Inis Óirr or Inisheer is the smallest and most easterly of the Aran Islands of County Galway in the west of Ireland. It's only 10 km from the Cliffs of Moher on the mainland coast of County Clare, and is formed of the same bare limestone as the Burren. The island's main settlement straggles along its north coast near the ferry pier.
The island's name probably reflects a spelling mistake. The traditional name was Inis Thiar which can mean "west island" but in this context meant something like "tail-end island". Maps from the 19th C dubbed it Inis Oirthir, "east island", which morphed into the current Inis Oírr. Like the other Aran Islands, its terrain is fissured limestone pavement: the "clints" or slabs are bare, while the "grikes" or grooves shelter wild flowers. It's a poor prospect for farming and has long attracted those seeking monastic solitude, so it's dotted with early Christian sites. Inis Oírr's population actually rose during the famine years to peak at 532: it dwindled to 257 by 1979 and has remained at that level. Tourism is the main industry and Irish is the principal language.
There are two ferry routes from the mainland, from Rossaveel 40 km west of Galway year round, and from Doolin in County Clare in summer. .
From Rossaveel Aran Island Ferries sail at least twice a day year round, with eight a day at the height of summer. The crossing takes 40 min and a day-trip is feasible. In summer 2020 an adult return fare was €30, booking advised. A shuttle bus from Eyre Square in Galway connects with all sailings, return fare €9. Never bring a vehicle (even a motorbike) to Inis Oírr, park at Rossaveel anywhere that won't inconvenience residents or harbour users.
Between the islands: the Rossaveel and Doolin ferries are heading for Inis Mór but call at Inis Oirr and Inis Meain on their way out or back. So you may have to sail via Inis Mór, in which case the journey from the mainland will be 90 min. Inter-island day trips are possible most days in summer but seldom in winter.
1 Inis Oírr ferry pier is on the northeast of the island, along with pretty much everything else.
Aer Árann fly several times a day from Connemara Airport at Inverin, 31 km west of Galway city. There are at least a couple of flights daily year round, more in the August peak season. In summer 2020 a return fare was €50. Flying time is just 10 min and a day trip is always feasible. The aircraft are a pair of rinky-dinky BNF Islanders that only take 9 passengers; they rattle around in the breeze and are often cancelled in bad weather. Aer Árann also fly from Connemara to Inis Meain and Inis Mór but all these flights are turnaround trips, there are no inter-island flights.
2 Inis Óirr airfield is 1 km east of the harbour and main settlement.
Walk. All the visitor facilities and most of the sights are within 1 km of the ferry pier. So if you go further, it's because you feel like it and the weather's decent, not because you must to reach a hostel. Some five lanes lead from the harbour, heading southwest parallel like bony fingers. They're paved for a km or two then give way to boreen, unpaved lanes of grass and rock. There are few cross-links so to move between them (eg to follow the south coast) you have to launch out onto the natural limestone pavement.
Tours by pony and trap, or by "Wanderly Wagon" (a tractor-drawn trailer), start from the pier.
Rothaí Inis Oírr (next to pier), ☏ . Year-round daily 08:30-19:00. They hire off-road bikes in various sizes, including children's bikes, trailers, tag-alongs and baby seats. Plus maps and helmets.
- 1 Cnoc Raithní is a tumulus, a burial mound. Its lowest layers date to 1500 BC, the earliest known settlement on Aran, while the upper layers are from the early Christian era of 600-900 AD. It was lost under sand until exposed by a storm in 1885.
- 2 O'Brien's Castle (Caislean Ui Bhriain or "Furmina Castle") is a tower house, built and held by the O'Briens in the 15th C, captured by the O'Flahertys circa 1582, then demolished by Cromwell in 1652. The site is usually free to enter though sometimes the gate is locked. You might notice the outline of the much earlier ringfort Dún Formna. The castle is on the highest point of the island so it commands great views.
- An Tur Faire (The Watch Tower) 100 m south of the castle was a Signal Station, built 1806-08 to guard against Napoleonic attack. There's a chain of them around the coast, such as on Inis Mor; they exchanged signals by flags.
- Teampall Caomhán (Church of St Cavan) is 10th century, with an entrance below ground as it became buried in sand; the ruin has been given a modern roof to prevent it filling up again. The saint's name is sometimes anglicised as Kevin, but St Kevin was a much earlier fellow who founded Glendalough. St Cavan died circa 865 and is buried here. A mass is held on his pattern (ie patron-saint) day, which in the 19th C was shifted from 3 Nov to 15 June. The church is next to the airfield and is always accessible.
- 3 Cill Ghobnait (Church of St Gobnait) is the ruin of an 11th or 12th C church. It's located over the site of her 6th C cell, but the beehive cell now seen here is probably of similar age to the church. The legend goes that Gobnait fled here from a family feud, but an angel told her to return to the mainland and go south till she saw nine white deer. The requisite number, coating and species jackpot came up in Ballyvourney, County Cork, where she founded a convent.
- St Fiachra's Holy Well is close to St Gobnait's Church.
- 4 Seals surround the island but they like to haul out at the bay 1 km west of the pier. Both species are seen: the Common or Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) has a puppy-dog nose, the larger Grey or Atlantic seal (Halichoerus grypus) has a Roman nose.
- An Chloch (The Stone) is above the southwest end of the seal beach. Erected in 2013, it commemorates those lost at sea: I gCuimhne ar an dream a thóg an fharraige uainn.
- 5 Tobar Einne (St Enda's Well) is a pool with ancient stonework and slippery powers. So what you do is, on three consecutive Sundays gather seven stones from the ground nearby, walk around the well seven times while saying the rosary and setting down one stone each circuit. If following this hocus-pocus an eel manifests itself, then your tongue will gain healing powers and you can literally lick wounds healthy. It'll save a lot of bother at Galway University Hospital Clinic for Rancid Diseases Below the Waist, so it's a pity frogs and newts don't convey such powers.
- 6 Creggankeel Fort is a cashel or stone fort from around 1st century BC. Some of its masonry was recycled in the 15th C to make O'Brien's Castle. Here also is the Grave of the Seven Daughters (Cill na Seacht nIníon) from the 5th or 6th C AD and dedicated to St Moninne of Armagh.
- 7 Plassy or Plassey shipwreck is the one seen in the title sequence of Father Ted. The ship was launched in 1940 as Juliet, served as a Royal Navy minesweeper then after the war was sold off as a small cargo vessel. In 1951 it was bought by the Limerick Steamship Company, who renamed it Plassy (or, if you prefer, Plassey) after the district in Limerick city which is named after "Clive of India" Baron Plassey, who took his title from the 1757 Battle of Plassey, fought against the Nawab of Bengal at Palashi on the Hooghly River above Calcutta, that town being named for the brilliantly flowered Pôlash (Bengali: পলাশ), otherwise known as Butea frondosa or Flame-of-the-Forest Tree . . . still following this? The ship plied around Europe until March 1960 when it was driven onto Finnis Rock in a storm. The crew were dramatically rescued by breeches buoy, which is a rocket-fired pants-on-a-string. A few weeks later, a second storm washed the ship off the rock and onto the shore of the island - it thus resembled Father Jack, being a washed-up old wreck full of whisky. In 2014 another storm shifted it, so the view today doesn't quite match the TV image. But there it rusts, taking on the colour of the Flame-of-the-Forest Tree.
- 8 Inisheer lighthouse was lit in 1857 to replace the badly-sited Inishmore lighthouse, which captains complained they could only locate by first finding the rocks. Inisheer marks the east end of the Aran Islands chain, with Eeragh lighthouse off Inis Mór marking the west end. The compound around the lighthouse is private property.
- Walk: pretty much as you please along the lanes. Waymarked routes include an 8 km loop east as far as the lough and Plassy wreck, and a 13 km loop which also takes in St Enda's Well.
- Beaches: the two best are An Trá, which helpfully means "the beach", in the bay east of the harbour, and Trá Poll na gCaorach ("Horseshoe Beach") south of the Plassy wreck.
- Ted Fest is held annually on Inis Mór by admirers of the Father Ted TV sitcom. The organisers acknowledge the anomaly that the other islands don't participate, though the opening sequence depicts the Plassy wreck on Inis Oírr which is as craggy an island as you could wish for. They therefore hope to broaden the event. The next Ted Fest is Th 4 - Su 7 March 2021.
- Cleasthon is a road race held in late spring. Distances are 5k, 10k and 20k, they don't stretch to a marathon. The next event is Sa 24 Apr 2021.
- Craiceann Bodhran Festival is held at the end of June. Craiceann means drumskin, and it's a masterclass and series of gigs around these traditional Irish drums. The next event is 21-25 June 2021.
- Currach Racing is in mid-August. A currach is a rowing boat with animal hide (nowadays canvas) stretched over a wooden frame and coated in pitch. Sturdier fishing currachs in Galway had planking and sometimes had a sail, and nowadays an outboard motor, but the racing boats are the lightweight canvas type. There's no rudder so the rowers must steer. The races are accompanied by various onshore sports and ballyhoo. The next races are probably on 8 Aug 2021 but tbc.
- Siopa XL (next to Óstán Inis Óirr hotel), ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 09:00-16:30. Small supermarket with the island's only ATM.
- Cleas Crafts (south end of village beyond St Gobnait's), ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-17:30. Craft shop and local art centre. They organise guided walks and various cultural activities.
- Teach an Tae (Tea House) (next to Ruari's), ☏ . Apr-Oct. Lunches and light bites from fresh local produce.
- An Currach by the beach does fish & chips. It's open daily 09:00-17:00.
- Two other nearby cafes are Man of Aran Fudge and Craggy Ices.
- Tigh Ruari (Rory's Pub) (200 m south of pier), ☏ . Ruari's does a bit of everything: it's a B&B guesthouse with 20 rooms en suite, a restaurant and two bars. Trad music in summer. No dogs.
- South Aran House (Fisherman's Cottage) (300 m west of pier), ☏ . Seafood restaurant, they also have rooms nearby (adults only).
- Tigh Ned (next to pier), ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-23:00. Family-run pub since 1897, lunch daily 12:00-16:00, light bites and seafood catch of the day, doesn't do evening meals. Beer garden, often has trad music midsummer.
- And see Sleep for Óstán Inis Óirr, and Eat for Tigh Ruairí.
- The island campsite has closed and (as of June 2020) there's nowhere to camp on Inis Oírr.
- Radharc na Mara Hostel (next to pier), ☏ . Six-bedded dorms plus private doubles and triples. Usually open April-Aug but may take group bookings out of season. Dorm €25 ppn, B&B double €700.
- B&Bs on the island include South Aran House, Radharc an Chaislean and Cliffs of Moher View.
- Óstán Inis Oírr (Inisheer Hotel) (200 m from pier), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Welcoming modern hotel with good restaurant. B&B double €100.
Finish up any urgent calls on the ferry, which will have a signal from Eir or Three. But on the island, as of June 2020 individual premises have connections but there's no general coverage.
- Inis Mór has many prehistoric and early Christian sites to explore, and dramatic cliffs.
- Inis Meain isn't on the tourist circuit, so go there for island tranquility.
- On the mainland at Rossaveel, head east for Galway city or west for the Connemara coast.
- At Doolin see the Cliffs of Moher and the sparse limestone scenery of the Burren.