Want to see the wreck made famous by ‘Father Ted’, then take this walk
Walk for the Weekend: Loop walk on Inisheer, Aran islands, Co Galway
Inisheer, Aran islands, Co Galway
An August morning on Doolin Pier, Co Clare and the place had just made headlines. The coastal village had been branded a litter blackspot by heritage organisation An Taisce, and the result was that journalists were all over the place like a rash. Gazing around, I conclude that the pier was actually quite pristine considering the swarms of visitors disembarking for the Aran islands. But no matter, it was in the middle of the news desert “silly season” and the journos were not deterred by such incidentals as they sought the holy grail of headline copy. Dodging past a TV crew “nothing personal lads, it’s just my comments aren’t what you’re after,” I escape to Inisheer.
Disembarking from the ferry, most of my fellow travellers hire jarveys for a horse-drawn tour. Determined to foot it, however, I amble left along the coast by following the purple arrows for Lub Ceathrú an Phoillín. First to capture my curiosity is Loch Mór – a tranquil freshwater lake within an otherwise bone-dry landscape. Beyond lies a weirdly captivating artefact, that surely counts as Ireland’s most bizarre attraction. The Plassy was a mundane little cargo ship that foundered off Inisheer in 1960. After the entire crew had been courageously rescued by islanders, the vessel beached itself comfortably above the tide. Reduced now to a disintegrating hulk, its 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.
After passing a disused signal tower and schoolhouse, the route meanders along tiny roads
With the Cliffs of Moher now the backdrop to a turquoise ocean to my left and the mirage-like outline of the Dingle mountains straight ahead, I follow the lanes meandering around Loch Mór. Soon, the route conveys me inland and upwards on alternating tarmac and green lanes to reach the island highpoint: the 14th century O’Brien’s Castle, which is cleverly constructed within an earlier ringfort. Worth the effort, this exquisitely located edifice stands in a commanding position offering ravishing views over island and ocean to the evocative Connemara Mountains beyond.
After passing a disused signal tower and schoolhouse, the route meanders along tiny roads and rustic lanes to reach the coastline at an attractive beach. Here, an island man addresses me in Irish; then as I struggle to comprehend his blas, he reverts to English. Inquiring where I live, he describes Tipperary as “a right rich county”. By contrast, he grew up in abject poverty when every young person was emigrating. “The 50s and 60s were terrible bad times here, we had nothing,” he explains. But what of today? Here, he is surprisingly insouciant. “We lost the fishing, but now we have the coláiste [Irish college] and the tourism is terrible busy. There is work and the population is going up again with people coming back.”
Then with a final “go n-éiri an bóthar leat” he continues on his sprightly way while I follow the purple arrows past the holy well of Tobar Éanna and then north along the coastline. Eventually, the loop wanders inland past St Gobnait’s early Christian Church and an old coastguard station before depositing me harbourside. Over a cupán caife, I marvel at the uniquely positive power of tourism to revitalise even delicately fragile island economies such as Inisheer.
Loop walk on Inisheer, Aran islands, Co Galway
Getting there The shortest ferry connection operates on a seasonal basis from Doolin, Co Clare. There are also year-round crossings from Rossaveal in Connemara and flights from Inverin.
Time 3½ hours.
Suitability No special skills required. Just be careful on the sometimes-slippery lanes and savour the invigorating isolation.
Map OSi Oileán Arann, 1:25.000