Inishmore (Inis Mór – the Big Island)
It is the largest island, eight miles long by two and a half miles wide. The islands lie in the northwestern direction across the entrance to Galway Bay, from which Inishmore is separated by approximately seven miles of sea. The population of Inishmore is about 900 people. You can access the interactive map on Aran Islands Bikehire website.
Amenities on the island
There is a tourist office in Kilronan which will be happy to help you with inquiries (ph. +353 99 61263).
Inishmore is almost too big for just a daytrip, but if you only have the one day, the best thing is to get the first ferry to the island and hire a pony trap (or the less romantic means of transport, a taxi, or a tour bus like Inish Mor Tours providing extensive explanations and easy access to most of the sites). Bike hire is also available.
There is a supermarket and and a few other shops like the Aran Swater Market and Museum, a hotel, and two hostels as well as several pubs on the island.
Spots of natural beauty
The island stands for rugged beauty. Be it the beaches, the turquoise waters, the thousands of dry stone walls or the steep and brooding cliffs running along the western shore of the island.
The Worm Hole or Poll an bPeist is a perfectly rectangular shaped pool, located near the village of Gort na gCapall, which is connected to the Atlantic by an underground channel. In 2012, the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition took place here.
There are several places – in spite of all the cliffs – where beaches invite you to walk barefoot in the sand or have a picnic or even a swim. Trawmore east of Kilronan and next to the airport is a long beach on the sea which also breaks through the dunes to form an unusual large oval sand bowl. The harbour of Kilronan has a beach, as has the tiny hamlet of Kilmurvey halfway down to the western end of the island.
All ferries arrive in Kilronan, the biggest Inishmore village on the eastern shore, and the “capital” of Inismor. From here, it is 7km (4.5mi) to the most important and famous man-made building of the Aran Islands, the fort of Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa) probably dating from the iron age. It is situated on top of cliffs that are 100m high and fall straight down to sea level. When you lay your eyes on it for the first time, you will understand why it has been called “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe” (George Petrie).
The fort consists of a series of semi-circular walls. The innermost one encloses an area of about 50m across with drystone walls 4m thick. These walls were built to a height of 6m and have wall walks, chambers and flights of stairs. One of the impressive features of the fort are the chevaux de frise, which are slabs of stone buried upright in the ground around the outer wall. This was a very efficient defense system. Try and run through a field of chevaux de frise, and you will know why! Archaeologists are still not sure if the fort was built in this location – with the open side to the cliff and the sea – for defense purposes, or if at some stage it has been a circular, closed fort, and half of it has fallen into the sea. – At the interpretive centre, you can learn about the fort in theory before seeing it with your own eyes after a short walk.
Apart from this most famous and biggest fort, there is a number of other fairly well-preserved ringforts. Just 3.5 miles away from Dun Aengus – or right across to the western shore from Kilronan – is the promontory fort known as Dún Dúchathair or the Black Fort. A little neck of land is cut off by a rampart, a massive curving stone construction over 6m high and 5m thick with two main terraces and several sidelong and vertical flights of steps.
Other inland ringforts would be Dún Eoghanachta in the western, more remote part of Inishmore, and Dún Eochla off the road between Kilronan and Dun Aengus. All of them are well worth a visit especially if you are interested in the ancient cultures that lived on the island before us.
It is very likely that the Aran Island were inhabited as early as 4000 BC. We do not have any evidence of accomodation from that period as those early farming communities lived in timber huts long gone since. But they left durable neolithic or great stone tombs behind which house the bones of their ancestors. Several of these tombs can be found on Aran, and the best preserved is the Eochaill Wedge Tomb.
There are also three very small uninhabited islands in the group. These are situated close to the western end of Inishmore, the Branack Islands, two small rocky islands. The lighthouse is located on Rock Island, the most western of the three. A lighthouse at the other end of Inishmore, on Straw Island, a little island at the eastern side facing Kilronan, keeps ships out of danger.
The Aran Islands are widely known not only for their famous Aran Sweaters, and attract visitors from all over the world. The unique culture and way of life of the Aran Islands continue to inspire world-famous writers and artists. These islands have become synonymous with some of the finest writers and painters of this century, among them the dramatist J.M Synge (1871- 1909), and writer Liam O’Flatherty (1896-1984), a native of lnishmore; artists like George Petrie (1789-1866), Frederick William Burton (1816-1900), Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), Sean Keating (1889-1977), Harry Clark (1889-1931), Maurice MacGonigal (1900-1979) and many more.