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Islands to Visit on the Wild Atlantic Way



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Scattered along Ireland’s west coast are myriad islands emerging from the Atlantic. Hundreds are uninhabited, but on some you'll meet islanders keeping the culture and traditions of their land alive. 

In the last of our Shaped by the Sea series, pay a virtual visit to three of them and learn some very interesting things about the beguiling islands of the Wild Atlantic Way.

 
  • Sceilg Mhicíl (Skellig Michael) Lighthouse, County Kerry
 

"You can always spot an islander," says scallop fisherman Alan Ó'Sullivan, who lives and works on Valentia Island in County Kerry.

Indeed, the isolation of island life can foster a unique and peculiar way of life. The environment alone plays a chief role in the day-to-day routines of the people, exerting an often immediate influence on the landscape, culture and traditions. On each island of the Wild Atlantic Way, distinct characteristics and quirks mark out the communities residing there almost as if each were their own individual nation.

Check out how life happens on Inis Óirr (Inisheer)Valentia Island and Achill Island in this short film. 

 
 
Inis Óirr (Inisheer)
 

Experience the awesome power, beauty and wonder of the Wild Atlantic Way up close and personal when you visit any of the hundreds of islands that lie scattered off Ireland's west coast. White sandy beaches, towering cliff faces, turquoise seas, history, heritage and culture all abound along the route, perhaps nowhere more so than on the islands. We’ve listed some of our favourites by county to help you plan your very own adventure. Take a closer look! 
 

SLIGO

Once an early Christian site, the island of Inishmurray off the coast of Sligo is now a wildlife sanctuary that is home to a variety of breeding and wintering birds who live among the ruins. This island may be small in appearance but its character looms large to this day. Nearly 70 years on from its last remaining inhabitants seeking out a new life on the mainland, it still attracts visitors today, who come to explore the remains of the homes and structures of a once thriving community. 
 

DONEGAL

Off Ireland’s northwest coast, Donegal’s beautiful and storied islands are where the Irish language thrives and time stands still. Tory IslandInishfreeInch IslandArranmore IslandGola IslandOileán an Bhráighe and Inish Gé are just a handful of spectacular island landscapes to be discovered, each with their own signature quirk. Tory Island, for example, is the only island of Ireland which still boasts its own king. So if you bump into Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí on your travels, be sure to address him correctly!

 
 

GALWAY

Within the stunning blue waters of Galway Bay you’ll find the three Aran IslandsInis Mór (Inishmore) - the largest, Inis Óirr (Inisheer) - the smallest and Inis Meáin (Inishmaan). In addition to the world-famous, truly individual Aran Sweater, the Aran Islands can also lay claim to such spectacular cultural heritage as the birthplace of renowned writers Liam Ó'Flaherty and Máirtín O'Díreáin, the latter of whose evocative work has seen him described as “Ireland’s unacknowledged poet Laureate”. Farther north off the Connemara coast, you'll find Inishbofin, where the fabulous Bia Bó Finne food festival is held.
 

MAYO

Many people will tell you that Clew Bay has 365 islands – one for every day of the year. We’ve already looked at Achill Island, but out here there’s also InishturkClare IslandEagle Island and Inishbiggle, to name a few. The largest of Mayo's offshore islands, Clare Island has something for everyone, from pristine beaches to rare flora, raucous nightlife and regular live music. It is also rich in history, peppered with archaeological remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age and home of the castle and burial place of Grace O’Malley, the legendary 16th-century pirate queen. 

 
 

CORK

The Atlantic islands off the coast here are true embodiments of the beauty that West Cork is so famed for. Try InishbegCape ClearGarinish IslandDursey IslandWhiddy IslandLong IslandHeir IslandBere Island and Sherkin Island to start. The residents of Sherkin Island are said to live off their art, from paintings and books to unique island craftwork inspired by the island’s tranquil atmosphere. 
 

KERRY

Two of Kerry’s biggest islands are both steeped in history. The Blasket Islands are now uninhabited but once yielded immense literary wealth, whereas the Skelligs boast historic Christian heritage and a place in film history! Its unique beehive monastery buildings are still intact to this day despite the Viking invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries. The lives of the monks who once called this place home remains something of a mystery, but their former settlements offer a glimpse into the old way of life out on these iconic crags. 
 

CLARE

Home to a monastic settlement and founded in the early 6th century, Scattery Island is nestled in the mouth of the Shannon estuary, off the coast of County Clare.  On the island, there are ruins of six churches and one of the highest Round Towers in Ireland. Like the Skelligs, Scattery Island was also a site of Viking invasions and was largely destroyed in Tudor times. If that wasn’t enough, it served as a place of safe harbour for the Spanish Armada and an outpost for the English government. Intriguing!
 


To enjoy more of the sensory experiences along the Wild Atlantic Way, take a look at our Sights and Tastes of the Wild Atlantic Way film series, or explore the route further here.

 

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