On The QT

Guest Blog: Deirdre O’Shaughnessy ‘Aran Islands’

Deirdre O’Shaughnessy is the editor of the Cork Independent and she tells us about her hidden gem….The Aran Islands!

The West of Ireland is beautiful, but nowhere is its beauty and ruggedness more deeply felt than on the Aran Islands.


From the opening credits of Fr Ted to the dry stone walls and majesty of Dun Aengus, the islands are chock full of cultural references. There’s nowhere you’ll feel more in tune with Ireland’s past, and with a present that is as relaxed as it comes.


I first visited Inis Oírr for a three week stint learning Irish as a teenager, and ever since it’s been one of my favourite places in the world. A tiny beach of pristine sand and crystal water; a working pier where ferries and fishermen scramble for space; a tiny, ruined castle; and the invigorating walk across the island to the rock-stranded shipwreck (of Fr Ted fame); it’s like returning to an ideal version of home, time and time again.


Hopping on Bill O’Brien’s ferry from Doolin, feeling the salt spray in your face and the wind whipping against your hair, and seeing the islands materialise in front of you like some ancient sea animal, you’re transported to a different place.


For the tourist, it’s the ideal Ireland. Fields are in miniature, carefully carved out from the rock and scrub over generations and parcelled out among numerous children. Years ago, the tour of Inis Oírr consisted of a done-up tractor and trailor with seating for the tourists, over the island’s hilly terrain. It’s not a hard walk, though, and a pint and a bowl of soup at Tigh Ned, or tea and scones at Teach an Tae, will fortify you for the trip onwards to Inis Mór.


One Easter, we visited the islands, intending to stay overnight on Inis Mór after a walk around Inis Oírr. It never occurred to us that Good Friday would mean there wasn’t a toilet open on the entire island. There wasn’t a pub open, and the ferry hours were curtailed. Along with some very confused German tourists, we wandered the island for a couple of hours until the kind lady at Teach an Tae let us in, spotting a business opportunity, perhaps, but getting us out of a sticky situation at the same time!


Inis Mór is more developed, with excellent value bike hire and a major tourist attraction in the incredible fort at Dún Aengus. There are some good food options, and the B&Bs are exceptionally good value, as well as being very friendly indeed. (One landlady posted us a tracksuit pants left behind by a child in our party, without being asked).


A cycle to Dún Aengus for a look at the awe-inspiring clifftop fort is a morning well spent. On the way, stop and take in the panoramic view of the island and the wild Atlantic, and watch out for seals basking on the rocks on the eastern shoreline. The feat of engineering required for our ancestors to build Dún Aengus – there were several phases of construction, which are believed to have begun around 1100 BC – with no tools to speak of and on the side of a cliff – is breathtaking.


After a cup of tea and some excellent cake in the nearby café, hopping on the bike again to return to Kilronan via a quiet pint in Tigh Watty’s, is the perfect afternoon of activity.


There’s something incredibly peaceful about the Aran Islands. It’s not a land apart from time, but it can feel like that, when you know that looking out at the Atlantic, there is nothing for a thousand miles.”


  1. Great blog item!!! – We will link to this item if its ok.

    1. We would be delighted if you link it. Such an amazing place.

  2. Great descriptions of the island. I have been visiting since 1968. My family were from there years ago. (The Stewart’s from Galway) I will include a poem if you feel like putting it in the blog. It’s an extract from my new book, ‘The Seanachie of Inis Mór’ which is a mystery set on Inis Mór and available on amazon.com.
    Inis Mór
    On returning to the Island after an absence of some 30 years…
    An extract from the book; The Seanachie of Inis Mór
    “… a sudden blast from the fog horn pulled me out of my reverie and I went up on deck. The ferry was handling the conditions well, white water spraying back from her bow as she plunged through some of the heavier swells. I walked forward, hanging on to the safety rails, then up a short flight of rusting steel steps, and suddenly there it was, Inis Mór. Rising up to greet me from a low lying, rain soaked mist, the lighthouse standing just offshore like some grim sentinel, pointing an accusatory finger up at the low, dark scudding clouds above as the voices began again in my troubled mind, the words whispering up from some place deep within, unfamiliar streams of poetry emerging from the very fabric of my soul, choking off my breathing and bringing tears to my eyes…”
    I knew this island long before I ever came
    Some hidden memory held in kind
    Images of needing to forsake
    An unused life in place
    A turning from and a turning to
    A knowing of the heart
    A feeling to return unto that lonely dark
    A memory of birth and death
    And yet a singing lark
    A star dark, whispered presence
    What hails to Inis Mór
    A wizened hand across a plank
    A ticket to that shore
    Standing still on winters ferry
    Snow flakes and frozen eyes
    An age old questing
    For that rocky shore before my eyes
    A Soul sick remnant lostness
    Knowing I had been
    Ten thousand times upon this shore
    In misted dreams
    Far from Australian deserts
    Away from once called home
    A coursing, rolling, dipping, sailing
    Towards the Soul’s intoned
    A far off yearning from a mind deranged by sun
    A burnt out lost remembering
    From where it all began
    Returning fragments
    From a forgotten, misplaced past
    Recognition of a land my soul held fast
    A sensing, coursing, homing feeling
    I’d never touched before
    A heartfelt, wounded sense of loss and gain
    The opening of some soul swung door
    A passage back in time
    To where the pieces wait
    A coming home to birthing
    Carried by some deeper place
    To the rain swept rocky wind wet cliffs and fields of Inis Mór
    To a meeting of an image held in place
    A keeling, keening, wailing song
    A grief that I was back
    A heartfelt sense of age without a track
    No words to speak the loss
    The land from which she bore
    The jagged rocks and sea scream birds that soar
    Welcoming me, as they had before
    Forgiving me my absence
    As they waited by the shore
    Returning to the rock and stone of Inis Mór…

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