. The 15th Century church was so named because it is said that four saints, St. Fursey, St. Brendan, St. Conal and St. Berchan are all buried nearby. There is a holy well, just South of the ruin, which inspired Synge’s play, The Well of the Saints.
This is one of the newest ruins (and also one of the most unusual) on Inis Mór. When lighthouses were being constructed all around Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s, it was decided to build one here, at the highest point of land on Inis Mór. The most unusual thing was that it was, and is, right in the centre of the island, as far away from the sea as you can get! It was built in 1818 and was later decommissioned in 1857. The reason being was that in poor weather, it couldn’t be seen at either the Eastern or Western ends of the island! It was replaced by two lighthouses on smaller islands off either end of Inis Mór, called Eeragh and Straw Island.
The road up to it is very steep so park your bike about halfway up from the main road (and be careful cycling back down too!). It is possible to access the ruin, although the tower itself is closed off. The structure isn’t the safest, so exercise caution if you visit it. I found it quite haunting. One of those structures that makes you wonder what it’d be like if it was never abandoned. Another reason to visit it is that it is very close to the fort on Inis Mór that boasts the most panoramic views, Dún Eochla.
Dún Eochla, as I’ve already said, of Inis Mór’s large forts, commands the best panoramic views. From it, you can see almost all of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr. To the North, you’ve views of the whole of South Connemara and if you squint your eyes on a clear day, you can even make out the Cliffs of Moher in Clare in the distance!
This ring fort has wonderfully well preserved circular walls and terraces surrounging it. To get to the inner fort, you’ve to circle the fort twice to get through the gaps in the walls. This is down to the way the defences were designed all those centuries ago!
Close to Dún Eochla, between it and the Abandoned Lighthouse, is a megalithic wedge tomb, very similar to Leaba Dhiarmuda agus Ghráinne. There are a few of these on the island and they date, typically from about 2000 B.C. They were once the burial places of the early farmers who settled on Inis Mór and are the earliest known monuments here.
East Inis Mór
The Eastern side of Inis Mór is probably the one least frequented by tourists. It is, in general, more populated than the others areas, mainly due to the presence of the largest village, Kilronan. Plus, there is easier access to transport links to the mainland from the pier in Kilronan and the airstrip further East. I feel it definintely deserves a look! Here’s the run down of the main sites it has to offer! Have a look at this Guide to East Inis Mór!
Poll Séideáin (Puffing Hole)
Like Poll na bPéist, Poll Séideáin, the Puffing Hole, is a natural formation. No prizes for guessing that it’s a big hole in the ground! This hole links to a passage under the rock that is fed with water from the sea. When the sea washes in, the air is pushed out and it makes a whooshing, puffing type sound. Hence the name!
There’s a bit of work involved in getting to it though. First you’ll need to cycle as far East on the road as you can and park your bike. From there, take the short walk across the fields (that are usually filled with loads of rabbits living their best life!). You’ll end up right on the coast looking out to Inis Meáin. Next, turn right and hike along the coast, following the paths in the direction of the circular tower you can see atop a hill.
From there, follow the gaps in the dry stone walls and you’ll reach a wide open area near the clifftop where you’ll see the Puffing Hole! This area is quite isolated, so be careful around the cliff edge and the puffing hole. There are often freak winds and strong tides here as the sea and wind are funnelled between Inis Mór and Inis Meáin.
Teaghlach Éinne and the Layered Graveyard
Teaglach Éinne, The Church of St. Éanna, and the surrounding beachside graveyard are in a beautiful setting. It is uncertain when the church was originally built, but it was certainly there before the 11th Century when alterations were made. When you visit, you will notice that it appears sunken into the graveyard. This isn’t strictly true. It’s more the case that the graveyard has grown up around the church! Believe it or not, but there are EIGHT LAYERS of graves! They were piled up on each other by a combination of sand and silt being deposited in the area and the fact that soil is scarce on the island and they couldn’t dig through bedrock. So building up was the only option left to them.
Teampall Bheanáin, the Church of St. Benan, is a tiny tiny church atop a hill. It dominates the landscape on this part of Inis Mór. You can pretty much spot it from everywhere! It’s dedicated to St. Benan who was one of St. Patrick’s original disciples. It’s thought to have been built around the 10th Century. When I say the church is tiny, I mean it! It’s thought to be one of the smallest, if not THE smallest church in the world and is 3.7m long and 1.8m wide! I was able to stand inside it, stretch out my arms and touch both sides!
You won’t miss Teampall Bheanáin, but saying that, the trail up to it isn’t overly clear. There are some weathered wooden signs pointing the path out. Some of them are easy to miss, so keep an eye out for them. A good halfway mark is a small, round stone tower. If you have a look around the church, you’ll also notice the remains of some dry stone houses that indicate there was once a monastery here too.
In my opinion, Dún Dúchathair (The Black/Dark Fort) is the most impressive of the four large forts on Inis Mór. It sits on a narrow peninsula with a single defensive wall stretching across the whole thing. For this reason, you should be extremely careful when rounding the wall. Like Dún Aonghusa, it has the defensive Cheveaux de Frise on the approach to the main wall. The only land access is down a narrow hollow between defensive walls that would result in any army hoping to breach the fort being funnelled into an area where they would be fodder for stones and arrows.
The internal structures are also the most impressive of all four forts too. There are distinct curved walls behind the wall that would indicate this was a bustling settlement. Getting there is pretty easy. Cycle South on the road from Kilronan, following the signs and park your bike at the top of some small, steep-ish hills and walk diagonally across the bare limestone to find Dún Dúchathair. You can’t miss it! Make sure, as ever, to keep an eye for landmarks, it can be challenging to find your way back to the road.