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It’s hard to whittle the Islands of Ireland attractions down to just five, but here are a few highlights:
Prehistoric settlers, early Christian monks, Vikings, pirates, famers and fishermen have all put down roots here, building communities whose ruins stick like bones from the landscape. Though remote, these islands are more accessible than you may think. Some can be driven onto via bridge or tidal causeway; many others are within a 20 minute ferry crossing. The result is a unique visitor experience. You can wander through deserted villages, explore ancient monastic sites and spot passing whales and wintering birds – happy in the knowledge that creature comforts are never far away Many of the inhabited islands now have Wi-Fi, for example. And thriving festivals celebrate everything from Father Ted to Achill yawls. You can take a fine arts degree on Skerkin, or tuck in lobster with chervil garlic butter on Inis Meáin. Today, in fact, the islands are defined by differences more than similarities. They are alive with dialects, with unique traditions and wildlife. There are bird islands, adventure islands and open-air museums. There are islands for divers, artists and pilgrims. You can learn the Irish language ona Gaeltacht island, try your hand at painting or basket making – or kick back and do nothing at all.
Come to the islands of the North West to leave the world behind. These timeless Gaeltacht islands offer a glance of an Ireland that has all but disappeared. Ireland’s remotest inhabited island is here, ruled by its own elected king, an Island where isolation has preserved and distilled the arts and culture of a people who still talk of 'travelling to Ireland'. Arctic terns, peregrine falcons, corncrakes, razorbills, guillemots, gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes and dozens of other sea birds make these Islands their homes as well as an abundance of other wildlife.Towering cliffs, long sandy beaches, dramatic sea caves and spectacular ocean views; provide inspirational retreats to artists, fishermen, birdwatchers, divers, photographers, hikers and rock climbers. The Islands of the North West provide an opportunity to step back to a simpler time, a time without cars, televisions or technology, and to experience the raw natural beauty of places that for many hold an air of distinctive spirituality.
The relentless battering of the Atlantic Ocean over millennium has left splinters of Islands along, Cork’s South West coast, which have nurtured resilient Gaeltacht cultures and rich ecosystems. In Roaring Water Bay, alone, there are 100 islands, clear from its other name of Roscarbery’s 100 Isles. Further along the jagged coast is Bantry Bay and its spectacular islands that guard one of the deepest water harbours in Europe. This part of the Irish coast is renowned as some of the best cruising waters in Europe and even if you don’t have your own yacht you can still explore these fascinating islands. Reaching the Islands is an adventure in itself: the sail to Cape Clear in the ferry boat as it weaves its way through Carbery’s 100 Isles or the swinging ride in Ireland’s only cable car across the 250m high Dursey Sound, are but two ways to leave the mainland behind.
The Islands off the coast of Kerry offer remote wildernesses to explore, a UNESCO World Heritage site, tracks of 350 million year old creatures, towering cliffs, sandy beaches, windswept hills and rare flora and fauna; the problem is deciding what to leave out. The islands of Kerry are alive with literary histories. One of the first chronicles of world history was compiled here, the famous Irish King Brian Boru studied on these Islands, and it was on the Blasket Islands that Peig Sayers wrote of her island life. The spectacularly awesome Skelligs are world renowned for their ornithological and archaeological significance, acknowledged by their World Heritage status and the 27,000 pairs of gannets who have made them their home, the second largest colony of such sea birds in the world. Valentia offers a peak into 350 million years of history through the prints of a dinosaur and Innisfallen tells the tale of a 7th century monastery. Come to hear the tales of these fascinating Islands and marvel at their spectacular locations.
In Galway Bay lie three rocky limestone outcrops that make up the Aran Islands. They are a bastion of traditional language, culture and music, unique in their geology and archaeology and unrivalled in their potent sense of history. Each of the three islands, Inishmore (Árainn), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) and Inisheer (Inis Oírr) have their own distinct atmosphere and character, but the dramatic landscapes and endless sea form a backdrop to a labyrinth of meandering stone walls and tiny, tightly packed fields. In between, a network of narrow winding roads and grassy lanes sweep from pristine beaches and craggy shores to the dizzying cliffs that mark the edge of Europe. The islands have lured legions of writers, artists and visitors over the centuries, their enigmatic ancient monuments, early Christian remains, holy wells and historic lighthouses adding to their sense of timelessness and mystery. The pace of life is slow here and a profound sense of peace accompanies any walk or cycle down the narrow grassy lanes. This serenity makes the islands a precious sanctuary from the rush of modern life and their isolation guarantees their place as a stronghold of traditional culture. The nightly music sessions, lively dances, traditional crafts, seagoing currachs and wonderfully warm and welcoming spirit are inimitable parts of the Aran Islands. Find out more: www.discoverireland.ie/islands
Favoured by fishermen, farmers, novelists, exiled monks and fugitive pirates the Islands of the West of Ireland have caught the imaginations of generations. Here tradition and culture combine in a rugged stony landscape.Windswept hills of blanket bog, towering cliffs and pristine Blue Flag sandy shores. The Island's complex histories can be read through their landscapes: archaeological remains tell of Neolithic and Bronze age pasts, early Christian and medieval monastic structures tell tales of saints and scholars; 16th Century strongholds whisper of pirates Don Bosco and Granuaile and the remains of 17th Century barracks cry out for the Catholic clergy once imprisoned here. More recently, the Islands of the West of Ireland have become home to some of the best traditional Irish music and craic you are likely to find; come join in a set dance and twirl yourself dizzy to a traditional Irish jig.Easily accessible by boat, plane, or road (at Achill and Ceantar na nOileán, the island district of southwest Connemara), the islands of the west are home to farmers’ markets and festivals, currach races and spectacular diving, summer schools and traditional music – making memories you’ll cherish long after you leave.
From ancient ruins to thumping traditional music sessions, hidden beaches to wild walking loops, Ireland’s islands are the last word in refreshment. Explore some popular things to do:
The journeys to reach the islands of Ireland are as much a part of the experience and adventure as the islands themselves. For some you drive across impressive causeways and bridges, or for Dursey Island board a swinging cable car, but for most it is the island ferries that will bring you to your chosen island escape. Leave your car behind (most ferries don’t take cars and, considering how small most of the islands are, you won’t need one anyway), step aboard, breath in the salty sea air, listen to the engines roar to life and the ferry men cast off the ropes as you turn and head towards the open water. The ferries range from luxury purpose built boats to more simple old fishing boats. The ferries leave from various small picturesque ports along the coast. For more detailed information on travelling to the Islands of Ireland - visit www.discoverireland.ie/islands
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