A quick hop around Inisheer


It may be small and poorly signposted, but the island has a number of iconic attractions, writes JOHN G O'DWYER

AN AUTUMNAL morning on Doolin Pier, Co Clare and I am among the usual warm-clad group of gaelgoiri, culture vultures, European students and American visitors awaiting a boat to Inisheer.

Then we are joined by a casually attired male quartet who seem anything but kitted for a sea journey. As this incongruous group shiver in shirtsleeves I can’t help wondering what brings them here on this cool September morning.

Then their mobiles awaken and things become clearer. The calls are obviously from newly acquired female acquaintances and this surely means just one thing – they are visiting nearby Lisdoonvarna for the annual matchmaking festival. With conspiratorial nods and winks they answer several calls with flirtatious affectation while sometimes not seeming totally clear about the exact identity of the caller. One longish conversation concludes with: “See you in the imperial, Fidelma. Oh, oh, sorry, of course, Kathleen – see you in the imperial, Kathleen.”

Safely on Inisheer most of the new arrivals immediately enlist local jarveys for a horse-drawn tour of the island. I’m here to foot it instead and so leaving the Lisdoonvarna lads enquiring of bemused islanders about the possibility of an early opening pub, I swing left along the coast.

First to capture my curiosity is a graveyard improbably located on a sand dune. It boasts an ancient church that was once literally buried by the shifting sands of time. Teamphall Chaomhain was rediscovered two centuries ago but remains in a deep depression from which encroaching sand must be continually removed to prevent reburial.

Soon after my route swings south and ponies up the real surprise of Loch Mor – a peaceful freshwater lake in an otherwise bone dry landscape. Beyond Loch Mor, I come upon a weirdly captivating artifact that surely counts as one of Ireland’s most bizarre visitor attractions. The Plasseywas a mundane Finnish freighter thrown up on the rocks in a 1960 hurricane without loss of life. Now, a rusting hulk, it’s only claim to fame is a cameo appearance in the opening sequence of the TV series Father Ted– yet it remains a must-do highlight of almost every island tour.

In the maze of byways nearby the Plassey, I chance upon a locationally challenged American couple. I do my best to put them right but then am forced to agree when they point to the lack of signage for walkers and the non-existent interpretation at most historic sites.

Afterwards, I strike out along a storm beach towards an exquisitely isolated lighthouse on the southern tip of the island. Here is a walk to elevate the soul with the Cliffs of Moher to the left over the ocean and the bewitching bleakness of distant mountains of the Dingle peninsula straight ahead. Gazing up at the perfectly austere symmetry of the lighthouse I conclude it would make a most iconic visitor attraction, if it ever becomes navigationally obsolescent.

A few hundred metres further on I take a roadway inland through verdant pastures and antique stonewalls and reach a signal tower. This was thrown up at a time when a small man with a big hat reduced these islands to acute paranoia. Napoleon didn’t make it to Inisheer but the island is now popular with his countrymen and today an invading army of French students are gambolling all over the tower. Keeping the best wine till last, my final stop is 14th century O’Brien’s Castle, which is exquisitely located in a commanding position offering classic views over the harbour to the evocative mountains of Connemara beyond.

Later, as our boat exits the harbour with the Lisdoonvarna quartet now sprawled seemingly hors de combat on deck, I reflect that despite some idiosyncratic signage and an occasional dearth of visitor information, Inisheer still counts as an “espresso island” – small in size but packing a memorable punch.

Inisheer walk

Getting thereThe shortest ferry connection to Inisheer operates on a seasonal basis from Doolin, Co Clare. Go direct to the pier and shop for the best fare. There are also year round crossings from Rossaveal in Connemara. Coach connections leave Galway an hour-and-a-half prior to sailings. See aranislandferries.com. There are also flights to Inisheer from Connemara Regional Airport, Inverin, Co Galway.

TimeAllow three hours to complete the walk.

SuitabilityNo special skills required for the route. Be careful on the slippery coastal part of the walk and savour the invigorating isolation.

HospitalityWest of the pier the Fisherman’s Cottage (099 75073) offers quality food created mostly from local ingredients. Otherwise for snacks and casual dining the pubs on the island offer extensive menus.

Galway Tourist Office (091 537700) has details of extensive accommodation options on the island.