Ireland’s promise of rolling green hills, crumbling castles, fairy stories, cozy pubs, and the famous Irish lilt has enticed many travelers over the years. They come to experience the famous Temple Bar in Dublin, the bustling streets of Galway’s busker-filled Latin Quarter, the imposing Cliffs of Moher, and the enchanting Kylemore Abbey. Yet as incredible as these sites and attractions are, they also tend to include a large volume of fellow travelers, each vying to experience the magic of the Emerald Isle for themselves.
Inis Mor (its now modern Irish name is “Inishmore”), however, is different. As the largest of the Aran Islands, it gets the lion’s share of visitors, but it’s still nothing compared to what the mainland’s popular cities. Especially if you visit outside of the summer months.
Inis Mor is only about 45 minutes from the mainland by ferry, however, few ever bother to come this far. Those who do make the journey will discover a whole other side of Ireland. A side where Irish Gaelic is preferred over English and honest, hard work such as farming and fishing are still widely practiced. A place with thatched cottages, historic stone churches, fields of livestock, and a rugged landscape. In a way, Inis Mor seems to have been forgotten by time. But, in its isolation, this small Irish island promises adventure, authenticity, and, if you look for it, maybe even a little bit of magic.
Learn About the Island’s Culture
It is possible to experience Inis Mor on your own, but to really fall in love with this Island, hire a local tour guide to take you off the beaten path and introduce you to the island’s history and folklore. Inis Mor may be small but there are plenty of hidden gems; a rocky cove where local seals watch curiously from the waters, historic pilgrimage sites where Coptic monks would gather, and several viewpoints allowing you to gaze across the rugged terrain of the island.
One of the most interesting sights on Inis Mor is the Salmon Well. The fish-like shape in the land is said to be a mystical portal to another world. The legend associated with it is woven with pious monks, the plague, and angels who come to the rescue, providing not just fish but fresh water to mill the barley and feed the sick and starving islanders.
Custom dictates that those who visit the Salmon Well should take part in a small ritual as well. It is said that if you walk around the well seven times in a clockwork direction, each time dropping a stone into the well, and drink the water at the end, that your wish will come true.
Beside the Salmon Well is another oddity called the Raggedy Bush. The tree is not traditionally beautiful, all brown bark and twisted branches with very few leaves. But, despite the lack of greenery, the tree is still colorful. It’s covered in ribbons and strips of fabric, some bright while others are faded from a mixture of sun, rain, and time.
The Raggedy Bush served as a beacon of hope for those who had to leave the country during the famine. Individuals would tie pieces of ribbon or clothing to the tree as a way to ensure their safe return one day in the future. Large pieces of pale, weather-faded fabric still flutter in the breeze, solemn reminders of a time where people were forced to leave their homes.
Practice Your Gaelic at Lunch
A white Irish cottage often covered in flowers, Teach nan Phaidi is a small Irish restaurant perfect for grabbing a bite of lunch. Homemade soups, scones, cakes, smoked salmon, and stews are the main fare here. While this restaurant is a common pick for travelers to the island for its proximity to Dun Aongahsa, it’s also where many of the local guides gather as well. If the weather is cooperating, sit outside to enjoy a freshly made meal while listening to the chatter of Gaelic, the language of choice on Inis Mor, around you.
Sit on the Cliff Edge of an Ancient Fort
White-capped waves crash against the sturdy cliff walls of Dun Aonghasa, an ancient fort built on the 100-meter-high cliffs of Inis Mor around 1100 BC. It is one of Ireland’s most awe-inspiring historical sites, with walls stretching nearly 6 hectares long across the barren cliff tops. Yet, despite being revered as one of the most incredible archaeological sites in Europe, only a limited few travelers ever visit.
The lack of crowds is a bonus though, allowing for more space to explore and take photographs. If you come with a local guide, they will show you the layers of the fort as it changed over time and, if you look close enough, you can find some ancient cutlery and even a tooth embedded in the stones.
The views here are stunning, with sweeping cliff views to rival those of the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs here are also significantly more stable, allowing brave visitors to get closer to the edge. That is, assuming the wind isn’t too strong. Some visitors will lie down on their stomachs to peek over the cliffs, while others braver still can sit so that their legs dangle over the void.
Race the Tide to the Worm Hole
Despite the name, the Worm Hole does not come with any legends of monsters, other worlds, or angelic saviors. The Worm Hole is a natural rock formation cut into the base of Dun Aonghasa, and visitors can’t help but be mesmerized as they watch huge sprays of water erupt from the pool, high enough to feel the salty spray on their faces.
Getting to the Worm Hole can be tricky though, a dangerous game of hopscotch avoiding slippery green patches, razor sharp rocks, and of course, the tide. But don’t let this stop you; the Worm Hole is one of the most interesting sights on the island. Guides know the tides, but if you are exploring on your own, confer with a local to time your visit properly.
End Your Day With Pints and Dinner at a Local Pub (or Two)
Celebrate the end of your busy day exploring at one of the local pubs for a pint and dinner. Ti Joe Watty’s is small and homey with a few tables, several stools at the bar, and myriad paintings on the wall. With a homey feel, craft ciders, fresh seafood, and good company, it promises to find its way on your list of favorite Irish pubs.
If you still have some energy after dinner, embrace true Irish fashion in the form of a small pub crawl. Head to The Bar for a pint or two. It’s a small, cozy pub that is popular among the locals. No doubt you will pique their attention and be drawn into a conversation upon arrival. After all, only a limited few travelers to Inis Mor actually stay the night.