10 Best… Irish Island Daytrips

24th September 2010
Pól Ó Conghaile

Sherkin, Co. Cork

There’s no stress on Sherkin (pictured, courtesy of discoverireland.ie). That’s my take on this artsy oasis, anyway – a place lying in the wilds of Roaringwater Bay and yet just 10 minutes from Baltimore. Sherkin is the ancestral hub of the O’Driscoll clan (their ivy-clad castle lies just above the pier), but it’s also home to a very modern arts community (unique amongst Irish islands, it offers a BA in Visual Arts). You’ll find work by the island’s many artists and designers at the Island Crafts Centre in Baltimore.

Details: Sherkin Ferry (028 20218; sherkinisland.eu/ferry) sails daily from Baltimore, year-round. Sailings take 10-12 minutes. See also sherkinisland.eu.

Inishturk, Co. Mayo

Want a daytrip that doubles as a detox? Inishturk will sort you, and then some. The ‘Island of the Wild Boar’ is another world, an outpost off the Mayo coast at once aflutter with wild birds, crammed with archaeological treasure (check out the Napoleonic signal tower 700 feet above the surf) and boasting two fine looped walks at Lough Coolaknock and Mountain Common. If the weather’s agreeable, take a dip off Tranaun or Curran – sandy beaches don’t come more stress-free.

Details: The Clare Island Ferry Co. (098 23737; clareislandferry.com) sails year-round from Roonagh Quay. Sailings take 50 minutes. See also inishturkisland.com.

Tory, Co. Donegal

Living 12km off Bloody Foreland, Tory islanders still talk of ‘travelling to Ireland’. Their home is just 40 minutes by ferry from Magheroarty, however, bringing this Gaeltacht getaway well within the scope of Irish island daytrips. Highlights? Tory’s dazzling landscape has inspired a school of artists (check out the exhibitions at Dixon’s Gallery), and outdoorsy folk can enjoy angling, dolphin watching or hike a stretch of the Donegal Way. This idiosyncratic island even has its own king, or Rí Thoraí.

Details: Turasmara Teo (074 953-1340; toryislandferry.com) sails from Bunbeg and Magheroarty, year-round. Sailings take 1hr 30 mins and 50 minutes respectively. See also oileanthorai.com.

Bere Island, Co. Cork

It may be a small island, but Bere Island has been at the centre of some pretty big events. Its Martello towers date from the Napoleonic wars; several American ships based here during World War I met their fate at Pearl harbour and, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the island became one of three Irish ports retained by the UK. The result is unique, almost like an open-air museum, and a looped walk takes in most of the historical hits. The marina is open to visiting sailors, too.

Details: Bere Island Ferries (086 242-3140; bereislandferries.com) departs from Castletownbere, 2kms away on the Beara Peninsula. Sailings take 10 minutes. See also bereisland.net.

Inishbofin, Co. Galway

Inishbofin has been visited for centuries (ancient chapels and holy wells are the hallmarks of an early Christian settlement), and for good reason. The island is a great sailing base, and boasts super walks, pretty beaches and a spectacular spread of birds. Most famous is its traditional music scene – this, after all, is an island with its own Céilí band, and several residents have released their own CDs. If you like a tune, you’ll love Inishbofin (and you may want to think about spending the night).

Details: Inishbofin Island Discovery (095 45819; inishbofinislanddiscovery.com) sails from Cleggan, Co. Galway. Sailings take 30 minutes. See also Inishbofin.com.

Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry

Skellig Michael hit the news recently, when archaeologist Michael Gibbons found steps on the island that may indicate it hosted settlements pre-dating its famous beehive huts, oratories, chapel and stone crosses. It’s another layer of mystery for this monkish shard of rock, punching out of the Atlantic some 13km off the Kerry coast. Keep your eye out too for the seabird colonies swarming about the rocky outcrops flanking this UNESCO World Heritage Site – Little Skellig and Puffin Island.

Details: Several ferry services operate boat trips from Portmagee, Valentia, Renard Point, Baile an Sceilg and Doire Fhionáin. Sailings are weather-permitting, typically lasting from 10am to 3pm. If the weather is bad, visit the Skellig Experience (skelligexperience.com) instead.

Rathlin, Co. Antrim

Rathlin is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. Boasting big basalt cliffs, squabbling parliaments of seabirds and centuries of smuggler lore, this was also the spot where Robert the Bruce holed up in a cave after his defeat by the English in 1306. Despite the wildness, however, Rathlin is just a 20-minute ferry sojourn across the Sea of Moyle. Walking, cycling, birdwatching and wreck-diving are all possible here, and the music might tempt you to miss the ferry home.

Details: Rathlin Island Ferries (+44 (0)28 2076 9299; rathlinballycastleferry.com) sails from Ballycastle. Sailings take 20 or 45 minutes, depending on the boat. See also discoverireland.ie/islands.

Inis Mór, Co. Galway

Arriving by boat and plane, visitors to Inis Mór can bike or hike their way around the island over the course of one day or several. The big sites are Dún Aonghusa (with its 300-foot cliffs) and the Blue Flag beach at Cill Mhuirbhigh, but don’t forget the Seven Churches and, of course, the karstic landscape itself – threaded with its web of dry-stone walls. Afterwards, you could devour some local lobster, take a jarvey ride or learn the art of basket making. Decision, decisions…

Details: Aer Arann Islands (091 593034; aerarannislands.ie) flies from Connemara Airport at Inverin. Ferries sail year-round from Ros a’ Mhíl (091 568903; aranislandferries.com) and from April to October from Doolin (065 707-4455; doolinferries.com). See also aranislands.ie.

Dursey, Co. Cork

Lying across a narrow sound off the tip of the Beara Peninsula, it’s hard to imagine a wilder escape than Dursey. Despite its remoteness, however, the island is best-known for a unique little piece of technology – the cable car that carries carrying six people at a time (or less, if the passengers include a cow) from the mainland. Hopping off, visitors can continue along a stretch of the Beara Way – though be sure to bring provisions, as there are no facilities. We did say it was an escape…

Details: Ireland’s only cable car departs daily from Ballaghboy – at the tip of the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork. The trip takes ten minutes and costs €4/€1. See also bearatourism.com.

Clare Island, Co. Mayo

Clare Island may once have been home to Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen. But it’s a much more peaceful proposition today. If you’re a walker, the Fawnglass and Knockaveena loops plug into an island heritage that includes Bronze Age cooking sites and the Cistercian Abbey ruins. Even if you’re not, the 461-metre peak of Knockmore is worth scaling for its views of Croagh Patrick and the sensational sweep of Clew Bay. The island even boasts its own yoga retreat centre.

Details: Clare Island Ferry Co (098 23737; clareislandferry.com) and O’Malley Ferry Services (098 25045; omalleyferries.com) sail from Roonagh. Sailings take 15 minutes. See also clareisland.info.