Connacht / Galway

Exploring Inis Oírr – the smallest of the Aran Islands

O'Brien's Castle and stone fort on Inis Oirr

Earlier this month we took a trip out to Inis Oírr (Inisheer), the smallest of the three Aran Islands. It is the closest of the islands to the mainland and is only 3 kms long x 2 kms wide approximately. So if you are short on time, this is probably the best of the Aran Islands to visit. You can see a lot in a day or even a half day if that’s all the time you have. Of course if time isn’t an issue, you could easily spend a few days or even weeks here, kicking back and enjoying the relaxed vibes!

Getting to Inis Oírr

Getting out to the Aran Islands is dependent on the weather and it’s not always possible to depart. We found out the ferries had been unable to go for three days prior to our trip, due to high winds. It was still pretty windy the day we went so we were lucky the ferries were sailing, thanks to the fact the wind was kindly blowing in the right direction!

We left from Doolin Pier in Clare. It’s just a short journey to Inis Oírr from there. You’ll find a number of ferry companies operating from the pier but we went with the Doolin Ferry Company. In just over 20 mins we were on the island and ready to explore!

The ferry waiting for passengers at Doolin Pier

Note the ferries only run from Doolin pier during March to October. However, you can get ferries all year round to the Aran Islands from Ros a’ Mhíl (Rossaveal) in Galway. It is a longer journey from there though. The trip to Inis Oírr will take about 55 mins.

Another option is to take to the air! Flights leave from Connemara Airport and while more expensive than the ferry, the price of flights to Inis Oírr is not unreasonable. The views from the air would be pretty spectacular too.

How to get around Inis Oírr


Tourism is one of the main industries on Inis Oírr and you can be sure of a warm welcome on arrival at the pier. I’m not sure if it’s always quite so busy but given that the boats hadn’t been able to get across for three days before our trip, it seemed like everyone was down at the the pier offering tours around the Island!

Tours are a great way to meet people living on the island and get local knowledge on all the places you visit. If you’d like to take a tour you’ll have no shortage of options either. Choose from a horse and cart, tractor and trailer or even a tractor and shed! Or maybe it was a tiny home. I don’t know. It looked pretty comfy and dry though.

Some of the tour options available on Inis Oirr

Pedal Power

As fun as the tour options looked, we politely declined and opted for hiring bikes instead. Making our own way around the island allowed us to go at our own pace. We were able to stop and explore anything that looked interesting and spend heaps of time taking photos of course! There’s a bike rental shop right at the end of the pier, so you can’t miss it. We hadn’t pre-booked or anything but there seemed to be plenty of bikes available.

Cycling is a great way to get around the Aran Islands

To give you an idea of cost, we paid €26 for 2 bikes for about 3.5hrs, which was all the time we had on the island. We’d been hoping to get the last ferry back at 4pm but unfortunately it had been cancelled so we had no choice but to get the 2pm ferry back instead. It wasn’t ideal but we were happy to have made it over at all and you can still fit in heaps in this amount of time.

By Foot

If you don’t want to cycle or grab a tour, of course you can just wander the island at your leisure. There are many points of interest within easy walking distance of the pier where you’ll arrive. Some, like the lighthouse, are further away though and many of the roads don’t connect so you have to double back on yourself to get to the next place. If you want to take it all in, you’ll struggle to do it in a half day but a it should be manageable if you have a full day on the island.

O'Brien's Castle sits atop the stone fort on Inis Oirr

Things to do on Inis Oírr

Plassey Shipwreck

The first thing we did was head along the coast road past the beach and small airport, in search of the MV Plassy or Plassey, as it was known. The Plassey is an iconic shipwreck which has now been resting on Inis Oírr for almost 60 years. In 1960 the ship hit rocks off the coast of the island. All eleven crew members were fortunately rescued by the islanders but the ship did not fare so well. A short time later the stormy seas lifted the ship right up on to the shore, where it has remained since.

The MV Plassy or Plassey Shipwreck on Inis Oirr

From the location of the Plassey there are also some nice views towards the lighthouse at the end of the island and back towards the Cliffs of Moher.

If you’re a Father Ted fan, you may recognise the Plassey Shipwreck from the opening scenes of the show. That’s right, I’m sorry if I’m the one breaking it to you but Craggy Island is not a real place!

Inis Oírr Lighthouse

We hopped back on our bikes after exploring the Plassey and continued along the road which loops around and back towards the airport. In doing so, we caught some nice views across Loch Mór (Big Lake), the only freshwater lake found on the island.

Loch Mor (Big Lake) - the only freshwater lake on Inis Oirr

On completing the loop we took the next road south towards the lighthouse. The lighthouse on Inis Oírr is one of three on the Aran Islands. It was constructed in the 1850s and the lights went on for the first time on 1st December, 1857. Unfortunately the gates to the lighthouse are locked so there is no entry to the site or opportunity to get inside. So after a couple of minutes admiring it from behind the gates, we headed back the way we came! 

Inis Oirr Lighthouse

Teampall Chaomháin (St Kevin’s Church)

As we continued on our way, we came upon the island’s graveyard. I recalled that as we’d left on our bikes, the guy at the shop called after us, telling us not to forget to visit the graveyard. I’d thought it was a little weird that was the only place he thought worthy of mention but as we got closer we saw two of the tour groups pull in. So of course we stopped for a look too.

I had a quick glance at the map we had been given and the site was marked as 10th Century Church and Graveyard. Not much left of the church in that case I thought, as I couldn’t see it. As we entered the graveyard and followed the trail up the hill the remains of the church were definitely there, just half buried! So yes, it’s most definitely worth a stop at the graveyard.

Teampall Chaomháin (St Kevin’s Church) - half buried in the graveyard on Inis Oirr

I heard someone from one of the tour group mention that over time the sand dunes had built up around the church. Only for the fact that the islanders used to dig out the sand from the church, it could have been lost and forgotten by now.

Inside Teampall Chaomháin (St Kevin’s Church) on Inis Oirr (Inisheer)

Caisleán Uí Bhriain (O’Brien’s Castle)

You can’t miss this 14th century castle. It sits at the highest point on the island and surrounded by an impressive stone fort it’s one of the first things you will notice as you approach the island.  The castle is one of the oldest ruins on the Aran Islands and was occupied up until 1652 when Cromwell’s forces took control of the islands.

O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oirr

It’s well worth the short climb up to have a look. Also, from this vantage point you get wonderful views over the island and beyond.

One of the stunning views from O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oirr

Trá Inis Oírr (Inisheer Beach)

The island has a beautiful beach, which you can’t miss as it’s just by the pier. I must admit that we didn’t pay it much attention when we first arrived. It was pretty dull and gloomy and we just cycled on by. Fast forward a couple of hours and a total change in the weather. As we cycled downhill from the castle, it looked like we were cycling towards the Mediterranean Sea. Ok, so I’m exaggerating (just the tiniest amount obviously) but as you can see from the photos, it really did look amazing. If I had my swimming togs with me I would have been seriously tempted to go for a splash!

Tra Inis Oirr - Inisheer Beach

Seal Colony

On the north west of the island is where the seals usually hang out. We went to say hi but unfortunately couldn’t find them. Or they were hiding on us! In fairness, we were running out of time at that point, so we didn’t have the chance to wander down closer to the shore and spend time looking for the seals.

I don’t know if it was high or low tide at that time either. Low tide is the best time to see the seals as they’ll haul themselves up onto the rocks for a bit of sunbathing!

An Chloch (The Stone)

A little further along the west coast, we came across a beautiful stone carving. “An Chloch” is a memorial which was created as a place to remember fishermen and others who lost their lives at sea, particularly those who were never found and therefore couldn’t be buried in the island’s graveyard. The design depicts a traditional currach (boat) being engulfed by waves.

"An Chloch" - Fisherman's memorial on Inis Oirr

Tips for visiting Inis Oírr and the Aran Islands

  1. Carry cash with you. There is a charge of €5 for parking at the pier in Doolin. We were unaware of this but had cash on us so it wasn’t a problem. There is the option of paying by phone but if you’re running late, or on an overseas mobile, then it’s easier to have cash ready to go. You’ll more than likely need cash on the island too anyway and I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure there is no ATM on Inis Oírr.
  2. Don’t forget the sunscreen – Even in October! Combined with the wind and fact that there is not much shelter on the island, I could feel my face getting it’s glow on and after a few hours I was starting to get worried! Thankfully it wasn’t too bad in the end but during the summer you could do yourself some serious damage.
  3. The best time to visit is between April and October with July and August being the busiest months. If you visit in August you might be lucky enough to see the traditional currach boat races in action. However, be sure to pre-book ferries and accommodation if you visit in the peak months, so you don’t end up disappointed.

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