This piece is from issue two of Go Wild Magazine. You can buy the issue here.
Gola Island, Donegal
Gola Island lies 2km from Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) on the Donegal Coast. It may be uninhabited since the 60s, but walkers are now breathing new life into the island. The spectacular views and challenging hills are ideal for walking enthusiasts who travel here thanks to a regular ferry service. For the sporty types, the towering granite cliffs provide quite the adventure for cliff climbing and for those with an interest in birds, the island’s lake is home to gannets, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and cormorants.
With long sandy beaches and an abundance of angling opportunities, Gola provides the perfect picture for artists and photographers alike. Stone cottages dot the island’s landscape – evidence of the island community that used to exist here and has since been replaced by wildlife and now increasing numbers of visitors who catch the ferry from nearby Magheragallan.
The largest island off the coast of Ireland in County Mayo, Achill Island is unique in that it is accessible from the mainland by bridge. Its magnificent sandy beaches, sea cliffs and warm hospitality bring visitors back again and again for holidays. For tourists a visit to the villages of Dooagh and Dooega, the high cliffs at Slievemore and Minaun and the magnificent beaches at Keel and Keem are a must.
Achill Island tends to attract adventurous types, primarily because it is home to not one, but two adventure centres which offer activities such as sailing, abseiling, diving or windsurfing. Of course, you will find cyclists, walkers and runners taking full advantage of the new 42km long track dubbed The Great Western Greenway, which follows the route of the former Achill to Westport railway line. After racing along the track, take a dip in one of the island’s five blue flag beaches or check out some of the local craft shops or music sessions in one of the local pubs. And if you still have energy after all that activity, drive along the famous Atlantic Drive and take in the scenic splendour.
Bere Island, Cork
Sitting at the entrance to Bantry Bay near the harbour of Berehaven in West Cork, Bere Island is about 11km in length and 5km in width and home to about 200 islanders. History lovers will be in their element visiting the island’s historical sites from Medieval and Bronze Age times with plenty of ring forts, wedge tombs, standing stones and burial sites to trawl through. The island is rich in heritage with Martello towers and military barracks as remnants of British Imperialism. For the outdoor types, the area is ideal for fishing and walking and cycling. The Slieve Miskish and Caha Mountain ranges of the Beara Peninsula tower over the island, providing a dramatic backdrop.
This tranquil island is home to many plants and birds and its small size means that you can explore the entire island in a matter of hours. Unsurprisingly, due to its deep waters, there are plenty of sharks, whales and dolphins in the sea surrounding the island, all which can be spotted on a day with good visibility. The sea creatures happily mix with the swimmers, sea anglers and divers who take advantage of the spectacular seas. For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there are regular exhibitions at the island’s heritage centre and lots of hearty meals and hot drinks to be enjoyed at the various cafes and restaurants. Ferries operate a number of times daily.
Blasket Islands, Cork
Perhaps some of Ireland’s most famous islands due to their appearance in a number of novels and literature by some of history’s greats, The Blasket Islands are a group of islands off the west coast of County Kerry. Part of the Gaeltacht, until 1953 everyone here spoke Irish. Today, The Great Blasket, the largest of the islands, is uninhabited due to emigration in the 50s by the young people of the island. Despite this, tourists travel by the ferry load to the remote islands to soak up its beauty and learn about life here once upon a time. A heritage centre at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula is a tribute to the community who once lived here, 6 km beyond the most westerly tip of the peninsula. The Blasket Centre also gives an insight into the literary achievements of the island writers such as Peig Sayers and their native language, culture and tradition. The colony of seals remain a daily attraction for tourists while the hilly tracks are ideal for avid walking fans. For those feeling adventurous, you can camp overnight and experience a night in the wild.
Made famous by the Sawdoctors’ song of the same name, Clare Island is a spectacular island off the Mayo coast and was once home to ‘Pirate Queen’ Grainneuaile. Her castle and burial place is surely a highlight for any visitor interested in the tales of Grace O’Malley while the rare medieval wall paintings in the 14th Century abbey and the archaeological remains of the Neolithic and Bronze age in the island’s landscape are also well worth a visit. With a breathtaking beach complete with the cleanest of water, it’s common to see swimmers brave even the coldest winter waters of this island, which is situated at the entrance to Clew Bay. Its spectacular cliffs are home to large numbers of nesting seabirds in the island’s cliffs, who provide ongoing entertainment during walks along the coast. Meanwhile, its hills, bogs and woodlands make the island ideal for hill walking.
Just 130 people live here now, but remnants of famine times, such as lazy beds, are everywhere, a reminder that the island once had 1600 inhabitants before the potato blight ravaged the land and population. Ideal for lively weekend breaks, the island has a sense of fun with live music regularly in its pubs
Garnish Island, Cork
A true beauty, Garnish Island is a must-see, if only for its beautiful gardens of Ilnacullin, which attract garden fans from all over the world. Situated in the harbour of Glengarriff in West Cork, the climate here is perhaps subtropical thanks to the constant stream of warm water from the Gulf Stream and of course, its sheltered location. Small ferry boats and water buses mean that tourists can access the island daily to admire the vivid colours of rhododendrons and azaleas and climbing plants and herbaceous perennials. The colours change each season, which is why this unique island continues to attract ferry loads of tourists, eager to catch a peak, despite the admission charge.
The Aran Islands
On a clear day, perhaps what are Ireland’s most famous islands, can be seen clearly from Salthill in Galway – Inishmore (or Árainn as locals call it), the daddy of the islands, Inisheer (Inis Oírr), the mammy of the group and Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), the baby or smallest of the three. Each are unique in character and depending on which local you speak to off the West coast, each will have their preference – Inishmore for its spectacular cliffs and Dun Aengus, Inisheer for its breathtaking views of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren and the baby for a more tranquil, unique experience. Whatever you choose, or if you visit all three, these three rocky limestone outcrops are all unique in their geology and archaeology and rich in language and culture. Inishmore’s dramatic landscapes and endless sea form a backdrop to a labyrinth of meandering stone walls and tiny, tightly packed fields. Take a horse cart up through the narrow winding roads for a true island experience before hopping off to visit Dun Aengus and looking from the cliff towards the next stop – America.
Locals joke that the islands have their own microclimate, such is their distance from the mainland, and the pace of life is far slower with a sense of tranquility that money can’t buy. The craic at night is to die for, with ceilis and sessions in many of the pubs and the welcoming charm of locals. The islands have lured writers, artists and visitors over the centuries and ancient monuments and early Christian remains have to be seen to be believed.