Exploring Inis Meain, the Lesser-known Aran Island

Visitors to Ireland’s Aran Islands, located off the west coast from Galway, will undoubtedly know that the famous Irish comedy “Father Ted” is based on a fictional island fashioned after the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oir (named Craggy Island in the television series). Likewise, the biggest of the three islands, Inis Mor, attracts the most tourists for its remarkable stone fortress, Dun Aengus, and its relatively large infrastructure of hotels, shops and restaurants. Often overlooked is Inis Meain (also spelled as Inishmaan.)

Inis Meain

The sun after a storm looking over the island of Inis Meain

The big island can become overrun with tourists in high season (it even has a Super Macs – Ireland’s local answer to McDonald’s), which takes away from the biggest delight of visiting the Aran Islands, which have long been home to native Irish speakers and hardy farmers making the most of the windswept, rocky terrain. So it’s the middle island – Inis Meain – which is ideal for a visit to catch a glimpse of quiet island life, bracing seaside walks and real relaxation. Inis Meain’s population is only 160, the smallest of the three islands, and it boasts only one pub – but there are several bed and breakfast options for accommodation, as well as a luxury set of suites with an in-house restaurant that has earned some seriously prestigious awards for itself.

Inis Meain is an easy ferry ride from Rossaveal

Inis Meain is an easy ferry ride from the mainland

An easy 45-minute ferry from the mainland, Inis Meain  gets far fewer crowds than the other islands, and is a perfect place to wander for hours along the limestone-walled lanes (you can, in fact, traverse the entire island in just a few hours; it’s only a 4 kilometers from end to end and 2.5 kilometers across), pick periwinkles down by the beach or look out to the wild Atlantic from the island’s west coast. On a clear day, one can even see across to the Cliffs of Moher,  jutting from the mainland.

Some old ruins on Inis Meain

Some old ruins on Inis Meain

Inis Meain island’s highlights:

Dun Chonchuir
On the biggest rise of the island, this circular stone fort, dating to prehistoric times, has views over the rest of the island and its tight-knit maze of stone walls, as well as the smaller Dun Fearbhaigh, another fort.

Sign for the Dun Fearbhaigh Fort

Sign for the Dun Fearbhaigh Fort

Woolen mill
The Aran Islands are rightfully famous for their knitted wool sweaters, known as Aran sweaters, handmade and worn for centuries by the locals and made popular by the likes of The Clancy Brothers. The woolen mill on Inis Meain has a sizeable shop with lots of traditional and more modern varieties on sale along with a helpful staff; part of the shop is also an interesting photo exhibit about the history of the island and its population.

The patchwork limestone walls of Inis Meain

The patchwork limestone walls of Inis Meain

Synge’s Chair
The playwright John Millington Synge spent several summers out on Inis Meain between 1898 and 1902, and several of his plays – such as The Playboy of the Western World – are said to have been inspired by the rugged landscape and tales from the islanders. At the northern tip of the island, overlooking the Atlantic and across to Inis Mor, is the spot where Synge most liked to sit and write, now called Sygne’s Chair.

Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

A Suite at the Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

A Suite courtesy of the Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

For a taste of true luxury and style with an island influence, the Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites is a five-star complex that blends seamlessly into the landscape. The award-winning restaurant uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients thoughtfully fused into a four-course tasting menu (60 euros per person) by chef Ruari de Blacam. His wife, Marie-Therese, is baker, host and interior designer of the suites and restaurant. Each of the five suites has a panoramic view of the island; breakfast is included, as is a packed lunch, and an exploration kit, which includes bicycles, fishing rods, binoculars, beach towels and maps of the island.

Fresh fare courtesy of the Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

Fresh fare courtesy of the Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites

The suites and restaurant are open April through September (closed on Sundays), with a minimum two-night stay; rates start at about 450 euros for two persons for two nights.

Teac Osta Inis Meain

Osta Inis Meain Pub

Local Pub courtesy of Osta Inis Meain

The island’s only pub, Teac Osta Inis Meain lives up to the pressure to keep residents and visitors alike warm and well-watered year-round. It might be the bracing sea air, but the freshly tapped Guinness here tastes better somehow than on the mainland. And, the thatched-roofed, classic little pub is sure to have a roaring fire on chilly evenings and, if you’re lucky, an impromptu Gaelige sing-along session. Slainte!

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the pub

Enjoying a pint of Guinness at the pub

How to get to Innis Mean

Inis Meain is accessible by the same ferries that head on to Inis Mor (Inishmore), which run from Rossaveal just north or Galway or from Doolin, near Shannon. The Rossaveal ferry runs twice daily, takes about 45 minutes and costs 25 euros return; tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket office just off Eyre Square in Galway. A coach for the ferry leaves 1.5 hours before each departure and is free for ticket holders. Aer Arann also runs short flights (15 minutes) between the island and the mainland .

Written by and photos by (unless otherwise noted) Fiona Gaze for EuropeUpClose.com

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  1. says

    My kind of place! Its flavor of remoteness, culture and history are most interesting…I especially found the old stone structures fascinating. Great to know about this island for future reference!

  2. Una Conneely says

    By far, one of my favorite places on earth!!
    Slainte, to all my friends and family on this majestic island

  3. says

    Nice article about a wonderful destination. I made a website on request of people from the island.
    They like their visitors if they respect the unique nature and culture of this special place.
    Look here for more information

  4. John Devitt says

    Peace perfect peace where the sounds of the seas are intermittently interrupted by the braying of a donkey, worth a visit for the fresh air and fish alone.

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