Ireland's Aran Islands are well worth a three-night visit. There are three major islands and a couple of bumps. Visiting these stark, beautiful isles is like stepping back in time. There's horse-and-cart traffic on narrow roads lined with stone walls, and the hardy, unpretentious residents seem to truly enjoy the simple life.
On Inish More, the largest island (where Irish is spoken), visit the ancient, horseshoe-shaped Dun Aengus Fortress. Dun Aengus was built on a cliff on the southwest shore of the island, near Kilmurvy, where some very nice sweaters are sold. The attractions of Inish More are no secret—it can get very crowded (a thousand tourists go there on any summer day). If you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of Hy Brasil, an imaginary island off the coast of Inish More. The island actually is an optical illusion created by weather conditions—until the 16th century, Hy Brasil was even marked on maps.
We suggest also spending time on Inishmaan (the middle island—pronounced In-ish man) and Inisheer (the smallest and most southerly). These two isles give a sense of what Ireland was like before so many of its country people migrated to the cities. (Neither island is afflicted with more than three or four cars. Although you can get around by horse and cart, rental bicycles are more common conveyances for visitors.) Inishmaan has the largest and most intact of the islands' ancient stone forts.
Inisheer is the least visited of the Aran group and so has maintained its charm, making it a very pleasant island for walking or for a short, quiet break. Most of the sights are on the north of the island, including Dun Fhormna, a three-story castle built around 1585. The Heritage House, a typical stone cottage, is open in July and August. The hull of the cargo vessel Plassey, which was shipwrecked in the 1960s, is located on the island. The residents rescued the entire crew despite the stormy weather. Later, strong waves off the Atlantic Ocean threw the remains of the ship onto the rocky shore well above the high-tide mark.
To prepare yourself for a visit, read The Aran Islands by John Millington Synge—it will lend a lot of depth to your experience. (It is said that the fishermen of the islands still cannot swim, as in Synge's time.)
The islands can be reached by ferry from Galway (they're about 30 mi/50 km southwest), Rossaveal (20 mi/30 km west of Galway) or Doolin, or by air from the Connemara Regional Airport in the Galway area.
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